There is this interesting phenomenon afoot wherein farmers have become celebrities of a sort, in small subsets of society. It is the strangest thing to me. I grew up feeling, well, judged as the farmer’s daughter and fairly ashamed of what my family did. Yeesh. I’ve said it. I’m so embarrassed by that; everything my family stands for and has created is honorable, representative of hard work and dedication, and yet, somewhere along the way I wound up with the impression that it was somehow less than, that if you came from farm folk, you were somehow less than.
It would be easier to explain why I didn’t want to farm. To a child, the farm seemed like the heaviest of anchors. It meant you worked on Christmas, your birthday, your kids’ birthdays, when there were funerals, when there were weddings, when it rained, when it poured, when it was far below zero. It meant that 365 days a year and 24/7 you were responsible for the lives of 120 animals who counted on you for their survival and whatever you couldn’t provide for them you had better figure out who could and fast! I grew up feeling sheer terror at the thought of anything that would require that much commitment. Relationships are cake compared to a dairy farm. And there was also this small matter of my hatred for creatures of the bovine persuasion. They were so dumb! And always getting out of fences and taking attention away from, well, me! (says 13-year-old Abbie). To add insult to injury, man oh man do they smell!
As with anything else, I aged and my all knowing teenager wisdom seasoned a tad. I was able to sort out a bit better the lay of the land. I studied Journalism in college and found a love for writing and documentary film. I read Pollan’s “The Botany of Desire,” and “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.” I listened to my dad as he talked through his thoughts about an organic transition. I watched the trees bud outside my office window and listened as my body wished with every fiber to be out and about and moving…In the spring of 2007 a fire burned half of our barn down. And we were forced to consider the future of the farm. I could not for the life of me, even then, fathom how on earth I would ensure it’s future, but I knew that it had to exist. I couldn’t imagine life where cows weren’t milked everyday in those barns and put out on those pastures that my grandfather and great-grandfather and his father had so painstakingly cleared. At the time I spent my days in an office and it was losing its lustre rapidly. So at first, I just came back part time. And then full time. And then as an apprentice. And then as a future owner. None of these official, but well documented in my maturation of perspective.
My son’s emergence into this world was the turning point. When you become a mother, you begin to think about how your child ought to be raised, right? And I thought back to my childhood and mysteriously, it didn’t seem so bad. I was outside. I was loved. I had parents who loved and believed in what they did and therefore were able to raise their children within the same mentality. I was busy and active and curious and engaged. All of which seemed pretty crucial to a formative childhood. And while pregnant, I had bit the bullet and begun milking cows. I’ve always adored field work. I love my tractor, I really do. Always have, even as a sulky teenager. I put music in my ears and make hay while the sun shines and there’s nothing better. It was the cows, those hateful beasts that were always the stumbling block.
Until I was pregnant. And they were pregnant. And I got it. And then I had my baby. And I nursed him. And I really got it. I believe that had I not been blessed with Eli I would still be here on the farm, but it is mothering that makes me a dairy farmer. I was finally able to have compassion and empathy and adoration for those beasties that gift us with their milk to nourish our families. And the organic path allowed for a holistic framework of farming that was close to what I’d grown up knowing, but further evolved and based in curiosity and an alignment with self education and Nature that fulfills every piece of my soul.
Dairy farming is obviously not what I imagined for myself. But I find myself content. And while I feel stressed with the inevitable shuffling that comes from having a child and working and a husband who owns his own business and trying to keep writing on the side because I love it…I sleep at night fulfilled. I don’t have pieces of myself that feel missing or empty. I start my day and end it with a mission, a vision, and a product. In one day I can milk cows, deliver a calf, mow fields, bale them up, pick a few tomatoes from a plant near the barn, eat said sun-ripened jewels, watch my son frolic across green pastures with his dog or adoringly watch his beloved grandfather put up a fence or mow a field.
The opportunities for all the aspects of life I love to marry together within my career path are nothing short of a blessing. Thanks to Organic Valley I have been a spokesperson for the Environmental Working Group and the Pesticide Action Network. I’ve attended The Young Farmer’s Conference at Stone Barns as a presenter twice. I’ve been offered writing and blogging and learning opportunities for which I am eternally grateful. I sit on the Organic Valley Farmers Advocating for Organics committee which was one of the first to put up seed money for the Just Label It campaign. I am always, always learning, whether it be about soil or seed or marketing strategy or milk quality. And that for me is the pinnacle; the forever engagement in truly being the change I wish to see in the world.
Thanks to Stonyfield, Profits for the Planet, for funding the 2013 Bootstrap blog series.