Farm News

Life At Hand

photo of Drought tolerant purple phacelia

This week Brad helped me with an informal farm poultry census. Currently we have 49 hens, 21 chicks and only five roosters. Here’s the rooster roster: Dashing, Hank, Sam, Ricky, and Pillsbury.

photo of a hen on farmer brad's headI have read a lot of books about “keeping” livestock. I’ll admit, I have a real bias against any author who makes black and white pronouncements. Their street cred goes out the window when they write definitively that a certain breed of livestock will “never” do this or “always” does that. I often joke that the animals at our farm have clearly never read these behavior manuals. Quite often they don’t act like the books say they are suppose to. Which, turns out, is one surefire way to get yourself a name.

You might think it’s cute that we name our livestock. But on a practical note, it is much simpler to name our animals, than it is to use various descriptors to accomplish the same thing. Telling Brad that “Lucky keeps foraging way up by the canyon edge and I’m concerned she’ll get picked off by a coyote, so please keep an eye out for her” takes a lot less breath than prefacing that information with: “You know that white hen with the tall comb and the fanned tail that we thought was a rooster until it laid its first egg in front of you?”

For me, naming the animals at the farm is also a form of humility, a promise that I will try to not be bound by blanket assumptions. I may know about the concept of chickens, but a name reminds me that I have a lot to learn about you.

My mom once told me, “I believe I get more hugs every day than anyone else I know.” I don’t doubt it for one minute. I know first hand the power of her presence. A lifelong educator, children instinctively love Mrs. Jones. She greets each child with all the enthusiasm in the world, and she is quick to instill confidence in fledgling capabilities and aspirations. One of the most incredible things about my mom is her ability to really be present with each learner, whatever challenges they are facing– while at the same time reflecting the awesome potential of their highest self. No assumptions, no labels, no judgments. Never, ever: ‘why can’t you be more like…?’. In return, she is repaid in hugs. Real hugs, not petite, half-hearted hugs, but those deeply genuine, I-am-so-happy-to-be-with-you hugs. Pedometers might be passé, but can you imagine what it would feel like to reach 100 on your hugometer in one day? Mrs. Jones knows.

Tara Jensen is the owner and sole operator of Smoke Signals, an artisan bakery in the remote mountains of North Carolina. In her book A Baker’s Year, she has a short section titled, ‘How to Make Bread.’ This is the preface, ostensibly addressed to all bakers:

“It is important to relax the classifying mind while baking. Engage with the dough in front of you, not the idea of it. Work with a loving attitude. To love in baking is to remain present. Herein lies the health benefit: the practice of caring. The quality of care you can extend to the bread is related to the quality of care you provide yourself.”—Tara Jensen

Tara has made thousands and thousands of loaves of bread, all by hand, all baked in a wood fired oven. Her tools and equipment are bare bones. To an outsider like me, it would seem this is a life that could easily become monotonous. It would seem almost impossible not to fall into the trap of assuming every loaf is just like the last one. But Tara knows how different each day is, how distinctly alive every single dough truly is. Engage with the dough in front of you, not the idea of it.

photo of chicks in haySo much of our world is focused on cookie cutter approaches that pigeonhole us in ill-fitting ways. I want to be absorbed not with the idea of life, but with the life right before me. Not chickens, but Lullaby and Midnight. Not Tamworth or Large Blacks pigs, but Rosie, and Polly and Kermit. Not customers, but Josephine and Nora and Edie and Lucy. I farm for the same reason Tara bakes, for the same reason my Mom teaches. We believe in the transformative power of cultivating relationships one by one by one.

It is past time we give up the false pretense of labels, set down stereotypes and over-simplified classification tendencies. Don’t dance with generalizations, or one-dimensional constructs. Name by name, hug by hug, loaf by loaf. Tenders and teachers and makers—all of us can be agents of change by eagerly engaging with those discrete and precocious living beings full of surprise that reside within both arms’ and hearts’ reach.

This Solstice, quiet your mind, open your eyes and with intention, remember one thing. There are no manuals for how to be human that reflect your full potential, your brilliant individuality. Know this: when you visit our farm, hugs are free. ~AJ