sustainability

DEATH, CONSTANT BEYOND LOVE

 

This post is not easy to write. Neither of us especially want to share this experience, not for reasons of stigma or sadness, but rather because harvesting your own meat from animals you lovingly raised is personal and tiring, an encounter of life and death. We each slept in a little longer this morning. Our bodies ache. This is rather how it should be, we decided, at least once in your life. And if not ever, it would surely do every person a measure of good to know someone who raised animals for meat with consideration and care. Relative to the arc of human existence, the industrialization of meat processing is a very new advent. Not so long ago, humans took on the responsibility of the raising, the feeding, the slaughtering, and the butchering. Mid-twentieth century, the strange thing would have been to write an article on families raising meat because it was normative. Now it would seem the strange thing is to write a blog post, complete with images of these animals' faces, because it is un-normative. But this matters. This is a huge part of our lives, and if pine needle cookies make it onto this space, surely our experience raising livestock should, too.

This present moment of reflection feels admittedly surreal. For the past eight months, our everyday reality has included caring for these two animals. We gave them names and, so often, they resembled pets more so than livestock being raised for meat. Even in their last moments of life, we were running around the barnyard with them, giving them cheek scratches, and letting them climb all over us. It's safe to say that we loved these goats. But that love was accompanied by a purpose separate from companionship. In the early days of summer, we wrote, "The ending to this chapter that we are just now beginning has already been written." Our intention was clear from the start. We were to become truly conscious consumers of meat, directly participating in all that the choice to eat animal protein entails. We aimed to do things the natural way: raising the animals outside, on pasture, with room to roam & plenty of natural forage and browse to eat. In other words, we allowed our goats to do what they wanted to do—to live the life for which they were evolutionarily suited. We tried to go the extra mile for them—even in loving them—with full knowledge of the ending that we were choosing for them.

All these many days & nights later, our intentions have been fulfilled. It feels, at once, like a weight off the shoulders and a heaviness in the heart. Any heaviness, though, is incomparable to the deep sadness felt when an animal dies from illness, especially illness that might have been detected sooner. If you've been following our blog, you know that the first two goats we started raising both died of coccidiosis. Despite intervening, we half-suspected Dill and Tuna would go the way of the first two. But they didn't. Instead, we thoroughly enjoyed eight months documenting, encouraging, and admiring their development. 

We made an eleventh hour decision to try preserving their pelts in order that we might use every part of the animal. There is a tannery in Vermont — the only natural, environmentally safe tannery in the U.S. — that we'll work with to have the goatskins tanned, assuming the preserving piece goes according to plan. No, we did not previously know how to skin, prepare, and cure a hide; nor how to dress an animal carcass & process it into meat. But with the aid of our neighbors, books, and the Internet, we are giving it a go, just like we gave this tiny meat herd a go. By viewing the whole animal with respect — from the skin to the bones — we are working towards improved stewardship of land, of animal, of planet. To borrow a beautiful, honest phrase from our favorite author, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, "Death, constant beyond love."


—M&S

FARMING | OUR BYGONE HERITAGE

 

My parents were, well, surprised when I told them that we were moving to Vermont to work as kidding interns on a goat farm this spring. It was a big decision closely tied to another, bigger one: the one where we bumped our wedding up from June to January, on five weeks notice, so we could honor our conviction of waiting for marriage before living together. Old-fashioned to some, counter-culture to others—a bit like farming in the twenty-first century. 

Three years ago, I was mucking my way through organic chemistry and a host of other science courses, and the long, long library shifts that accompanied. I was on my way to becoming a third-generation dentist, the de facto family profession. And in the twenty-one years of life preceding, never once did I consider the possibility of farming for a living. In my mind, farms were foreign places. How could I even become a farmer? Farming was not a part of my identity. What I failed to consider then is how farming is actually a very real part of my heritage. Yes, my papou was a dentist whose son (my uncle) followed in his footsteps. But go back one more generation and you will find a family living in the rural Peloponnesian village of Ziria, tending to their vineyards. My maternal grandmother grew up on a small homestead in Wisconsin where she picked strawberries during summer and went door-to-door selling them for twenty-five cents per quart. She had to quit when a neighboring farm undercut her, selling them for ten cents.

Many people have similar tales from the old family farm. Agriculture is at the root of our collective heritage as human beings. But as the sun has risen and fallen over the land—seasons passing,  years and generations rolling by—our farming population has become ever smaller while our cities expand upward and outward. As evidenced by my own upbringing, so many of us have become far removed from the land that sustains us. All is not lost, though.

Upon arriving at Consider Bardwell Farm, I was gripped—rather suddenly—by this overwhelming sense that I was doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing. This was in spite of the fact that our first three days were spent (literally) mucking a winter's worth of goat poop in the barn. Truth be told, I don't even mind the act of mucking! I have found joy in using my body, in working outside, in experiencing the elements. I have found greater joy, still, in raising animals who sustain us with their bodies, through the gifts of milk and meat, as they have for millennia. There I was, no experience, no immediate background in farming. Here I am, with some experience. But deeper than that: I feel this connection, through my work & way of life, to my ancestors. I feel rooted in the earth, and the ongoing game of give-and-take that agrarian societies have played with the earth throughout human history. I have come to feel the true presence of my farming heritage. 

This is all coming from someone who grew up in the suburbs of a major metropolitan area; who comes from a family that prizes academics, having generously sent all four children to a private school and on to college; who spent many a summer afternoon playing video games rather than helping his mom in her backyard vegetable garden. I may not fit the image of a prototypical farmer, but this is the point indeed. It is within all of us, because we all come from the same agricultural heritage, whether we know it or not.


—M

WE WERE SUPPOSED TO GET MARRIED TOMORROW

 

 "Wouldn't it be nice to live together, in the kind of world where we belong?"

The prospect of writing another post about Pink Cameron seemed unlike us. After all, we would be writing on the mess we are still sifting through, the mishaps and, yes, even a few miniature triumphs. But our lives are more than farming and renovating a camper—schedules be damned. We were brainstorming on what to write about this week when it hit us: if we had kept our original schedule, we would be getting married this weekend.

"Maybe if we think, and wish, and hope, and pray it might come true.
Baby, then there wouldn't be a single thing we couldn't do."


Instead, we have been married five months. If you're new to our blog, the abridged version is this: We were on a long drive, listening to The Beach Boys' song 'Wouldn't It Be Nice', a song that would change the course of our lives. By the end of the car ride, we had decided to bump the wedding up five months, giving ourselves just five weeks to craft a day about feasting: on food, on communion with loved ones, and on choosing to enter willingly into an indelible union. As if it were a dream, everything just happened as it should. 

Beloved family & friends traveled on short notice from several countries, and states ranging from California to Virginia, to surround us with love. Bouquets made of kale and rosemary, table settings of rose hips and scotch pine, a boutonnière & a nature wand (carried by our Godson Isaiah, pictured above) — these were a few of the provisions foraged from Ohio's wintry landscape the week of the wedding. The playlist that Mark had spent weeks crafting song by song, in order that it may all flow together, did not even come on until midway through our celebration.

But when the infectious rhythm of Jumpin' Jack Flash filled my parents retro basement, bringing everyone to the dance floor, it recalled one of my most special memories. Six years ago, my Uncle Jay surprised my sister and her husband at their wedding by playing that song on his bass guitar. Scleroderma would soon take his life, but in that moment everyone was alive . . . very and totally alive. Six years later and dancing to the same song, tears poured down my cheeks and I laughed at how absolutely present Jay was in the room. I suspect his four-string, adorned with pride on the basement wall, was vibrating.

" . . . You know it seems the more we talk about it,
It only makes it worse to live without it.
But let's talk about it.
Wouldn't it be nice?"

Our nascent married life has been nice, albeit challenging. Rather than pampering and readying ourselves to walk down the aisle this week, we are unloading & stacking hundreds of hay bales in the barns at Consider Bardwell Farm and Wayward Goose Farm. We are catching the field mice who keep finding their way into Pink Cameron (see why we decided to take a week off from camper posts?). We are missing home, but also find ourselves pursuing the rustic & enlivening lifestyle that we were dreaming about when we listened to that Beach Boys song back in December. All things considered, it seems that we have been rewarded heartily for deciding to go with our guts. More than just our guts, though, it was that we chose Kairos time over Chronos time. Kairos is the 'supreme moment' in ancient Greek, understood in the Catholic and Orthodox church as God's timeline. Chronos is chronological time. Take it from us: choose Kairos.

If our wedding were happening tomorrow, given what we know now, it would be the single best day of our lives. Instead, January 16th was. If no day is ever as good as that one, it would be very, very alright. Incalculable joy was moving through both of us that day, from morning until night. I cannot see how a joy so monumental could exist again, but hell if I'm not open to it!


—S

MEET THE HERD | CONSIDER BARDWELL FARM

 

We have arrived in Vermont. More than just arrived, really; we have assisted with a few morning chores on the farm, moseyed around an indoor farmers' market, unpacked our bags at the "Fish & Game", and consumed truly delectable cow and goat milk cheeses fresh from our new place of employment. For the next few months, our job is to help the does of Consider Bardwell do theirs: kid! While definitively starry-eyed and sleepy from a great many hours spent in the car, it feels surreal and enlivening to be in Vermont; to be in a landscape wholly unlike the Midwestern one we know and love. But therein lies the mystery and motivation of travel—to befriend a new landscape and the people (and animals) who call it home. 

For us, Vermont has always called. Two years ago we spent an afternoon exploring southeastern Vermont while visiting our sister in New Hampshire—an oddly poignant, if brief, experience. We were taken with the beauty of the Green Mountain State and have since learned about the small farm landscape, the flourishing craft brewing community, and a state law prohibiting unsightly billboards (that is to say, all billboards) along the side of the road. What not to like?  

Unpacked and beginning to settle in, we know that we will have to get our bearings about us rather quickly. With ninety does set to give birth over the course of three days next week, we have our work cut out for us. The good news is that with one day down, we still feel confident that goats (and pigs, and chickens, and farm life in general) are for us. 


—M&S