A Grief Deferred

 

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“We were promised sufferings. They were part of the program…I’ve got nothing that I hadn’t bargained for. Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not imagination.” –C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed.

 

I lost a goat a few weeks ago. It is likely unwise to write this reflection at this moment. The pain of loss is too recent. Lacking appropriate distance, I’ll render this post more catharsis than measured exploration. So it goes[1].

“Devastated” is the closest word I can find to describe my feelings, but that word doesn’t quite capture it. Devastation, in this case, would seemingly imply irreparable harm to our farming project or at least the complete destruction of our goat herd. Thankfully, neither is the case. In eighteen months we’ve been through plenty, and the sense that tragedy could cause us to quit has long passed. But, this hurts.

We say, “they aren’t pets,” and that is true. They may not be pets, but you cannot help but to get attached. After all, why would we work so hard for so little if we did not genuinely love animals? We don’t love animals in the abstract, but direct this love towards particular individuals[2]. Every farmer I know has at least one of these stories: the sheep that you break the “no vets” rule for; the pig with some endearing quirk that you know you’ll miss come processing day; or the goat intended for sale or slaughter that you decide to keep for breeding instead. This will be the animal that gets sick or hurt, and Crystal was one of those animals. She did not fit into our farming ideology, but I got hopelessly attached. Not only did she kid twin does with magical consistency and produce lots of high quality milk, but she was a damn good mother and a steady herd leader. Sure, she seemed to need attention more than the others and had a frustrating appetite for hay over forage, but she was gentle and affectionate towards me. I, of course, am a pushover.

To capture the loss of one of these “special ones” is difficult. It is part grief at losing a vibrant, unique creature with which you’ve formed a bond, part guilt at failing to protect or heal her. Factor in the chaos of being forced to stray from a rigid routine to deal with the crisis, the need to protect the rest of the farm, and the cold, hard economic impact to the farm (and the shame at the realization of the importance of that reality), and you begin to form a coherent picture of this grief.

For me, though, the single most energy sapping and morale sucking aspect of this loss is the fact that I cannot grieve. Not now. The rest of the herd needs preventative medicine, and there are hundreds of mouths that must be fed. The farm does not grant personal leave. So, I’ll add “grieve” to my fall chore list, pick up a bucket of water and a bag of feed, and move about my business. You can cry and move fences simultaneously, the opinions of the loggers across the fence line be damned.

[1] Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse 5.

[2] I borrowed this language from Cornel West, who frequently makes this type of distinction.

Lord Willin’ and the Creek Don’t Rise

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This is not the blog post I had intended to write about pigs. I had hoped the rain would offer me a chance to crank out 500 words or so about my feelings about pigs: their intelligence, raising them, butchering them, hunting them, moral conflicts, and the like. Instead, this is a story about what Alex Hitt, at Peregrine Farm, calls Type 2 fun.

Some definitions are in order:

Type 1 fun: Fun at the time

Type 2 fun: fun or funny after the fact.

This, hopefully, will someday be felt as type 2 fun.

Continue reading Lord Willin’ and the Creek Don’t Rise

“Super” Tuesday

Gun control. Tax rates. Terrorism…even with this “Super Tuesday” now at a close, these issues will continue to dominate the political debate from now through November, at which point 60% of us will decide our next President. No candidate, I suspect, will deign to mention farm or food policy. With the exception of the obligatory salt-of-the-earth pandering, you might not ever hear the word “farm.”

But, why? Why should we accept the former and exclude the latter? I don’t mean to suggest that the flourishing of Isis is of no concern or that common sense gun law reform isn’t needed or that our tax system isn’t an unmitigated disaster that intentionally obfuscates in order to disguise corporate welfare. While the band of nitwits that pass as presidential hopefuls rarely speak meaningfully on these topics, they are still important ones. But what about farms? What about food? Rather than diminish the value of the aforementioned issues, I want to make a brief case for elevating food policy to that level. Is that too much?

Before you write this off as a narcissistic rant, consider this: our current policies prop up a method of food production that is responsible for roughly 1/3 of the carbon emissions driving climate change. Our current policies also drive poverty in rural America and limit food access in urban America. Changing our food policy is approaching a life and death situation for millions. These policies fundamentally decide how much, what kind, and even whether or not you get to eat. Unless you produce all of your own food (and even most farmers can’t claim this), this affects you.

You won’t hear about these issues this election season. Not by any party, not by any candidate. As I stood in my polling place this afternoon, I found myself without even the option of being a single-issue voter.

Mom’s Musings on Loch Holland Farm

Over the last week of the year, my mother and father were generous enough to mind the farm so that Claire and I could take some much needed time off with some friends out in East TN. My mom spent some time turning her thoughts on the experience to poetry and was kind enough to let me share them here. 

Day 1

Arrive before sunset.

Unpack. Acclimate.

Marvel at the pecking order of the hens

hopping in for the night.

Singing “Good night Ladies”

As the peace of Saulsbury

descends upon my soul.

Day 2

I greet the day before the sun.

Chores done in tandem with my farming partner.

Eggs fresh from the coop for breakfast.

Driving to town for supplies.

Note to self: Never run out of milk!

Day 3

Stray cats fight before dawn.

Wind rattles the roof.

Rain in my boots left carelessly on the porch.

Feeding the flock in a warm December downpour.

Returning home to no power.

Cold cereal does not a hearty breakfast make.

Day 4

Yesterday was t-shit weather.

Today I need a hat and gloves.

Yesterday there was energy to spare

And I carried water effortlessly to the field.

Today, I doubt I can lift even one bucket.

But the animals remain unmoved by my plight.

And I know there is no reprieve for farmers.

Day 5 On Counting Chickens

“Mom, if you can, get a count of the chickens”

Is that a farmer joke?

“Of course, son,” I replied in earnest.

Now I’m sure too soon I spoke.

I’ll try counting them this morning.

As our in the field they feed.

1-2-3-4-5

Red combs

NO WAIT!

How they shift with speed!

Perhaps I can count tail feathers?

Tiny pyramids perched to the sky…

But now a rooster comes calling

And hens begin to fly.

Oh…

There are hens and roosters a plenty.

To this I can testify.

But I could not count your chickens, son.

Though I gave it my best try.

Day 6

I’m sorry I missed your dad

Clad in Claire’s boots

Arms outstretched.

Prancing through the chickens

Like a rooster among the hens.

An Unwanted Visit from the Travel Bug…part 2

“A culture is not a collection of relics or ornaments, but a practical necessity, and its corruption invokes calamity. A healthy culture is a communal order of memory, insight, value, work, conviviality, reverence, aspiration…It clarifies our inescapable bonds to the earth and to each other.” – Wendell Berry, the Unsettling of America.

 

From my personal experience traveling, both within the United States and abroad, when people think of “southern culture” they tend to reference a set of clichés. Many of these invoke our current problems or historical demons: a history of slavery, segregation and racism; high rates of obesity; low educational rankings. Some aspects of the South, while not outweighing the evils, are positive: beautiful landscapes; southern hospitality; amazing food. When the negatives and positives are compared, it is easy to disparage the South, especially the rural south. My heritage, like many other southerners, is this South: the good as well as the bad. Like many of my peers, I grew up with no greater desire than to escape from this reality. Yes, the weather is nice and warm, the landscapes are beautiful, and the barbeque is, properly, slow smoked pork, but the racist, sexist, homophobic South, is nothing to be proud of. Truly, I think this is why I decided to start traveling. Moreover, for these reasons, I never expected to re-settle in the South permanently.

Continue reading An Unwanted Visit from the Travel Bug…part 2

Beyond Tired

When I began this blog late last winter, I would have been offended by the suggestion that I would have only completed half a dozen blog posts by Christmas. But, here we are. I would have expected my gut reaction to be, “What the hell happened? Did I really schedule weekly writing time and fail to post for months on end?” However, I know what happened.

 

Summer.

 

At first, I found rural life conducive to both writing and farming. I get to farm sunup to sundown (give or take an hour) and then write after dark because, let’s be honest, there’s not too much else going on out here. Having spent much of my previous years in an office or in school, I somehow neglected the fact that the sun doesn’t work in 8-hour shifts.

 

At one point I got so fed up with being behind on my story telling that I intended to simply write a blog post about how physically draining I found farming to be in my first season. I knew coming in that even being an avid runner, an outdoorsman, and a fan of physical labor, that this year would be a new challenge altogether. The levels of tiredness that I experienced this year were altogether new, though. I wanted to write about how I learned a person could sweat so much in a single day that you wake up feeling like you have the all time worst hangover…except you haven’t touched alcohol in a week and had even contemplated the limits of your well with the amount of water you imbibed the day before. That blog post was never written though…because I was tired. I was tired and then the next day I had a repeat of the conditions that made me tired in the first place. And then that happened for a month. I was so tired, I couldn’t begin to write about how tired I was. I was so tired, I failed to chronicle a number of blog posts that occurred to me to write. Blog posts like:

 

-The time I captured a possum in my bathroom at 5:00 in the morning using only a hockey stick and a cat carrier

-All of the stray dogs that came through our house this Spring (6 at last count)

-Learning that dog gestation is 62 days on the 60th day of my chief livestock dog’s pregnancy (and having the puppies born the first real evening I took off farm)

-Processing the first laying hens that moved with us from Memphis to the farm

-The anarchy of loading my first set of pigs onto the trailer the day of slaughter

-Managing to get two flat tires on my way to the pig processor the second time around

-Somehow deciding that trimming trees constitutes ‘light work’ on a day that our AC is out and it is 100+ degrees

-An appreciation for my dark sense of humor upon finding out my feed supplier has burned down

-Righteous fury at the pork processor for losing two whole hams followed by disappointed resignation two months later when the same processor loses a bunch of bacon

-My comical attempt to make a chart of potential alternative careers (and learning not to make life decisions in August)

 

It is only now, in December, that I feel like I have the mental capacity (and time!) to sit down and give some of these stories the attention that they deserve. Stay tuned. I’m looking to make up for lost time and get these stories out quickly so that I can make room in my head for new ones in 2016.

We Have Pork!

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Alright, this blog took a major down turn this summer (as in, I neglected to post anything for months). Suffice it to say, I learned that farming July – September can be fairly miserable. There are a ton of posts that will be going up in the coming weeks to get caught back up on our travails over here. We’re also working on a  farm website (lochhollandfarm.com – coming soon!), updated social media, etc, etc. In the meantime, we’ve produced some pork. If you would like to purchase it, I would be happy to accept most forms of currency.

 

 

Pastured Pork Pricing

Cut Price (per pound unless noted)
Bacon / Bacon Ends $10
Pork Chops $10
Fresh Jowl $8
Jowl Bacon $10
Sausage (Mild or Hot) $5
Ham Roast $8
Shoulder Roast $6
Ham Steak $8
­Shoulder Steak $6
Heart $5 (per heart)
Liver $5
Lard $5
Ribs $7
Tenderloin (Backstrap) $12
Inner Loin $15

 

*Whole and half hogs available at $4.50/lb (hanging weight) + butcher fees. These are cut to customer specification. Available late Summer – early Winter. Pre-order any time!

Ordering

Call Chris @ 901-233-8734 (We deliver to drop off points in Germantown and Midtown weekly. If our regular Saturday pick-up time doesn’t work for you, we’ll work something out.

Email: petersochris@gmail.com

About our pork

Currently, we raise two types of heritage breed pigs, Red Wattle crosses and Gloucestershire Old Spots. Our pigs are raised on a mixture of pasture and woodland, and are moved to fresh forage about once per week. We also feed crushed or fermented grain (depending on availability), some hay, fresh whey and whatever leftover fruit and spent grains (from beer brewing) we can get our hands on. We practice multi-species rotational grazing, so that our pigs, goats, and chickens work together to help manage our pastures (and each other’s diets) more efficiently.

 

To read more about heritage breed pork please visit the Livestock Conservancy:

http://www.livestockconservancy.org/index.php/heritage/internal/heritage-swine

 

To read more about multi-species rotational grazing: http://www.hrwc.net/rotationalgrazing.htm

Just Some Pictures of Baby Animals

Enjoy these photos of our baby animals. You’ll find a picture of Chloe (our Pyrenees) with Melian along with photos of Crystal with her twins, Luthien and Miriel. There’s also one of our 5 red wattle piglets, and to cap it all off, a few photos of Chloe’s litter of 6 adorable baby Pyrnees.

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I’m offering these to you without any analysis, moralizing, or ‘feelings talk.’ Here’s why: the next two posts are going to be a bit intense. I don’t feel the need to apologize for the content, but I know both are likely to infuriate a few people. There’s going to be one about ‘processing’ chickens along with a follow up to “An Unwanted Visit from the Travel Bug,” which has some in-depth commentary about racism in our food system. So, in the meantime, enjoy these photos, check out our new products page, and follow me on Instagram.

Calm, Composed, and Always Prepared

 

IMG_1106Calm. Composed. Prepared. These three words have never, to my knowledge, been used to describe me. As a matter of fact, the only accurate usage of these three words in relationship to me would be out of disbelief, “Wow, you’ve prepared for this.” I’m prone to habitual tardiness, procrastination, and “winging it.” Moreover, I’ve struggled with anxiety for a long time and frequently experience panic attacks. As you might imagine, these aspects of my personality are less than ideal when it comes to farming. Exhibit A: momma goat rejects baby goat.

Continue reading Calm, Composed, and Always Prepared

An Unwanted Visit From the Travel Bug…part 1

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At some point, my past was bound to cach up with me. In the past seven years I have been incredibly privileged in my opportunities to see and experience the world. I’ve studied abroad for brief periods in two countries—Italy and Argentina (two times)—I volunteered with an NGO in Nicaragua and briefly visited Uruguay, and I lived for a year in England where I did my Masters degree. Moreover, while in England, I not only traveled around the country, but I also visited  (deep breath) Cornwall, Wales, the Netherlands, France, and Ireland and in 2013 honeymooned in Scotland. Before all this international travel, I had the wonderful experience of traveling much of the South and Midwest in a band. I don’t bring all this up to gloat (well, it’s not the only reason). Rather, I mention this background to illustrate how strange sitting in one place can be. In less than a decade, I have traveled more than most people will their entire life, yet now I find myself in Saulsbury, TN (population 81).

Continue reading An Unwanted Visit From the Travel Bug…part 1