in which we chop water, carry wood

in which we chop water, carry wood

Oh, all you internet mistake police thinking I got my quotations mixed up, relax.  At Auburn Meadow Farm, water gets chopped. At least in the winter if you want your cows to drink…

The water troughs every single frigid morning and evening. The cows wait for me to chop it open for them – could you let them down?

Life is far from glamorous around here.  If there’s ever been a profession where you can’t hide from yourself, it would be farming.

Because I wasn’t raised on a farm or in a manly home, I didn’t learn much that’s turned out to be useful in my actual workday. Growing up in a small all female household, I learned about fashion, food and trying to being pleasing and respectful.  Our tool box had a tiny hammer, one pair of cheap pliers, a screwdriver or two and some masking tape & glue. Maybe some hangers for pictures and decorating stuff.

Today, I struggle with not knowing how engines and electricity work. One day, after installing our first electric fence, I remember standing frozen for an embarassingly long time because I needed to disable the battery and I was afraid to touch the wrong wire. Silly girl.

And I never appreciated what an admirable skill it is to be able to drive a nail properly and from all angles.

Getting un-stuck (better yet not getting stuck in the first place), jump starting engines, driving tractors, installing fence, digging fence posts, changing tires – all foreign territory.  But amazingly, today, all things I can do by myself. Most of the time….

Today, my manicures are much more likely to include gasoline or GOJO than OPI.  And my shoe fetish, well, let’s say it’s changed. I’m a girl fond of her high heels, a lover of ankle straps and bows.  Today my shoes are most often muck boots ornamented with bows of manure and ankle-deep mud.




Old shoes, new shoes and another very important accessory – good work gloves that fit. Who cares if they match?

Once, people gave me gifts like watches, perfume, fancy sweaters and books. Things I loved and appreciated. Today, people give me things like axes, home raised eggs, power drills, gates and headlamps. Again, things I love and appreciate.

Kristin Kimball says it best in her book The Dirty Life:

“I had never in my life been so dirty.  The work was always dirty, beyond what I’d previously defined as dirty, and it took too much energy to keep oneself out of it.”

“My new life was marking me. It was happening so quickly. There were intermittent spells of resistance, during which I’d pluck and moisturize and exfoliate, and then there was a period of grieving for my old self, who seemed to be disappearing toward the horizon, and then I relaxed into it.”

But my new life has marked me on the inside too.  It’s not easy being a somewhat successful and competent adult struggling to be as useful as a 12-year-old farm boy. I have a new-found context to define just how capable and important I really am.  And I can’t use office busyness to hide from myself or the chatter in my head.

Spending hours by myself walking, shoveling manure, mending fence and riding a tractor,  I’ve made friends with silence and now prefer to be without TV, radio or iPod noise most of the time. That doesn’t mean the crazy lady in my head doesn’t chatter away– I’m still trying to find the “off” button for her.

Old Blue does her share….

I’m also spending plenty of time on my back or belly in the dirt trying to replace blades on the mower, attaching the plow or repairing something that I broke.  Thank goodness for my farmer friends who have taken me under their wing and so generously help and take time to explain so I will learn.

Of course it takes a willingness to be humble.  I’m embarrassed to say how many times I’ve had to go back to the dealer when my weed wacker wouldn’t start. Actually, that’s a lie. Not the part about the weed wacker not starting; the part where I said I was embarrassed. I’m no longer that easily embarrassed.

And did you know weed wacking was such an important job on an organic livestock farm? I didn’t really plan for that…   And the chainsaw?  Let’s just say I haven’t quite mastered that one yet, though I will.  The chainsaw scares me a little more than the other equipment… my fingers may have dirt under their nails, but they’re still all right where they belong.

Farming’s been humbling. And frustrating. Irritating, challenging, uncomfortable and empowering too. I have a fresh appreciation for just about everything.  And, as long as I farm, I can only make one guarantee: I will never know it all or lose the pleasure of wearing egg on my face.

in which we submit our plea

in which we submit our plea

We need to talk to you.

We need your help James Chartrand. We heard about your Damned Fine Words Writing Contest and we want to win.

Here’s why winning your contest is so important to us.  We need to cut through the media clutter and touch people in a way that leaves them still thinking about us days, weeks, maybe months later. Then we need them to start to look differently at the way they buy food. We don’t need drastic changes – small ones really do make a big difference.

We have a small farm in Western Pennsylvania where we raise Heritage breed American Milking Devon cattle. Our little herd of old-fashioned cattle has the kind of DNA capable of reviving an ailing livestock gene pool, which, most people have no idea, is a real problem in today’s system of industrial agriculture.

Our cows are scrappy. Survivors. Tough. The kind of cows who will be just fine when farmers can’t afford to feed those bovine CAFO hummers our beef and dairy industries are reliant on today.

Our work is all about preserving the knowledge of the past and putting it to use in a modern way. Not because it’s charming or trendy, we do it because we believe it is critically important to retain this knowledge and biodiversity. But our effort falls short if we can’t financially support ourselves or get people engaged in our outreach.

Today, it’s a little easier to find information about real food and the importance of small, diversified farms, but you still have to actively work at it. Mainstream media offers corporate greenwashing and incomplete, sensationalized information and the contradictory stories tend to be more confusing and polarizing than helpful.

We also worry that since so many of the artisan and DIY food & farming conversations take place in a rarefied “foodie” atmosphere, many people won’t think the work of farmers like us is relevant or affordable to them. We need them to know how wrong they are; small, diversified farms provide important food insurance for everyone.

We want everyone to know they can afford quality food.

There’s an overwhelming flood of critical issues generated by our industrial food and farming systems these days. And so many small actions people could be taking but are not  either due to misinformation, or complete lack of awareness.  There are many, many painless and affordable actions which if adopted by enough people, would create huge improvements in the health and welfare of people, animals, the environment and the economy.

Auburn Meadow Farm has much more to say than our audience’s attention span can possibly bear. And we won’t browbeat or frighten people with misleading or sensationalized information. Instead, we want to inspire people to action in an upbeat, proactive and positive way.

What we want is to teach people:

  • How to buy and prepare food that is cheaper, healthier and tastes so much better
  • Ways to gain control over our personal food supply
  • What’s happening behind the scenes of Big Food and Farming and Government
  • How to support small, diversified farms in your community
  • What farm life is really like and why family farms are so important to our future
  • What  joy good food brings to communities

Being so small, and not on the receiving end of farm subsidies and assistance, we need our business to be as scrappy as our cows with multiple streams of income to keep our mission moving forward year round.   We believe developing the quality of our writing and teaching program will create not only a valuable reference for our readers and students, but a reliable source of revenue for the farm.

Our budget is extremely tight and this year does not allow for investment in education. The type of mentoring and community we would enjoy in your course would really help us make this a successful and exciting year.

Regardless of whether we’re selected or not, we thank you for all the helpful sharing you do on the Men with Pens blog. You may not know us personally yet, but you’ve been an important member of our imaginary herd tribe.  But we’re thinking positively and look forward to being an active part of your real herd.

Our hooves are crossed!

We want to join your damn fine words herd!

in which the world can feed itself

in which the world can feed itself

Since I began my fascination with our provisioning, cooking and eating habits,  I find often blocking the way are the rock-solid walls inside our collective American mind.

What will it take to penetrate the stone walls of our collective American consciousness??

OK, there you go with the “chick’s goofy” eye rolling again, but here’s the thing. Again and again, in article after article, news clip after news clip it’s present; the gaping omission of alternative thinking. The stone wall every idea is smashed against isn’t an actual insurmountable obstacle, but a determined unwillingness to consider an alternative.

The standard editorial seems to offer two choices. One, we can accept things as they are, or two, there will be a Great Catastrophe.  Simple, black & white thinking that always argues to keep things as they are.

Why organic, sustainable farming can or can’t feed the world is a common target topic these days. Why doesn’t anyone ever ask what I want to know:

Who died and made America responsible for feeding the world?

Somewhere is there is a dictionary translating Corporation-ese to Human?  In it I’m sure “Feeding the World” is really code for “Don’t Rock the Boat”, or maybe “Sit Down and Shut Up”.

Am I crazy to also wonder why no one ever suggests that instead of feeding the world handouts we instead Teach the World to Fish?  Tiller’s International is quietly doing just that, with technology and methods third world countries are actually able to afford and maintain on their own.  Awesome, and by the way, they can use a little help.

Isn’t it just a little arrogant of us to believe these people aren’t capable of  feeding themselves without our help?   There are absolutely special circumstances  where a simple handout of  food is the right thing to do.  But get them out of  a hard spot and help them restore their own sustainable food systems  – that’s a real gift.

Who says non-industrial eating  is elitist?  People who think we have only two dietary options, that’s who. And what are those options?

  1. The Standard American Diet
  2. Replicating the Standard American Diet with its exact equivalent in expensive, elite  foods

The argument that non-industrial food is elitist is true only if you refuse to expand your thinking a bit.  For example, if:

The world aspires to attain the American Dream which includes a heaping plate of CAFO pork chops, boneless chicken breasts, plate sized steaks and all you can eat farmed seafood each and every day, three times

We continue to eat the whim of the day instead of what we planned for the day from the seasonal, bulk ingredients we sourced from real farms

We continue to throw away up to 40% of the food we buy

We never learn how to cook with real, unprocessed ingredients

Nobody grows their own anything, ever

We continue to believe a stocked pantry not filled with instantly eatable boxed packaged food = nothing to eat

Of course, these same rock-solid walls exist every time any argument or idea challenges someone’s personal habits and there is no clear, single, black & white course of alternative action. Climate change, recycling, gas drilling, immigration, parenting, politics, abortion, animal welfare, tea partiers, occupy wall street-ers… you get the picture. Oops – la la la la la – I can’t hear you; bouncing right off that great stone wall in my head.

I get it. We don’t want to change. It’s inconvenient and hard.  We fight to skew circumstances to reflect our correctness. We close our ears to evidence that we may be mistaken. While reading articles that challenge our view of reality, we don’t allow ourselves to entertain any doubt.  Instead, we avoid the message by busying ourselves   formulating witty, snarky and dismissive retorts rather than ruminating on the possibility the article may have a valid point.

I could go on, but I’m sure I’ve already challenged your ability to care if you’ve even lasted this long.

Maybe, just maybe, 2012 can be a year we will allow ourselves to be vulnerable to a little uncomfortable, fearsome, confidence-shattering listening? How about it – are you in?