is this what we really think, heil hitler and all?

is this what we really think, heil hitler and all?

I’m sure Ms. Esther Simpson is a lovely lady.  Tea with her would be very nice and I’ll bet she has some interesting stories to tell. But that’s not why I’ve been thinking of her for nearly five months.

The reason she has been on my mind since before Thanksgiving is because of her comment on an article titled Is That Really a Heritage Turkey  published in the Atlantic November 22, 2011.

The article is “a quick primer on turkey origins, a discussion of the different types of species and, as you shop for the highlight of your Thanksgiving meal, a bit of advice for finding a true heritage turkey.”

The author, Nicolette Hahn Niman,  raises true heritage breed turkeys herself and in the article clarifies the complicated past of what we call “heritage breed” turkey today.  Anyway, the article is a good read and if you’d like to be sure you’re getting the real deal, is an excellent reference.

But, as always when I’m bowled over by an article in The Atlantic, it’s usually because of the comments. We’ve talked about this before; those Atlantic readers have turned commenting into a form of mean ridiculing sport that I don’t think I’ll ever find acceptable.

Here’s what Ms. Simpson had to add:

And of course, I could not help myself:

Ms. Simpson’s comment wasn’t in the least mean-spirited, but it is a perfect illustration of how smart, well read people are completely blinded by their absolute belief in science and academia compounded by their lack of nuanced connection with nature and agriculture.

Turkeys did not turn themselves into Frankenturkeys incapable of walking or reproducing naturally.  Turkey were hardy, healthy, capable birds with actual parenting skills before people decided they wanted birds with massive amounts of white breast meat.  Turkey  freaks were created by breeders who started fiddling with the dials to satisfy customer demand.

But that fact is apparently either unknown or irrelevant to Ms. Simpson and those like her.  According to them, today’s big breasted white battery turkey in its state of man-made misery is apparently NOT eugenics. But helping the turkey return to its former self-sufficient state, that IS eugenics. Heil Hitler and all.

Eugenics is the idea that one can improve the human race by careful selection of those who mate and produce offspring. Eugenics was a popular theory in the early twentieth century but is no longer taken seriously, primarily because of the horrors of the eugenic efforts of the Nazi regime in Germany.

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Why is this silly exchange still on my mind? Because it is the perfect example of well-meaning, highly educated people believing that farming is something you can learn from a book and manage from a distance.  From her computer screen, Ms. Simpson is in no danger of having to find out how one-dimensional her understanding is.

Again and again we trust ridiculously short-sighted agricultural solutions.  Esther Simpson, like most Americans, believes that the hothouse varieties of livestock we have created,  requiring lots of special feed, care and midwife assistance are the more important varieties worthy of a future. After all, they are the only farm animals most people know.

Quick: what color are pigs? That’s easy, white or pink, right? Wrong. Pigs come in all colors, shapes and sizes, particularly the heritage breeds that are becoming so popular these days. All pigs, even the sweetest, pinkest Wilburs and Arnolds will become feral if allowed to fend for themselves.

Virtually all heritage breed pigs have one characteristic or another that would violate the Invasive species order which is based on how they look – not their genotype or dna

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Yet it has been decided by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to enforce what they call the Invasive Species Order (ISO).  What that means is that because of a feral pig problem, in Michigan, possession of pigs with certain physical characteristics automatically makes you a felon, punishable by jail time and a hefty fine. To be perfectly clear, the DNR has the right to kill properly confined animals  on any Michigan farm or private game preserve, arrest the farmer and levy huge fines.

I am in complete disbelief  by the actions that have been taken against pig farmers already.  And especially by the millions of Esther Simpsons in the world who will never comprehend that heritage breed pigs are under unreasonable, unconstitutional attack. Or she will defend the corporate line that this is all for the public good. Or maybe she doesn’t know about heritage breed pigs at all.

Pastured pigs are being enjoyed by diners everywhere as a delicious improvement over  leaner, less tender confinement pork. And the hardier heritage breed pigs are able to live a healthier, more enjoyable life than the standard confinement hog who is selected for uniformity, leanness and fast maturation.

My question is this: Which pig genes are more valuable? The ones capable of reproducing on their own, who still remember how to be good mothers, and are more hardy and self-sufficient?   Or the hot-house hogs in need of intensive management, medicated feed, elaborate infrastructures  and are forced to endure such unpleasant pig lives? Our lack of concern for protecting biodiversity is the worst sort of arrogance. Sustainable Table will explain why heritage breeds are so very important here.

This is not a matter to be ignored. Farmers are being stripped of their livelihood with NO COMPENSATION for businesses that were perfectly legal before April 1, 2012.  It does not matter that their pigs have been properly confined and cared for – it is a species elimination, not a feral pig elimination.

Of course, the Michigan Pork Producers Association is all in favor even though these heritage breed hogs have admittedly caused no outbreaks of disease.  You can read their response to the Invasive Species Order here. At the least, very disappointing. And predictable. Read this excellent article to see how successful Big Pork was in whisking this order straight into effect. Disheartening to say the least.

This article from Mother Earth News offers an excellent and detailed explanation of the situation and the contact information for Governor Rich Snyder, who has the ability to rescind the ISO. The article tells the sad story of Dave Tuxbury who after being served a search warrant, killed his entire hog population; pregnant sows, baby piglets and all.

Even if you’re not a Michigan resident, you need to contact Governor Snyder because Pennsylvania, Kansas and New York are all poised to pass similar legislation.  This has the potential to become very ugly people. Make yourselves heard on behalf of these farmers; they really need to feel your support.

18th century Edmund Burke is a wealth of tat-worthy quotes to live by

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“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”             ― Edmund Burke

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OK people. You know what you need to do. Ready? GO-GO-GO-GO-GO

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This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday. What’s that you ask? It’s an ambitious and enlightening collection of posts from bloggers all over about issues near and dear to my heart: real food and natural living. Check it out!

History Repeats Itself: Lessons We Ignore from Ireland’s Great Hunger

History Repeats Itself: Lessons We Ignore from Ireland’s Great Hunger

THINKING THURSDAY: SOMETHING TO PONDER IN THE WORLD OF FOOD AND FARMING.

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Oh, the 2012 holiday merry-go-round is already churning. We’ve barely finished with the shamrocks & green beer and Easter & Mother’s Day are hot on its heels.  Could I ask you to indulge me for a minute?  Could I tarry just a little longer at St. Patrick’s Day?

Not because I’m so very Irish (I am), but because Ireland offers one of the most memorable and recent cautionary tales about why we should be petrified about the extent of our current American practice of growing just a few varieties of a few crops year after year (monoculture).

It’s hard to imagine famine when you take for granted the endless array of processed foods in the typical American grocery store.  But, do a little Googling and you’ll soon learn that the huge cornucopia of shiny boxes and bags are manufactured from less than 12 crop varieties.

It is so, so dangerous to have your entire food supply invested in one single variety of one single crop, yet it’s unbelievably commonplace and even celebrated as the kind of modern progress needed to feed the world.  We’ve already discussed feeding the world, remember?

I can’t decide if our choice to play agricultural roulette is due to an over-abundance of confidence or ignorance, but it’s frightening. The really crazy thing is how many of us are Americans today because our ancestors were forced to flee starvation and workhouses in Ireland.  The Great Irish Hunger wasn’t all that long ago –  how quickly we forget.

For a while, the potato was a true savior for Ireland. It found its convoluted way from the Andes in South America to the struggling Irish peasants.  The Irish climate suited the tuber perfectly and these poor families were finally able to grow enough food to feed their families well on their tiny plots of land.

In the Andes, as many as 200 species of potato may be planted in the same field.

In the Andes, farmers cultivated diversity in the potato and enjoyed as many as 4.000 varieties. A really good source for learning about agrobiodiversity is the website SustainableTable (dot)org. Here’s a bit of Sustainable Table’s take on the potato situation in the Andes:

“This abundance of diversity is the result of farmers artificially selecting traits over generations for specific purposes, like resistance to disease, tolerance to high altitudes or poor soils, etc. This diversity is important for food security—in the event that a particular crop variety fails due to drought, flooding or a disease, another variety might survive to avoid food shortages.”

Meanwhile the Irish tale goes a little differently:

“In stark contrast to this [Andes] model of agrobiodiversity,  the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s was the result of a fungus that completely destroyed the Irish potato crop because only a few varieties of potatoes had been imported from the Andes to Europe, none of which were resistant to the disease. Because of a lack of crop diversity and over reliance on one crop to feed many of its population, Ireland experienced widespread famine and death.

 

The Irish you see, had a history of diversified farming but were no longer able to grow the variety of crops they relied on before the British occupied Ireland.  The British made it illegal for Irish Catholics to own or lease land and Irish farmland had been repurposed to raise grain and cattle to satisfy England’s insatiable taste for beef.  Irish farmers were forced onto tiny plots of meager land and struggled with subsistence wages. The potato was the only crop that could be counted on to keep a family fed under such restrictive conditions.

A one acre field of lumpers could be counted on to feed a family for a whole year

Irish potatoes were especially vulnerable because they planted just one kind, Lumpers.  And, because potatoes grow from other potatoes, they are like genetic clones – each exactly the same as all the others.  So, when an airborne mold blew into Ireland, the single crop expected to feed about 3 million people was devastated almost overnight, with few backup alternatives.

Of course, the suffering and starvation part of the tragedy was caused by a perfect storm of greed, prejudice and politics which amplified the already bad enough crop failure. I hope I’m wrong about this, but it feels like we may never get the greed + power = politics part right, but the lack of biodiversity?  That we are able to avoid.

Yet, amazingly enough, we don’t.  Industrial Farms plant huge monocultures of the three main government subsidized crops, year after year. They deplete the soil of beneficial microbes thereby becoming more and more reliant on synthetic (petroleum-based) fertilizers and pesticides.

Think about these statistics also from Sustainable Table:

  • Almost 96% of the commercial vegetable varieties available in 1903 are now extinct.
  • According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), humans now rely upon just 14 species of mammals and birds to supply 90% of all animal-derived foods.
  • Twelve plant crops account for more than three-quarters of the food consumed in the world, and just three—rice, wheat, and maize—are relied on for more than half of the world’s food.
  • Reliance upon modern varieties of rice has caused more than 1,500 local rice varieties in Indonesia to become extinct.

For some reason, when Americans embrace new technology, we have a way of kicking the old to the curb so fast it’s lost forever.  Few farmers preserve their old hybrid seeds just in case their new GM crop fails.  I don’t know about you, but I like the security of  knowing I’ve left a popcorn trail to guide me home if the new and improved turns out to not be so great after all.

Have we learned from the Irish potato famine?  Let’s see:

  • Dominant food source invested in extremely few crops of one variety, check.
  • A national food system serving the desires of the few not the needs of the many, check check.
  • Limited access to land discourages initiative and opportunity for people to feed themselves and rise above the limitations imposed by the system: check check check.

Well, it seems to me that what we’ve learned is how to do it again. The saddest thing is that we can’t even blame foreign occupation for our situation.  At least not unless you believe America is occupied by Monsanto, Cargill, General Mills, Dean Foods & Friends.  But blaming things on corporations implies you have no choice in the matter. Which is not entirely true.

So today, on this unusually summer-like first day of spring you can take a small step or two to do your part to restore biodiversity to our food system.

First, consider planting a small garden and growing a few heirloom varieties of your favorite fruits and vegetables. Have you heard of Kitchen Gardener’s International?  Let Roger Doiron’s entertaining TED talk convince you:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ezuz_-eZTMI

Or, if gardening is not your thing, consider signing up for a Community Shared Agriculture  (CSA) share from a local farm growing heirloom fruits & veggies. Even better if they offer eggs and meat from heritage breed livestock.  And if they have fresh, locally produced dairy products too, well lucky you.  Go for it, please. Don’t know where to find a CSA? Look here.

And, if even a weekly box of goodness is too much obligation, at least do some shopping at your local farmer’s market. Home gardeners and small, diversified farmers are doing most of the work saving plants whose claims to fame are flavor and hardiness instead of uniformity and ability to withstand processing and shipping. But the success of their work is completely dependent on your commitment to buy from them.

Come ON, you can do it! The future is riding on what you have for dinner….

This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday. What’s that you ask? It’s an ambitious and enlightening collection of posts from bloggers all over about issues near and dear to my heart: real food and natural living. Check it out!

Doing the same thing again and again expecting different results.  Isn’t that the definition of crazy?

Doing the same thing again and again expecting different results. Isn’t that the definition of crazy?

THINKING THURSDAY: SOMETHING TO PONDER IN THE WORLD OF FOOD AND FARMING.

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Don’t you ever wonder about the confidence we have in technology and science? For example, have you ever made a decision based on all the information you had, felt really smart about it, but later learned there was a massive hole in your understanding that made all your genius wrong?

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Let’s get it straight right now: I’m not anti-science. I’m just in favor of pursuing scientific knowledge with a healthy portion of doubt and caution on the side.  Maybe my lack of sophistication is showing, but I’m still pretty darn impressed with the feat of genetic engineering involved in grafting a fruit tree onto hardier roots.  Even though according to this website, it seems to have been used as early as 5000 BC.

“Agriculturalists are charmed. Naturalists are alarmed; ” proof that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Of course my work here raising these old-fashioned cattle probably seems kind of irrelevant and quaint to many people who focus on producing maximum output at all costs.  Man is apparently wired to admire things that are complex in procedure and require lots of human tinkering.

Meet Claudia, the High-Tech Cow

Like the breeding program at Fulper Farms, a NJ dairy featured in this NPR article. This is the story of Claudia, a very desirable (and lovely) Holstein dairy cow.  The breeding goal of this farm is to replicate her until they have a farm full of Claudias.  This is the way most modern dairies approach the problem of producing enough milk to pay the bills.

Technological advances like artificial insemination and embryo transplant have made the rate at which humans can forever alter an entire breed of livestock scary-fast.  In just a few generations, we can really make a lasting impact on a breed of livestock and it often takes several generations to know for sure if what you have achieved is good or bad.  And by then, it’s usually too late to take it back.

You see, we still don’t really understand how DNA is bundled.  When you breed animals with a focus on one single desirable trait you’d like to increase, you’re at the same time amplifying several other unintended traits that are likely to be not so nice. And those traits are both physical and behavioral.

Often times, since the animals are intended for food anyway, it doesn’t matter that they can’t reproduce on their own, if they have any parenting skills or if their skeletons and hearts are up to the task of supporting their massive, fast-growing bodies. Doesn’t matter, because these animals aren’t intended to live long enough to be healthy adults anyway.  Which, while I don’t think it’s kind, I suppose the logic is sound.

Other traits affect behavioral characteristics and create animals more difficult to handle, more nervous or aggressive.  Intensely focused programs breeding animals for one trait can interrupt the social patterns relied on by many, many generations causing incidents of suffering and brutality caused by rogue individuals.

I’m no scientist, but I am pretty observant. And the more I observe, the more apparent it becomes that there’s a rhythm and scale to things for a reason.  Nature imposes a system of checks and balances that often seems harsh to us, but serves her purposes well.

As original as we like to believe we are, animal breeding programs, like hemlines and hairstyles are subject to cycles and fashion. Don’t believe me? Look at a few pictures of yourself from the 70’s. How’s that polyester pant suit looking to you today? I dare you to wear it to work tomorrow…

Fashions in animal breeding follow consumer demand for things like all white breast meat, low-fat pork, low-fat dairy and of course the ever-popular larger quantity for lower price. And, like that polyester pant suit, these demands are more likely to be created by companies steering us towards their higher profit choices than by what we actually prefer.

Cows like Claudia serve this dairy well today, but if all cows were like Claudia, without the structured diet and care Claudia gets, her ability to produce huge quantities of milk quickly becomes a liability.  The nutritional requirements to keep a high producing cow like Claudia healthy and fertile even when she’s not producing milk are not easy to meet in a simpler, less manipulated environment.

So, my question is this: Is high production more important than profitability?  If you think it’s painful filling your gas tank each week, imagine being a farmer.  I’m not sure people are aware how reliant conventional farming is on petroleum.

Petroleum is needed to manufacture the synthetic fertilizers conventional farms are so reliant on.  Petroleum is needed to run the gas guzzling machinery needed to grow and harvest the large quantities of grain these cows require. And energy is needed to manage the tons of manure produced by too many cows for their farms to handle. Not to mention the energy requirements of milking and transporting milk.

Please don’t take this as a slam for farmers like Claudia’s owners,  the Fulper family. I have nothing but admiration for what is an obviously well run dairy.  It just seems apparent that by focusing only on this as the single approach to the problem of low profitability, we are eliminating diversity in all areas: genetic diversity of livestock & seedstock, rampant loss of biological diversity and economic diversity as well.  A broader base of smaller, local dairy processors and a variety of applications for milk is needed to offset the market dominance of a small number of mega-processors.

If a cow can eat more simply, be productive longer, require little to no veterinary care and be significantly less reliant on petroleum products, is that not also increasing profitability?  If a dairy makes less milk but that milk is of the highest quality and costs significantly less to produce, are the numbers irrelevant because they lack enough zeroes to impress our Fortune 500 jaded minds?

My old-fashioned cows could not be more self-sufficient.  They harvest most of their own food, stay fat on very simple food we can grow ourselves, require almost zero veterinary care, thrive in simple facilities and remain productive members of the herd for four or more times longer than the typical Holstein dairy cow.

And a dairy farm using cows like mine has not one top shelf product to sell, but two.  Give us time and we’ll come up with even more.  The beef from these cows isn’t an afterthought sold at auction barn prices. It’s a first-rate gourmet product adding a second income stream to broaden the farm’s security.  And in these times of dairy volatility, having milk in more than one bucket sounds like an awfully good idea to me.

If you listened to the NPR clip as well as read the story, you’ll notice that they clearly stated that despite the technological advances, the farm is less profitable than it was in the 50’s and 60’s when they had a fraction of the cows and did more by hand. WHAT?

It’s true. Our industrial system of meat and dairy was productive and useful in its time. But all things run on a spectrum and that time seems to be waning. The system will be around huffing and wheezing for a long time, but shouldn’t we be working on a backup plan?

I don’t know about you, but I don’t count imported Milk Protein Concentrate from China a backup plan…

This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday. What’s that you ask? It’s an ambitious and enlightening collection of posts from bloggers all over about issues near and dear to my heart: real food and natural living. Check it out!

Pink Slime is not my problem. And it doesn’t have to be yours either.

Pink Slime is not my problem. And it doesn’t have to be yours either.

No worries about pink slime when you buy beef from small farms and trusted butchers.

I cannot help but be amazed by how many Google searches there have been for pink slime since Diane Sawyer’s report about this most charming of meat industry secrets. At first I was blushing with the new popularity my little blog had found until I realized it was all just a sad misunderstanding.

I had written this post about the marketing of meat by our local grocery store chain and the carefully crafted language used to head off growing interest in humanely raised grass-fed beef by the grocery store, The Cattlemen’s Beef Board and The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

Little did I know, but this week, my article contained all the right words to become an overnight Google sensation: Giant Eagle, pink slime, and beef.  I don’t know why this is just today such big news; pink slime has been public knowledge as early as 2002. But, thanks to ABC, today it’s a big deal.

I don’t want to get too scientific here; I am not a scientist.  I’ve read quite a few of the articles and I do suspect the indignant exposés are guilty of a little sensationalism of their own.  Does pink slime contain the household cleaning agent we’re all envisioning? Or is it just a hazing of ammonia gas? Or maybe a different form of ammonia with a bark much worse than its bite?

This online article, published in 2009 by Food Insight, is a very level-headed explanation about the use of ammonium hydroxide in the food industry. Before you get too lathered up, I recommend you give it a read.

After you’re done getting mad about your ground beef, better check to see if you’ve got any baked goods, cheeses, chocolates, candies like caramel or puddings in your pantry because ammonium hydroxide is commonly used to manufacture those too.

Oh, and:

 “Ammonia in other forms (e.g., ammonium sulfate, ammonium alginate) is used in condiments, relishes, soy protein concentrates/isolates, snack foods, jams and jellies, and non-alcoholic beverages.

The World Health Organization has listed hundreds of food types that may be processed using ammonium hydroxide when used in accordance with good manufacturing practices.  These include dairy products, confections, fruits and vegetables, baked goods, breakfast cereals, eggs, fish, beverages such as sports drinks and beer, and meats.”

Yawn.  I’m of the opinion that it doesn’t really matter. Doesn’t matter, not because it’s unimportant, but because this is the sort of thing I expect from industrial food.

Do you really expect big packers to NOT be stretching to feed you every scrap they possibly can? And if they can’t feed it to you, you can be sure they’re feeding it to your pet.

I suspect that the pink slime enhanced beef isn’t all that much more dangerous than any of the other highly processed crap foods we’re eating. But what does bother me, and I think everyone else, is the breach of trust.

They have taken a processed product with massive ick factor, pink slime, and added it to a supposedly unprocessed product, beef. Without labeling it as processed. All government approved.

If you want to be big industry, be proud of your big industry.  If your science adds value to your product by making it safer, then that’s great. Share it with pride. Inventing pink slime is no small feat – I wouldn’t couldn’t have done it, could you?

But, big industry isn’t satisfied with targeting their segment of the market and serving it well.  They want to squash and dominate everyone else’s market share too by claiming to be something they can never be; capable of providing the same degree of quality and attention to detail as small artisan craftsmen.

So, they manipulate labeling, crush marketing differentiation by small craft companies, and obscure practices they know don’t sound so friendly or farm-fresh. And they spend millions on media,  lobbyists and campaign contributions helping enforce secrecy, silencing competition and buying government support.

Like the old Aesop’s fable about the frog and the scorpion, I suppose to a point I have to accept that’s just the world I live in.  I don’t need to know any more about pink slime because I won’t be eating any of it. Or any more than absolutely unavoidable of any other processed foods either.

I buy meat, cheese, eggs & dairy only from farmers or butchers who can tell me all about the provenance of the animals and how they were processed.  And I highly recommend you do too.

We’ve seen it again and again,  and fortunately for corporations, we Americans have short memories.   We’re about to see a circus of  backpedaling, distancing, and holier than thou vowing to not serve beef with pink slime from a bunch of restaurants & grocery chains.

And The Cattlemen’s Beef Board and The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association?  Well, I’m not sure how they’ll spin this one.  I do expect to see plenty of the latest heartwarming Beef Checkoff campaign designed to focus our attention on family cattle farmers and away from the Big Industry hiding behind them.

OK people. Your mission? Go find some well raised meat asap!

If you’re in the Pittsburgh area, contact us for our summer beef offering.

Not from Pittsburgh? Visit www.localharvest.com, or www.eatwild.com to find your local farmer today.

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.

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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.