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HOMEGROWN Life: A Farmer Gives Thanks

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014

 

HOMEGROWN LifeWhen I realized an entire month had slipped by since I last sent any news from Bittersweet, I was shocked. Where did the time go? Now, with Thanksgiving upon us, I’m wondering where this entire year went.

Before I get into what sounds like more of a New Year’s blog than a Thanksgiving one, I want to say thanks to HOMEGROWN. Thanks for keeping us connected in so many ways with great ideas, great stories, support, and the love of all things farm-related. Without places like HOMEGROWN to keep us connected through the year, farming life would be an isolated and empty place.

HOMEGROWN Life: Giving Thanks

We follow in HOMEGROWN’s footsteps, in keeping with its mission to connect those who love the earth and all it offers. That connection truly does fill our lives with meaning and purpose. I’m giving thanks for many things this week, but especially for the opportunity I’ve had to share some of my farming life through HOMEGROWN. So, thanks, HOMEGROWN. I wish you all a ginormous turkey, the stuffingist stuffing, the most delicious pumpkin pie, and more, during this Thanksgiving week and always.

My thanks this week also goes to my animal family.

As temperatures get colder and winds lash up over the cove, sometimes getting out of a warm bed is a challenge. I make my cup of tea, spotting the outside flock from the kitchen window. The girls are slowly stirring. One by one, they head over to enjoy the bits of hay from last night’s bale. It makes me smile. Fifteen minutes, just 15 more minutes. I crawl back under the still-warm covers and sip.

Then my day gets started.

Opening the dairy barn door, I laugh out loud. Seven sleepy faces look up through the stall slats, each one munching away as their bellies work to keep them warm. Suddenly, I’m warm, too, without the benefit of bed covers or tea. I don’t feel cold fingers or notice the wind howling through the barn rafters. It’s like coming home, like hearing a piece of music so beautiful it makes you cry. You can’t describe it. It can’t be put into words. It melts your heart.

For this, I am thankful. Every day.

HOMEGROWN-life-ireland-4Dyan Redick calls herself “an accidental farmer with a purpose.” Bittersweet Heritage Farm, located on the St. George peninsula of Maine, is a certified Maine State Dairy offering cheeses made with milk from a registered Saanen goat herd, a seasonal farm stand full of wool from a Romney cross flock, goat milk soap, lavender woolens, and whatever else strikes Dyan’s fancy. Her farm is also an extension of her belief that we should all gain a better understanding of our food sources, our connection to where we live, and to the animals with whom we share the earth.

MORE HOMEGROWN WAYS TO GIVE THANKS
The Best Thanksgiving Playlist Ever
United States of Thanksgiving, HOMEGROWN-Style
The 19 Days of Thanksgiving
HOMEGROWN Life: My Great-Grandmother’s Dressing Recipe
HOMEGROWN Life: How to Cook a Thanksgiving Turkey
HOMEGROWN Life: It’s Fall. Time to Eat!
HOMEGROWN Life: An Early Thanksgiving

PHOTO: DYAN REDICK

HOMEGROWN Life: In Defense of Good Food; or, Farmer Bryce Responds to the 2014 Midterm Elections

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014

 

HOMEGROWN-life-bryce-logo-150x150“Who are the folks that work at the White House? Why, they’re a bunch of college professors and community organizers who think they’re smarter than all the rest of us.”

Those are the words of yesterday’s 2014 midterm elections big winner, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who is poised to become the Senate majority leader in January 2015. He, and Republicans the land over, ran their campaigns against President Obama. And they won.

HOMEGROWN readers might prefer DIY instructionals about gardening and canning, but that’s not what’s on my mind today. Maybe that’s because I live in a conservative farming community in West Missouri. Maybe that’s because I had to endure a bunch of loony political ads on TV while I was rooting on the KC Royals during their exciting, if unfulfilled, drive for a World Series title. Maybe it’s because of that McConnell quote I heard on NPR Monday evening, blasting the liberal elite professors and community-based organizations trying to stand up to the rich and powerful.

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I can’t seem to get Senator McConnell’s venom for people like me—a college-educated liberal who spent years working as a community organizer for family farmers and against the corporate takeover of agriculture—out of my mind. He put into words a very popular sentiment, and those of us working for local food and family farm agriculture need to wrestle with it.

On the face of it, you have to admit it’s pretty easy to make fun of us local food folks. We spend hours thinking about such important topics as how to best preserve the nutritional value of kale in our meals or which is the best breed of chicken to use for a pot of soup stock. (Eighteen-month-old Barred Rock laying hens do great!) I slapped my forehead when, a few years back, President Obama mused on the troubling increase in food prices by asking, “Have you seen the price of arugula at Whole Foods lately?”

No, Mr. President. I have not seen the price of arugula at Whole Foods. I grow my own.

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So, yes, we’re easy to poke fun at. We take ourselves too seriously. And that’s a big reason why we’re seen as elitist snobs instead of real people with good ideas about how to improve the economy and environment by having more farmers growing real food in a sustainable manner.

Think about what Senator McConnell is saying: Elections and politics are about a war of cultural symbols. During the Farm Bill mess the past few years, critical nutrition and local food and conservation programs were on the ropes. Some good programs were cut severely; others were eliminated. That’s what we’re facing with a McConnell-led Senate. Who cares about the latte liberals and their food stamp machines at farmers markets? We’ve got corporate taxes to cut.

This is all important because the Good Food Movement needs to figure out how to resonate with a broader population if we are to make the change we seek. It’s important to understand the reality of the people working on these issues. We’re incredibly diverse. Yes, you’ve got your Brooklyn fermented-beverage hipsters, but there are also plenty of off-the-grid conservatives who identify the grandest issue of all as the right to drink raw milk. Go to a “small farm conference” and you’ll see all kinds of weirdos doing interesting things.

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I ramble. I know.

Mostly, I’m concerned and frustrated, just like the majority of Americans. I’m sick of a supposedly growing economy that enriches a few at the top while most of us barely scrape by. Heck, my wife had to go back to teaching so we could have health insurance, since it was so hard to make a living off the farm. (In addition to farming, I also work as a writer of grants and such to make extra money). Living without health insurance seemed fine until my son broke his arm while we were building our homestead house, and we wracked up giant hospital bills we couldn’t afford.

My greatest frustration is watching as good people with good ideas who work hard face increasing challenges. Local farm and food enterprises deserve serious support from society, both from “the market” and from public support. It’s a job-creation machine ripe for the picking.

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I’ve gotta get back to the compost pile before my head explodes. I’ll try to be more happy and hopeful next time.

 

HOMEGROWN-bryce-oates-150x150Bryce Oates is a farmer, a father, a writer, and a conservationist in western Missouri. He lives and works on his family’s multi-generational farm, tending cattle, sheep, goats, and organic vegetables. His goals in life are simple: wake up before the sun, catch a couple of fish, turn the compost pile, dig potatoes, and sit by the fire in the evening, watching the fireflies mimic the stars.

ALL PHOTOS BY HOMEGROWN.ORG MEMBERS: (GIRL WITH RADISH) CITY BLOSSOMS; (CHICKEN COOP) AMY; (HIGH TUNNEL) JESSICA REEDER; (SWEET POTATOES) ASHLEE SHELTON

 

HOMEGROWN Life: An Early Thanksgiving

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

 

HOMEGROWN-LIFE-MAGENTAThis is typically the time of the year I would be writing about Halloween, my favorite holiday, or putting together something crafty for autumn. I tried that route, but I’ve never been very good at anything other than writing from my heart.

And in my heart, I am feeling like this is an early Thanksgiving instead of Halloween. You see, for the last three and a half weeks, my life has been spinning on its axis. In late September, my mother had a health emergency, leaving my sister, father, and I at her bedside for weeks. Although I know, in my practical mind, that we lose loved ones in life, suddenly I was staring that reality in the face.

We spent days in the hospital room with her, listening to beeps and blips and watching doctors and nurses shuffle in and out. On the surface, I was in the room with the machines and IVs but, inside my head, it was a much different landscape.

I looked back over the years of her being the one to hold my hand through the tough times, through sickness, through children being born. Now we sat at her bedside, holding her hands and pleading with her to get better, not even sure she could hear us or recognize our voices. We brushed her hair and washed her face, as she had done for us for so many years. Doing these small things were some of the most difficult moments of my life.

Two weeks into our vigil, the stress of the situation finally took a physical toll on my dad, leaving him in a separate hospital with heart problems. When you’ve been married for 45 years, helplessly watching your wife is bound to break your heart. It was at this point that my sister and I split duties, one with Mom at her hospital and one with Dad at his. I couldn’t help but ponder how much I’d taken for granted in my life, including my parents, who had raised me to appreciate everything that makes me a HOMEGROWN type of woman.

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Michelle’s son and her dad, aka Pop Pop

My dad taught me from a very young age to find solace in nature, to recognize the peace that it can bring. He grew gardens and took me for long walks in the state park at the end of the street. We trekked through corn fields to explore old abandoned barns and stopped to appreciate clouds and animals. I learned early on to appreciate and seek out the beauty that so many people are too busy to recognize. I have always been grateful for that.

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Michelle, as a toddler, with her mom

I trailed behind my mother all of the time in my young years, watching her create a home. She made every meal, starting with my dad’s breakfast early in the dark hours of the morning and ending with a family meal together around the dinner table. She baked and she cleaned, doing far more than I ever recognized as a child. She was also very active in society and in helping dozens of young, scared, pregnant girls who had nowhere to go. In addition to giving us what we needed, she also found these girls homes and food and security.

Together, my parents delivered full dinners to families in need and provided holidays for people who otherwise had nothing. To me, this was a normal life. It was years, not until I had my own children, before I realized they worked hard to instill social responsibility in us. They felt that raising empathetic and giving kids was their greatest legacy.

So you see, everything I cherish and have in common with you HOMEGROWN readers, I owed to these two people lying in hospital beds. They were no longer the immortal superhumans I’d always thought they were. They were, quite suddenly, very human and very vulnerable. This was my chance to learn a lesson and perhaps to share it with each of you.

Today, as I sit writing this, my dad is with my mom at her rehab center while she relearns some life skills before coming home. They’re both on the road to recovery, now that doctors have found and treated my mom’s mystery illness­: a cyst in her brain, leaning on her pituitary gland. I, too, find myself relearning some life skills.

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Michelle’s parents

I’ve forgotten how much I love the simple, small things—you know, the “normal” things. I’ve realized that, instead of my parents being normal, they’re actually blessings and not everyone’s normal: clearing the garden in fall with the kids, making way for new growth and new seasons, the routine of getting ready for school and going out into life. Preparing for family holidays then spending them together, decorating the Christmas tree or collecting Easter eggs. Picking up the phone to call my parents to talk about the fall colors, lucky they’re only 20 minutes from me.

I’ve realized these things are the glue that has held my family together tightly. It continues to hold our kids together with their cousins and their grandparents, as well. In the grand scheme of life, these are not simple or small things. They’re what life is all about.

Above all, it’s important to make these things passed down by our parents rituals rather than routines. Next time I put up food after the harvest, I’ll remember when my dad bought dozens and dozens of ears of corn to freeze. He shucked and stripped ear after ear, resulting in the year when we had corn every which way. Or the time my mom allowed me to express my own fashion sense and bought me a purple faux fur coat that I loved, only to be called Grimace for a solid year afterwards. She had tried to steer me away from the ill-fated choice, but in the end, she let me learn my own lesson.

I’m still learning my own lessons, often the hard way, but I’m exceedingly grateful to have my parents, my family, and my friends to learn from. Happy early Thanksgiving.

HOMEGROWN-life-michelleMichelle Wire comes from serious pioneer stock: Her great-grandmother literally wrote the book. It’s this legacy, in part, that led Michelle to trade in her high-stress life for a Pennsylvania homestead where she works from home in between raising kids and chickens. 

PHOTOS: MICHELLE WIRE