Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Winter Bones: an art exhibit inspired by Harrison Farm

Throughout my entire life, I have had a deep love of animals.  In my childhood, I felt much more comfortable with animals than with humans, and I learned to understand animal behavior.  As an only child, my playmates were the cats, dogs, horses, sheep, and goats who lived on our farm.  I created elaborate stories about them, and spent as much time with them as possible.  I played with worms & minnows in the creek that ran by the farm, and dreamed up adventures about being an explorer of waterways.  My grandfather indulged my love of animals by helping me heal & then release an injured owl and an orphan skunk.  I was also fascinated by what made an animal.  Whenever our dogs would bring home something they had hunted, I would look at the bones & the parts of these groundhogs & raccoons to understand their bodies.  When an animal passed away, I was curious to understand why it occurred, and would ask my grandfather to explain these mysteries.  I had no idea that these early traits would prepare me to be a farmer, and a butcher, and -- rather unexpectedly -- an art curator.

Since my childhood, I have had a habit of picking up feathers and shoving them in my ponytail.  This has led to quite a collection, thanks to the beautiful roosters of Harrison Farm.  I have always been fascinated by skulls & bones, and have spent several years figuring out successful means of composting & sunbleaching them.  For the last year, I have worked to master hide preparation for tanning.  With my "Harrison hoarding tendencies", this has led to a large collection of bones & skulls & feathers & hides.

I have a habit of sharing with friends all my crazy random dreams for what the farm could do: "I bet we could have yoga classes on the farm", "I want to have open houses on the farm where people can bring their two-legged kids to meet my four-legged kids", "someday I want to write a children's book about Finn Lambkins", "I have this dream of an art exhibit where different artists interpret skulls", "I bet we could turn the old airplane hangar into an event space".  The amazing thing is that in the last few years, I have found myself surrounded by remarkable people who actually believe in my crazy goat-filled dreams and are helping to make them come true.

My friends Stephanie & Dana -- two of my very favourite people in this entire world -- are helping to make my dream of an art exhibit celebrating animal agriculture possible!  We are releasing the artist call information first to our friends.  Each of us believes deeply in community, and we are hopeful to fill the exhibit Winter Bones with pieces from our own creative friends.  Information on the artist call follows this blog piece, and I encourage my artistic friends to consider being a part of this show.  We are scheduled to open at Wild Goose Creative gallery on November 4th, and the exhibition will be up for much of November.  

If all runs according to the current schedule, the opening will fall one year & one day after the auction of my grandparents' farm.  It is super exciting to realize how far the farm has come in the space of just a year, thanks to the wonderful people who support the farm & believe in its potential.  As last winter crept up, I was so excited about finally being able to make decisions on our farm -- but I was also very worried that the depression which had consumed me the previous winter would return.  I have always struggled with winter, as it reminded me of death & despair & alienation.  I knew that if I was going to survive -- if I was going to be able to make the farm survive -- I had to find a sense of peace with the changing season.  

One day, I found a quote that gave me the perspective to re-evaluate my feelings toward the season of winter: "Winter lays bare the bone structure of the earth."  I began to look at the bare trees, the still pastures, and the worn ground as the bone structure of the farm.  I stopped looking at the stillness of my own solo life in winter as loneliness, but instead as the foundation of my existence.  The more I changed my perspective from winter being a time of death to winter revealing the bone structure of the world, I began to see the stream-lined beauty of the season and the possibilities to build creatively upon it.  As I am wont to do, one day I began pontificating with my friends about these lessons, and how they impacted my view of the farm, and all the ridiculous dreams I had for introducing my community to animal agriculture, including an art exhibit . . . And then, my two amazing friends Dana & Stephanie told me that they could make this dream come true!  It is humbling to have found my people who view all my eccentricities & crazy dreams as good things, and my heart is completely full of gratitude!

Winter Bones, the November gallery show at Wild Goose Creative, explores the seasonal transition from autumn to winter. Inspired by Harrison Farm, Winter Bones examines the way cold weather exposes the bare structure of nature. Leaves fall, harvests are completed, and the cycle of life continues. Winter lays bare the bone structure of the earth, and the circle of life leaves behind the bones of animals.

When Katherine Harrison's great-great-grandfather helped her great-grandparents to purchase the farm in 1927, it was a typical Midwestern farm of its era. They never could have imagined that ninety years later the farm would host yoga sessions with goats, serve as a location for students to gain hands-on animal handling skills, or be operated by one of their female descendants. Throughout her life, Katherine Harrison has forged a deep relationship with her animals, learning the need to respect life in all its cycles. As the fifth generation of the Harrison family at this particular farm, Katherine strives to honor the lessons which her grandparents & her mother instilled in her as she finds opportunities to share with others her love of animal agriculture.  One of the tenets of Harrison Farm is to value each creature of the farm for what it contributes, and thus using all parts of an animal to honor its life: skulls are bleached, hides are tanned, and feathers are re-purposed.

Wild Goose Creative is looking for artists who would like to contribute Winter Bones. The works will use Harrison Farm as inspiration, using a collection of bones, skulls, feathers, or tanned leather paired with a story about the farm or the animal itself. The bones themselves are treated as raw materials, and can be selected by the artist and bought for $15-40 ($150 for tanned leather and $1 per feather) per set from the farm's collection. If your project doesn't require physical materials (for example, photography of the farm), you can set up a time with Katherine to visit the farm.

Wild Goose is looking for artists in disciplines such as mixed media, painting, photography, assemblage or other. With your submission of interest, please include your website or 3-5 images of your past work and a 2-3 sentence description of what you intend to create.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Harrison Farm Intern Team

Several years ago, I was approached by a young lady who loved goats about the possibility of being my intern.  I had no idea that this request would allow me to use my passion for teaching to help young people in animal science, start an intern program that is the heart of Harrison Farm's teaching mission, and bring into my life remarkable individuals who are now family to me.  Abby was my very first intern -- and she set the standard high by being willing to engage in all my crazy adventures and becoming like a sister to me.  We have remained dear friends through several geographic moves thanks to her career and abundant changes in my own life . . . And we have even managed to attend two lectures by Dr. Temple Grandin in the years of our friendship!  The work that I do now with my intern team is all because of Abby's request to be my intern.

Prior to meeting Abby, I had worked with our local FFA chapter to offer a Student Assistant program.  This was an opportunity for an FFA member to complete hours for their Supervised Agricultural Experience by working at my farm.  My goal through that program is to provide work experience for a young person who is interested in farming.  The intern program, by contrast, focuses much more on education.  Most of my interns have been animal science students from the Ohio State University.  After Abby completed her internship, I had the good fortune to work with Mary Beth, and then Emma, and then Brittany.  These young ladies put up with my eccentricities (I literally interviewed one of them while wearing pajamas), embraced the opportunity to gain hands-on animal handling skills (aka wrestling belligerent animals), and joined in every adventure for which I recruited them (from a 4th of July Farm Bureau float to assisting with the Lamb Booth at the Ohio State Fair).  

In 2016, as my world changed exponentially, I found myself with the blessing of having three interns AND a student assistant!  Thanks to Marissa and Kristy and Elizabeth and Kaity, we became a real team at the farm.  Although Harrison Farm internships are unpaid, I try to provide as many educational opportunities as possible for the young people who are a party of my world.  Thus was born the concept of the now legendary Friday Fun Days: we would do something fun or educational on a Friday as my way of thanking them for their awesome efforts on the farm.  I am incredibly blessed to have an amazing group of friends, and so many of them opened their farms for tours or met us out to discuss their careers.  It filled my heart with joy to watch these young people as they learned new things and connected with people whom I respect in the world of food & farming.

This summer I am fortunate to have four remarkable young ladies as my interns: Julia, Jaclyn, Serina, and Kaylyn.  It has been a fantastic learning experience for them and for me.  We also recently had our first ever Executive Team retreat & farm tour for three graduates of the intern program who have remained a part of Harrison Farm: VP for Goat Snuggles Marissa, Assistant (to the) Chief Minion Lori, and Community Liaison for the Goats Julia.  I am so grateful for all the time that my friends spend visiting with my intern team, as we have once again enjoyed amazing adventures during summer 2017!

The greatest joy of working with my interns is the way they have become family to me.  I love that Abby & I still plan adventures to socialize, I adore that Emma & I have a weekly coffee date (which actually happens at least once a month with our crazy schedules), and I treasure that Britany's family views the farm as their "Ohio home" when they travel back.  It means the world to me that Elizabeth pitches in at the farm whenever I need someone from the "A Team", and I loved taking this summer's interns to visit Kristy's family business for one of our Fun Days.  I could not have been more touched or more honored than when Mary Beth asked me to serve as the officiant at her wedding this summer.  My heart was so full of joy to be a part of her wedding celebration to the man who is truly her best friend.  

These young ladies have given me more than I could ever give to them.  They are my friends, my family, and my favorite people.  I will always be indebted to Abby for asking to be my intern . . . And thus bringing to the farm and to my life some of the people whom I love the most!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

A Visit from My Adopted Niece; or, All the Lessons I Attempted to Impart to a 14 Year Old . . .

Working with young people is one of the greatest joys of my life.  Early in my career, I worked as a teacher.  Although I left the classroom to pursue my dream of farming, I never lost my love of teaching. It delights me when young people ask to be a part of our farm family.  I adore watching them as they gain new skills and mature -- as farmers, and as individuals.  I have worked with college students, FFA members, and even my neighbor children who wanted to "work on the farm".  These young people are a huge part of my heart.

Two of my dearest friends own a grain & produce farm in western Ohio, and they have four beautiful children.  It is an amazing gift to me that they allow me to be an adopted auntie to their children.  Over the last few years, we have travelled together to annual Farm Bureau conferences and I love spending time with my three adopted nieces & my adopted nephew.  For the first time this year, Kacy (who is the oldest) came to spend a week of her summer vacation at Harrison Farm.  We had SO much fun!  Kacy reminds me a great deal of myself at age 14: loves to read, is an introvert, enjoys animals, is involved in 4-H and church activities, and cannot wait to be a grown up.  She is independent -- and thus was able to occupy herself with reading & 4-H work when I had to manage business items.  Kacy & I went to Farm Bureau meetings, ate out with friends, enjoyed horseback riding, had a shopping adventure, and watched a lot of Masterpiece Theatre.  It was a joy-filled week!

Since my friends are my family, I was excited to introduce Kacy to several wonderful people.  I suggested to her that she try to have a "take away" from every conversation.  Kacy lamented toward the end of the week that she should have written them down.  Here then is a collection of the lessons that my friends offered to Kacy during her visit to Harrison Farm over Independence Day . . .

The opioid epidemic is having a horrific impact on rural Ohio, and Amanda & I ended up in a deep conversation on this problem that weekend.  Fortunately, the show Tennison on Masterpiece Theatre also showed the ravages of drug addiction, which reinforced the message . . . "Don't ever do drugs."

Angie joined Kacy & I for brunch after church on Sunday, and we discussed her new job and her passion for horses.  Angie did a good job of conveying to Kacy how important it is to find something that inspires joy in your world . . . "Find your passion."

My new friend Rebekah is getting ready for a three year mission trip to Ethiopia, and we are planning a fundraiser at the farm to assist with her expenses.  On Monday, she shared with Kacy her story of wanting to become a missionary from a very young age . . . "No matter how young you are, you can have a positive impact on the world.  Never use your age as an excuse to limit the good you can do."

Angie kindly extended an invitation to Kacy & I to come horseback riding at her farm on Independence Day, and she taught Kacy the rules of her barn -- which we decided are also really good rules for life . . . "1) Don't be stupid.  2) Don't get hurt.  3) Have fun."

That night, we had the pleasure of watching fireworks with my friends Sarah & Amber & their families.  We had some great discussion on religion & culture, and I encouraged Kacy to remember that civil dialogue is so important on issues that can potentially divide people . . . "Even divisive discussions can be successful if civilized."

On Wednesday, I had the joy of introducing Kacy to my intern/adopted daughter Emma.  I asked Emma to share with Kacy the advice that Emma wished she would have had at age 14 . . . "Be true to yourself.  Do not change yourself because of what other people think."

On Thursday, we had to delay plans because new twin goats were born.  Kacy was a very willing helper with the new babies, and so had the privilege of naming them.  She chose her own name and her sister's, thus the new twins are Kacy & Natalie the Baby Goats.  After making sure that both babies were well, we dressed up to head out for an afternoon of lunch & shopping.  I hope the lesson that Kacy learned this day was that work must be done first, and then you can dress up and go visit Tiffany's!

On Friday, Kacy joined my intern team when we had our Friday Fun Day adventure of coffee & discussion with my friends Pat & Yvonne (who work in communications & policy).  When I quizzed Kacy afterward on the conversation, I found that she did not remember precise details on the actual discussion . . . But it definitely impacted her that if you are young, but you dress up and carry yourself like a lady, then you can be a part of a grown up discussion with professionals.

Saturday was Kacy's last day at the farm, and she got to meet my friend Michaela who is a senior at OSU.  I asked Michaela to share with Kacy the advice which she wished she would have had at age 14 . . . "Try new things.  Learn about everything."

I am incredibly grateful for all the memories that Kacy & I made during her visit.  I am blessed to have friends who would so kindly let me be a part of their daughter's life.  I am very appreciative of all my friends who welcomed Kacy as a part of our meetings and our adventures and our conversations.  It made my heart smile to have Kacy be a part of the farm -- and my world -- for a week!