I had a very pleasant surprise this morning. My alarm had gone off at five, I rolled over to find that as usual, Katie was already up. Katie gets up extra early to run and exercise. As I listen to the rain pelt the aluminum awnings, I try to motivate myself to get out from under the warm sheets and blankets. Lightening flashed, thunder rumbled. Then Katie walks in and announces, “I’ve already fed, I decided to get it done before the storm.” Wow. Every day she does something that makes me realize that I have an awesome wife. I would’ve expected (and accepted) a shove, a shake and an encouraging, “Get up. The alarm’s going off.” But for some reason today my sweet wife let me lounge in bed while she braved the rain and mud to make sure our critters had their; morning hay for the cows, pellets for the rabbits, and scratch grains for the laying hens.
Here’s my bride with Mina, the Holstein heifer.
We’ve only been at this for a few months and I have to daily dig down for motivation. I never question if what I’m doing is right, but am I doing this right? I’m more or less the one who made the decision that ultimately, this was the lifestyle that we needed to live. This is the environment we want our children to be raised in; where they pull a carrot from the ground, knock the dirt off and eat it; they gather eggs that join the fresh, whole, raw milk at breakfast; they know that in order for them to eat meat, an animal must die. Katie, agreed and has trusted me to know what to do and how to do it. I should have been the one to get up before the alarm sounded and taken care of animals before the storm. Heck, I need to get up with her and exercise too.
Katie grew up in the fairly typical suburban family. Her dad is a police officer, her mom a homemaker. Their only experience with animals was to raise a litter of Boxers. With three brothers, their evenings and weekend were filled with baseball and football at the Powder Springs Park ball fields. Katie was a cheerleader and enjoyed a life that some would have called privileged but that was only because her father filled every possible hour he wasn’t on duty working a part time job. Her mother kept other people’s kids for extra money. They were devout Christians and attended Austell Christian Church of which her grandfather was a founding member. Anyone who knew Katie, would NEVER have pictured as a farmer’s wife homeschooling her children.
I wasn’t raised on a farm, but I grew up with some agrarian element. I was born in a now non-existat hospital in Atlanta, and the first decade of my life we lived in Mableton, in a house we rented from my grandmother. Most days after school, and every weekend, we would drive to my grandmother’s place in Powder Springs to take care of my mother’s horses. I did play baseball and soccer, but I was more likely to be found mucking a stall, stacking hay, fixing fences, hauling feed, getting a lesson on Tony or Poco, playing under the pecan trees on my grandmother’s 5 acres with my buddy Kris and my three siblings. My grandmother’s favorite activity for us was to pickup rocks. The pastures were limited and over grazed. There were only 4 stalls, and usually there were too many horses. My mom tried to barter with other people to get help taking care of the horses in exchange for keeping their horse there as well. For some reason it seemed we were always the ones mucking stalls and a stall that gets cleaned out once or twice a week is quite nasty. The barn was poorly situated and always prone to flooding with a couple of inches of rain, so we became expert trenchers, my pre-pubescent body hardly a match for the hard, compact soil. I was in the 4-H Horse and Pony club; I could ride, balanced on my posterior, with my knees up by my ears while my mom held the lounge line; I’ve experienced fox hunting, competed in dressage, and I’ve shown horses over fences (that means jumping for those unfamiliar with the lingo). I have cut cattle and penned calves in team penning at an AQHA show, but never in a farm or ranch setting. I learned the mechanics and technique to pitch a bale of hay to the top of a pile over my head that weighed almost as much as I did. I could stack fifty bales of in the bed of a pick up truck. We never raised a garden, all of our food came from a store other than the occasional trip to a cornfield. My mother did bake bread and I we do now. My dad’s father did keep a garden, but all he taught us was to pick beans and pull weeds. Because of all this, or in spite of, I have easily fallen in love with farming but at times, I feel like I don’t have a clue.
We moved onto the farm in September of 2011. In its heyday, this was a small dairy that raised prize winning Jerseys. All that’s left of the old farm is eight acres, a century old barn, an old store house, the main house built in 1949, a cottage built in 1955, and a few other sheds. We’re sandwiched between two subdivisions, just 10 minutes west of Marietta, GA. The only reason this farm is still here is the housing market bust in 2008. I jumped at the opportunity to get this place as it was a tall order to ask my sweet wife to settle for a trailer on twenty acres in Alabama. I also saw this as an opportunity to help a part of preserve the rapidly disappearing farming community that once dominated this area. Having the barn and sheds is great because I don’t HAVE build anything, but because they are so old, everything needs some amount of repair. I can’t quite discern how the original dairy operation was run and I am trying to figure how I’m going to fit a milking parlor, plus the layout of these buildings isn’t exactly how I would choose. But we are just making the best of what we have to work with.
Yesterday, in anticipation of the coming rain; David, my eight year old, and I dug a trench. Someone before us, built a loafing shed in the pasture, a poorly situated shed much like that old barn from my childhood. This shed faces west, not south. Water runs off the roof and then promptly into the shed, making a muddy, nasty mess. The immediate solution was to dig a trench along the back wall of the shed, thankfully this soil is fairly loose and sandy and David could enthusiastically fill the blade of his shovel. As David and I dug, it was impossible for me not to reflect back, and recognize that some kind of cycle has been completed. Afterward we shared in the satisfaction of completing a job that had to be done. The smile on my son’s face was all I needed to know that this is where we belong.