Farm To Farm

by Spec MacQuayde, December 17, 2009

Dr. Chaulk stopped by the farm in the rain last Saturday afternoon to vaccinate the four remaining pups against parvo. He must know what he's doing. None of the pups noticed the needle in the flesh.

Part of the reason I was happy to have the vet over to vaccinate the pups was that it allowed me to cancel the idea of moving more cows up to the hillside pastures. The first trip up Deer Meadow Road above Boonville was uneventful until the last hill before the gate, when the light front end of the International tractor literally lifted off the ground. I guess the ancient stock trailer with three thousand pounds of flesh bouncing around was a little too much as the hill got steeper, and I had to back the whole works down the hill using the left and right brakes with the front end floating.

Maybe part of the problem was that the weights fell off the front end of the tractor while I was cutting hay in June. It was the second time they'd fallen off. For some reason they are fastened to the frame with nothing but two half-inch bolts. The first time they'd sheered, I'd drilled the bolts and used an E-Z-out to remove them, but this time one was stuck and the E-Z-out just bent. Since I don't do any heavy pulling, I just decided to screw it and leave the weights off.

But that was the sort of thinking that led to this Deer Meadow predicament. Fortunately the trailer stayed on the road as it pulled the tractor, inch by inch, skidding and rocking the whole way.

A neighbor from further up the hill stopped to help. After some discussion, we decided the thing to do was let the cows out and drive them up the road the old-fashioned way, walking behind them and grabbing their tales. They were all pretty tame. The reason I'd chosen them first to go up the hill was they were easy to work with.

Tuesday was one of the coldest days Anderson Valley has seen in years. The condensation accumulating in the vacuum line on the milking machine froze, clogging up the works, and I had to siphon hot water in to melt the ice in order to milk the cows. Needless to say, it was a long morning.

Making the mundane more difficult, I was still working on breaking in the new “woofer” who has recently moved to our farm from her home in East Detroit, Michigan. “Diana Winter” is not her real name. She graduated from Cleveland State several years ago with a bachelor's degree in English Literature and Anthropology, and has been working at Home Depot since receiving her diploma, barely making her rent and car payments and unable to make payments on her student loan. It's over $100,000, growing monthly, so she signed on with the popular “willing workers on organic farms” organization as a means of living beyond the books, so to speak. Her financial future is bleak.

For several years I'd received a phone call or two every week from young people around the country who were interested in coming to Mendocino County to work on farms, and I'd consistently turned them down, having concluded that any work that needed to be done should be done by locals. There are complications that arise when young people from outside the area come to work and live. For one thing, they tend to be psychologically dependent on the farmers, with no loyal friends in the community at large. But so many jobs were piling up at the farm. There was the dishes, the laundry, the perpetual mess that follows the antics of my three sons, and I just couldn't keep up. So when Diana arrived with her backpack off the Greyhound in Ukiah, I had to spend a few days helping her adjust to life on our farm.

“Unless you have experience as a mechanic, most of the work in the fields and pastures is going okay,” I told her, handing her a book of essays by Wendell Berry: Home Economics. “What our farm needs is someone who can keep the kitchen tidy, keep the laundry folded, and put dinner on the table.”

“But I came out here to do farm work.”

“Here, I have this bag of trim,” I said, handing Diana about a pound of shake buds that some local grower had kicked down to me. “It's yours.”

“Wow!”

“Don't mention it.”

Having grown up in southern Indiana, I knew what it must feel like to hold a pound of pretty good smoke that somebody had just given you for free. We smoked a little around the fire that night, passing a bottle of whiskey and getting better acquainted. I guess Diana was involved with the robust urban gardening movement in Detroit, a role model for other cities. Vacant lots left and right have been transformed into market gardens, with urban gardeners selling mustard greens, chard, turnips, beets, zucchini, etc. Things are so bad in Detroit that the people are turning it around, for good. It was due to this phenomenon that Diana was inspired to get some experience on organic farms, to bring her skills back. Unfortunately, this time of year there isn't a hell of a lot to do out in the garden. The carrots and beets are sitting in a veritable refrigerator, chilling out in the cool soil. Several times a week I harvest. Other than that, there's nothing to do but listen to the rain hit the galvanized roof and fetch firewood from the pile.

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