And so it goes…

We were covered in a blanket of snow Monday morning.  Twenty four hours later it was almost all gone.

Looks like our little slice of winter is going to be replaced by our amazing early spring.  It’s supposed to be in the 70’s by the end of the week.

I’m happy to report that Jolene is now letting her kid nurse.  Our intervention likely saved the little dude’s life.

That’s a good feeling.

Love Wins

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Enriching the Earth

It is a time of year when I sow clover and till compost into the soil.  So this poem from Wendell Berry is appropriate to the season.  I am serving the dark.

Enriching the Earth

To enrich the earth I have sowed clover and grass
to grow and die. I have plowed in the seeds
of winter grains and various legumes,
their growth to be plowed in to enrich the earth.
I have stirred into the ground the offal
and the decay of the growth of past seasons
and so mended the earth and made its yield increase.
All this serves the dark. Against the shadow
of veiled possibility my workdays stand
in a most asking light. I am slowly falling
into the fund of things. And yet to serve the earth,
not knowing what I serve, gives a wideness
and a delight to the air, and my days
do not wholly pass. It is the mind’s service,
for when the will fails so do the hands
and one lives at the expense of life.
After death, willing or not, the body serves,
entering the earth. And so what was heaviest
and most mute is at last raised up into song.

Love Wins

My morning

It was a dreary morning yesterday, a little colder than the last few but with no sign yet of the snow that had been forecast.   After I let the chickens out and added wood to the stove, I put out a bale of hay for the goats.

Jolene was lying a stall, chewing her cud.  I couldn’t help feeling a little angry at her.  Her kid had been missing for two days and she didn’t seem to care.  We had anxiously looked forward to her first kidding and a few days ago she delivered a big, healthy buckling.  I found him not long after he’d been born and carried him to a warm, dry barn stall while Cherie and I coaxed his reluctant mother along.  After a couple of days in the barn, we released them back into the pasture.  And the next day the kid was gone.  I searched the pasture but found no sign of him.  Jolene must have left him out in the back pasture that night where he’d fallen victim to a coyote.  We have a nanny goat who loses her babies like that.  But when she loses them she cries in distress and grief.  Jolene seemed indifferent to the loss.  I could only conclude that she’s a bad mother, and that made me a little mad at her.

As I walked to the front part of the farm I stopped to look at our shiitake mushroom project.  I’ve been drilling holes in small white oak logs and driving wood plugs with shiitake spawn into them.  It’s new for us and I’m excited at the prospect of fresh naturally grown mushrooms next year.

It had begun to sleet lightly.  The little ice particles were so small that they weren’t visible, but I was surrounded by the sound of crinkling, as they struck the dry leaves on the ground.

I spent some time weeding the asparagus, enjoying the beauty of the gray morning.  It’s way too soon for it be happening, but the asparagus is starting to emerge.

As I moved on to weeding the garlic the sleet began to come down harder.  Last year at this time the garlic hadn’t come up yet.  This year it’s coming in strong.

Soon it was sleeting hard and the crinkling had become a roar.  It’s 1/3 of a mile from our garlic garden back to our house and I walked it in the driving sleet.  The ice was stinging my ears and face as it struck me and I had to smile.  I must really love my job to come out and work in the gardens in the sleet, I thought.

By the time I got home the sleet was coming down hard enough to start to accumulate.  Just in case it got worse, I decided to take a bale of hay back to the goats in the breeding pasture.  I threw a couple of bales out of the loft and into the bed of our RTV and drove them back there.  And to my surpise, and great joy, I found Jolene’s missing kid in the shed with the other goats.  He must have crawled under the fence and into that pasture in search of his mother.

Despite not having eaten in a couple of days, he was suprisingly spunky.  I carried him back to the barn pasture, greatly relieved to have discovered him alive–only to find that his mother wouldn’t nurse him.  Every time the little fellow would try to nurse, she would push him away.  As he cried and followed her around, she ran from him.

If he was going to survive, I knew this meant we’d have to bottle-feed him.  And we had no whole milk in the house.  By now it was starting to snow.  I drove to our local country store in search of milk.  Because of the snowy forecast, they were almost completely sold out.  Luckily they still had a few pint bottles and I bought several of them.

After a couple of days without eating, our little survivor was a very hungry kid.   He took to the bottle immediately.  Fortunately he was born big and strong.  A weaker baby would never have survived.

A bottle of milk, and a little TLC, turned a hungry, frightened and confused little kid into a happy little guy.

And now I sit and look out the window at the falling snow.  It’s about 11 a.m. and it’s been quite a morning.

I love this life.

Love Wins.

Science

Although I find the history and philosophy of science fascinating, if I start examining the nuts and bolts of it I quickly end up over my head.  So why did I end up in two science-based classes this term?

One is a theological anthropology class, focused on multidisciplinary perspectives of the human person.  The other is a philosophy class entitled “Science and Faith in a Post Christendom World.”  Both are connected to the Q3 Science and Faith conference that Asbury is hosting in March.  Although I’m looking forward to going, I fully expect the physicists and neurobiologists to quickly overwhelm my unscientific mind.

The reading list is daunting:

Christopher Southgate, et al., God, Humanity and the Cosmos
Joel Green, Body, Soul and Human Life: The Nature of Humanity in the Bible
Thomas Oord, Divine Grace and Emerging Creation:  Wesleyan Forays in Science and Theology of Creation
Ben Mitchell, et al. Biotechnology and the Human Good
Ian Barbour, Science and Religion
Owen Gingerich, God’s Universe
Alvin Plantinga and Daniel Dennett, Science and Religion:  Are They Compatible?

As I dive into the these I’m already having my brain rattled, both by the mindbending scientific advances of the past couple of decades, but also by the fact that certain things I’d taken for granted theologically just aren’t as clear, certain or necessary as I had believed them to be.

Maybe at the end of this I’ll be a little smarter.  Or maybe I’ll just be more confused.

Love Wins

A problem?

When our young bucklings are old enough to wean, we take them to the market to sell.  To unload them, I back my truck up to a ramp and the goats walk out of the pen in the truck bed and down the ramp.  Of course, because they’ve never seen a ramp like the one at the market and they’re unsure of their surroundings, they’re usually reluctant to get out of the pen.  Usually one or more of the men who work at the market will try to shoo them out.  Then, once they’re on the ramp, they have to walk down an alley to the spot where they’re checked in.  Once checked it, they must walk to the pen where they’ll stay until the sale commences.

We raise our goats humanely.  We never mistreat or abuse them.  They are, essentially, tame.

So our goats don’t respond well to kicks, prods, shouts, threats and waving arms.  Instead of running from the person trying to herd them, they often will stand and look at him, probably wondering what sort of weird signal he’s giving them.

The last time I unloaded goats at the market, the men who worked there were having trouble moving them along.  I overheard one of them say, “The problem with tame goats is that they’re not afraid of people.” 

I suppose that because my goats don’t flee in terror at the sight of humans, in the eyes of these guys I’ve failed in some way as a goat farmer.  But, to my way of thinking, it is not a “problem” that our animals don’t fear humans.  When I see domesticated animals that cower in fear, or run away in terror, in the presence of humans, I consider that to be a serious problem.

But, being the nerd that I am, what came to my mind when I heard the man complaining about the “problem” with tame goats was the curse of carnivores.  According to the story in Genesis, until the time of the Flood humans were strictly vegetarian.  But when Noah and his family left the ark, God said to them, “Everything that lives and moves will be food for you.  Just as I gave you the green plants, now I give you everything.”  This was, however, accompanied by a curse.  God told Noah and his family, “The fear and dread of you will fall upon all the beasts of the earth…, they are given into your hands.”  Whereas previously the animals had nothing to fear from humans, now humans would kill and eat them so they had much to “fear and dread.”   

Someday we’re told that complete harmony and peace between humans and nonhuman animals will be restored: wolves will live with lambs, leopards will lie down with goats, children will play with cobras, and lions will eat straw.  In the meantime, while we look forward to that, I’m happy to have goats upon whom the “fear and dread” of me hasn’t fallen.  It’s like a tiny little glimpse into the kingdom of God.

Love Wins

Organic

Our farm is not certified organic by the USDA and never will be.  That’s not because we aren’t farming organically.   As far as I know we’re fully eligible for organic certification.   We use no herbicides, pesticides, chemicals or poisons.  We try to farm as naturally and sustainably as we reasonably can.  We make our own fertilizer.  I think we’re about as “organic” as a farm can be.

But unfortunately the word “organic” has been largely co-opted by industrial agriculture.  We now have “industrial organic”–huge monocultural corporate farms in California and Mexico cranking out vegetables using practices that minimally comply with governmental regulations and thus allowed to bear the stamp “certified organic.”  For small farmers, the cost of complying with the government red tape is just too burdensome to be worthwhile.  And most of us would prefer not to submit ourselves to goverment inspection just so we can have permission to use a plain word from the English language in its ordinary meaning.  So we don’t bother.

To the best of my knowledge none of the farmers at the Danville Farmer’s Market are certified organic.  It is now illegal to use the word “organic” to describe your farming practices unless you have government approval (and have filled out all the papers and paid all the fees).  One woman who went through the trouble of getting the certification told me that she let it lapse because she was spending all her time filling out forms when she needed to be tending her gardens.  Another farmer told me that he chose to identify his farm as “certified naturally grown,” through a self-policing organization of farmers who would rather not submit to the government’s bureaucratic nonsense.

At the last Land and Table meeting we attended in the Bedford area we met some young people who have just moved to Virginia from Washington state to start up a farm of their own.  They wondered why so few Virginians are certified organic.  In Washington, they said, nearly all the farmers at the farmer’s market have the certification.  The Land and Table gathering was composed entirely of folks dedicated to sustainable, natural farming practices and not one of them had sought government certification. 

Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm is probably the most famous of the rebels who choose not to get certified.  He has chosen to call his farm “beyond organic.”  We like that.

I don’t get asked often if we are certified organic, but when I do I explain why we’re not and I also invite the person to come visit our farm and see for themselves how we do things.  Try doing that with most of the “farms” which produce the “certified organic” products in the grocery stores.

What is most important is not some government-approved buzzword.  What is most important is to get to know the farmers personally.  Make sure their family is eating the same food they’re selling to you.

That is the best assurance of quality.

Love Wins

Seeing Things

I love this view from the back of our house.  Seeing it so often is one of the joys of living here.  But if left to my own devices, we wouldn’t have this view.

When we were deciding where on the farm to build our house, it would never have occured to me to build where we did.  The spot our house stands on was on the boundary of some woods and a tobacco field.  The view to the mountain wasn’t nearly as good, because there was a stand of Virginia pine that had overgrown the edge of the field that is now the pasture.  I don’t have the vision to look at a place like that and imagine the view if a few simple changes were made.  In my mind the house would have to be either where the original farm house was (near the road) or maybe sitting in the middle of a field.  My brain has trouble visualizing a place changed.  So if Cherie asks me what I think a room would look like if the furniture were rearranged, I can’t answer unless we actually move it there.  And if the question is what the place would look like if a wall were moved, then I’m completely stumped.  I just don’t have it.

Fortunately for us Cherie has that kind of vision.  So she knew the best spot to build our house.  She knew what the floorplan should be.  She knew where it made sense to move windows and doors on the plans.  She knew where we should put the barn.  Her vision made things turn out right.

So as I look to expand our gardens this year, I get really stressed out sometimes trying to figure out where they should go and how the rows should be oriented.  Once they’re laid out, I have no trouble tending them and keeping them.  But in the meantime, sometimes I feel like my head is spinning over something as simple as where a new fence should go.

But despite the fact that I make it harder than it ought to be, things are coming together now.  I’m breaking ground on new gardens and hoping I’ll be able to properly tend them all.

Maybe someday I’ll even figure out how to visualize change.

Love Wins