Prayers at Maple Tree Medows

Prayers at Maple Tree Medows
Three Rivers, MI

Monday, January 24, 2011

Family Horse Barn

I have always loved horses. My Dad used to play Black Beauty, allowing us five little kids to ride on his back as he neighed and bucked around the living room. Back then I imagined there was a real horse in the small, old barn behind the house where we lived. There was -- only once -- when the doctor came on a house call by horse back (circa 1958).

When I was in middle school I took riding lessons. My mount, Bucky, felt my fear. He would just begin to shift from a trot to a canter when, suddently, he would stop in his tracks, throw his head down, and start chomping on grass. Breathless and all the more fearful, I pulled myself up as gracefully as I could from dangling precipitously over his lowered neck. Then the instructor said, "Pull hard on those reins! Hold his head in tighter!" I nudged his sides, timidly, with my heels. As you might imagine, me "horse girl" dream did not last long.

How lovely, then, to visit a horse barn I had passed often. Walking alone, I lay my cool hand on the warm noses of quiet, curious horses, all in a row! The cats wove themselves around my feet and hands and seemingly posed for pictures. For me so far, barns that house animals are clearly the most endearing.

A family horse barn,
I house
Airy quietness and
Clouded white breath as
Dark horses gaze
At the large riding arena
From window lit stalls
In a long line
Well tended by
One kitten, two cats
Three sparrows in my beams
And the couple
In the apartment within me
Who keep me
and tight
and ready.

My family’s daughter
Fell in love
With horses
And never
Fell out.

So I became
The family
For hunter jumpers
Riding within
My arena
And without
In pastures
And in the one
With jumps
For practice.

I am a barn
So near to home –
A walk down the hill:
And warm
And dry.

I listen deeply to
A low snort
A mew
A flutter
On a snowy afternoon
As I stand alone
And wide
And still.

Monday, January 10, 2011

White Yarrow Farm: CSA Packing Barn

I visited with Jo Beachy and Dale Hasenick and their daughter, Riana, this past Sunday afternoon. Jo and Dale and I nibbled on carrot cake at their dining room table. When I planned my visit to White Yarrow farm I was thinking about the barn that Dale and Jo built in 2005-2006 with a $10,000 grant for new farm ventures in meat production. However, it became clear as we talked that the first barn they built on the property, in 1997-1998, the packing barn, was the “hub” of their vegetable and flower farm.

Some barns are so darn proud of being “centennial barns.”
But me, I am a millennial barn!
Yes, that’s right, if there were lettering painted on my bright shiny red steel exterior, it would say, “White Yarrow Farm,” established 2000.”

Dale himself says this is not the date when I was “born” -- well, raised. That would have been the winter of 97-98, after they finished building the house and moved in. But in terms of the farm business, when White Yarrow joined the original farmers at the Goshen Farmers’ Market, it was the summer of 2000. And what a great round number!

So, yes, I am proud!

I know it’s hard to picture right now, but in the summer the fields all around me that are full of sunflowers and strawflowers, beets and broccoli, peonies and bachelor’s buttons, sun gold cherry tomatoes and red head lettuce, hydrangeas and cock’s comb, peas and spinach and peppers and carrots and cabbage and onions and garlic and butternut squash….
Well, I could go on and on!

From year to year, these vegetables do seem to go on and on! A few veggies and posies for the Marcellus Farmer’s Market in the late 90’s just couldn’t keep pace with Jo and Dale’s dreams for me and this land.

No one would call me boring. The land I stand on was, well, I think kind of as kind of boring. Good land, it was, and dedicated to corn and soybeans in rotation. It was a wide open space when Dale and Jo bought it in 1995. But they had dreams of even all kinds of food and flowers growing here – all their own grapes and apples and berries as well as all the vegetables and flowers. So each season, I am kind of surprised with new interns (some even speaking Japanese!), new land opened up, new varieties added to the tried and true.

So, why did they need me? Not the conventional farm, this. No need to house cows to milk or hay to feed the horses. I know that I look like a traditional gamble roof barn, but that’s a story in itself. I will come back to it.

Why me? Why my existence on the earth? (Why, that’s an existential question!)

I am most often referred to as the “packing barn.” Even in the winter, with snow and ice all around, my identity is pretty clear. See all those boxes? They are the CSA boxes, and the heart of the business.

Oh, CSA…I had to learn that term, too. It is Community Supported Agriculture. That’s a post-modern way of saying that everyone pitches in on this farm.

Now, lest you get confused, the “community” is not here all that often. There’s not a ton of folks planting and tending these fields. Mostly Dale and Jo do it all with one main helper per season. The “community,” the folks that support White Yarrow usually come on out as a group in spring to plant potatoes all together, and then come back in fall for an end of season potluck.

If you had an aerial camera over me that showed all the action and you could speed it up, what you would see is Dale and Jo darting in and out from field to barn to van to tractor to barn to field to sprayer to field, from dawn to dusk, early spring to late fall.

Yep, I am the hub of all the hub bub around here. The seeds and planters go out. The flowers and vegetables go in. One day a week there’s the big local CSA harvest. Flowers are cut and cooled. Veggies are washed, sorted and stored overnight in the walk in cooler, then sorted out equally into the CSA boxes once a week. The van goes into town, and then the local “community” members of the farm receive a box of the veggies and blooms of the week, all through the season.

The other part of the “community” is the CSA folks in Goshen at the Farmer’s Market. That takes a couple harvests a week to share the food and beauty. The CSA folks meet Dale, and sometimes Jo, too, on Tuesdays and Saturdays in Goshen, forty miles away. They choose their own veggies and fill a CSA basket.. By paying a “share” at the beginning of the summer, they can select a whole basket full of veggies, about twenty times. And, for cash in hand, they go home with a fresh bouquet. For their share of the produce they get “punched out” on their cards until they have eaten the homegrown, delicious purchased share of this farm.

Well, kind of organized and technical, all this, I know. But that’s how these new small farmers’ do it. We barns, well, we cover it all.

Which takes me back to my “classic barn” design.

Dale grew up in a barn. Well, that’s not exactly what I mean. He grew up on a dairy farm where before dawn and at dusk he would shoo the herd in toward the milk parlor. So he wanted me, his own barn, to look like, well, a barn and not just a “pole building.”
He was even sure to check out the Amish barns and decided to place an extra stretch of roof on my north side. While the Amish would use this as a place to hook up and load the buggy, here at White Yarrow, ah!, in the heat of July and August, this extra bit of shade is heaven. Spraying the carrots. Loading CSA boxes into the van. Practicing Japanese. This is where is all happens!

Now, you will see that I have some “colleague” barns on the place. Well, really, I think it has become clear to you that I am the only BARN. Heck, look at how I look! Anyone with half a brain would see that I am the barn. That gamble roof I talked about gives me barn DNA? It’s not a mark of efficiency to use those kinds of trusses to shape a steel barn. No, it’s a form of style. Secretly, I think Dale sees himself as The Farmer in the Dale of old (yes, his friend, Arthur, pinned that one on him) but with a post-modern twist.

Who else these days goes to the antique tractor sale in Fort Wayne and brings back a 1951 McCormick Farmall tractor to work his fields?

Who else wants to walk along seeding with an old Cyclone seeder?

Yea, I may look brand spanking new and modern, but inside, the tools and clutter, the old season clean-up left for winter, is all the same as barns everywhere. And the fact that I am the hub is “classic barn.” (Just ask my dairy buddy down on US 12.)

My White Yarrow “colleagues?” I can be polite! We will SHED no tears. No competition, just COOPeration around here. Let me introduce them:

There’s “Shed.” Right now he holds the tractor, the old chickens waiting to become stewing hens, the “lamb” that Riana raised and can’t part with, and “the beef” who come in from pasture when it is really, really cold. End of the season he sheltered to onions and garlic on drying racks. Chickens like to roost there now.

Sided like me in steel, and red and smart looking, Shed was funded by a fancy dancey grant for farmers newly raising meat, like White Yarrow does for their “Meat Club” (i.e. friends in Chicago who buy pastured chicken and beef and eggs). Most recently he was home to “Flossy,” the Florence Church beef, slaughtered and shared for the holidays.

And there’s “Coop” also raised up by Dale from grant money. Here, I think the chickens speak for themselves. And she’s a real mover. That chicken sh___ roves all over the soil around here.

(And for sure there was fencing that came along with the big grant so that “the chicks” wouldn’t fly off, and “the beef” could organically assist in putting carbon in its most basic form – dung – back into the earth.)

Okay, I hope I have done a respectable and instructional job of representing myself and my purpose in life. That’s really part of the trick of this trade. I am also a “school.” The “community” of the CSA comes here to be “associate farmers” even though many of them may not have ever grown a thing themselves. The interns come to learn by doing.

And the campers from Camp Tavor come on a regular basis, to help build Coop, to weed and hoe, to become part of “tikkun olam” or the repair of the world. When they make a garland out of old pea vines, Dale has the grace to put it on even though he’s thinking “crown of thorns.”

Yes, I have a High Falooting Mission, if you want to know about it. I’m part of a “Movement.” Dale and Jo aren’t going to brag about it. And who knows how long they will be running in and out of me to bring good food and flowers to the folks around here. I’m guessing another twenty years.

But the soil, the land, and the food culture, why they are being changed forever. One cow poop, one chicken sh__ , one furrow, one sweaty brow, one sunflower, and one smiling sun glow cherry tomato eater, at a time.

Who knew the good old-new way could be so basic, and so hard, and so good.

There, that’s all folks. Back to work. Soaking in the winter sun and keeping things dry.

(That's Japanese for “see you after a long time…”)

Monday, January 3, 2011

Post and Shenk Dairy Barn: Between Love and the Numbers

Steven Post and Pam Shenk are friends whose farm is on US 12, just five miles south of church. I spent a Sunday afternoon with them and their barn, ending with a great play dough time with their three year old daughter, Mable. They are one of very few small dairy farms in St. Joseph County.

I am a happy old barn!

I never would have imagined being this content at age one hundred or so. You know, they say when you turn eighty everything just starts falling apart. Sure enough, I stood ten years empty, from 1995 to 2005. The old herd had been sold, I was half full of horse stalls, my exterior was flaky, my hay mow lay empty. I ached and echoed.

But for the last five years I have been full of cows, calves, love and warm milk. You see it’s not only the forty and more cows that are milked each day, not only of their calves in small pens right nearby, but Pam and Steve and, my favorites, Mable and Hank, and star show cow, Martha, make me, well, a home!

I have forgotten a lot over the years.

I am sure there were little girls like Mable and farm dogs like Hank wandering around in me before. But it’s kind of like I entered a temporary state of senility in my eighties. Now it's like a second childhood. And that Mable! She knows every cow by name.

Why almost everything about being a dairy barn has come back to me!
Stand tall above the herd! Keep some hiding places for cats to keep the mice down. Some insects in summer for the chickens are good, but not too many flies, please. And be sure to keep the pipes running to the milk house, even in blizzards…
Oh, that reminds me. There is one kind of embarrassing story…

Why back in July 2005, when Pam and Steve moved in, they were thrilled to find land and a barn and house and buildings for a small herd – that they could afford. Land here was running one third the cost of the land in Elkhart and LaGrange Counties. And Steve was tickled to buy this place that he had passed so often his whole life long on car rides to his grandfather’s house.

But, I digress…What was I going to tell you? Oh yea, about keeping the pipes running.

That first Thanksgiving, you know, in 2005, there was a blizzard like you would not believe. Without hay in the loft, and with my poor worn out sides, the wind and snow was whipping through like all get out, and those milk pipes were in danger to freeze and bust.

But that Steve and Pam! They climbed up in the loft are ripped apart whatever they could find, any old bales, old chaff, and stuffed up the cracks above the stalls. Got some Salamander heaters going. And we made it through.

Maybe due to all that hubbub they have done a lot to shore me up. Why, viewed from the south or the west I look like a whipper snapper of a barn, all glowy and red, neat white trim on the windows and doors. And inside the walls are all white with thick foam insulation.

The stalls and mangers and floor, well, they are about the same. There’s only so much comfort a cow needs, you know. So my inner workings containing all those cows -- Mildred and Miracle, Izzie, Blue and Starlet, Vasha and Velvet – why Mable knows all their names.

(Am I repeating myself...)

They keep me down to earth and manure and warm milk and all that good steamy stuff. Just like the old days beyond memory.

Now, I do admit, when I glance down on my north side and my south, I am reminded of my age. Kind of a rough character, you might say. White. Peeling. Cows don’t seem to mind. And that young family, they keep chipping away at me.

There is one thing that puzzles me. I don’t know if when you get old you forget the number part of your brain. Or if, back in the day, there just weren’t so many numbers for a barn to remember. But I hear them talking down there about the price of in-puts just rising and rising every year – fuel, fertilizer, seed corn, feed, and all – and the milk numbers don’t go anywhere. Something about corn going up to supply ethynol Price of corn and soy went up with the demand.

But what about milk? Hey, I’m talking about “mother’s milk” of all things. Wouldn’t you think that might be worth a pretty penny? Do you know that they get for milk these days? Anywhere from $9 to $16 for one hundred pounds of milk, and that price varies, up and down. They say, if you do the math, when milk in the store was three dollars a gallon they got eighty four cents a gallon here at the farm. Now even for an old barn like me, it’s a no brainer that it doesn’t make sense – or cents – or money, that is. Not much money at least. I guess enough to keep going.
They might promise that milk will go up to $20 a hundred pounds, but it never has, not this year.

So it’s got to be a guy like Steven to stick with it. He loves those cows of his.

I notice things. Since Vasha has been down the last day, and not able to get up, Steven and Pam and Hank and Mable and even the chickens, are hovering around her.

Why even Velvet, her buddy in the next stall, seems to be nosing her on to try to stand up.

The vet will come tomorrow to see what he can do. Milk fever. Seems to happen from time to time after calving. And some cows I’ve known, once they are down they seem to just give up. Good thing I didn’t take after them! I’d be a fall down barn by now. And Steven and Pam will do whatever they can to keep the cows and me on our feet.

As I think about it, now, with this new wave of life, I’m determined now to stay young. I mean, I have the heart of a calf! Why that new one, they call him Little Jersey (‘cause he is a little Jersey calf), he up and ate some grain today. Why he’s just a few days old. Made everybody smile and made Steven’s day. New life just keeps going on like that.

Well, I guess I have rambled on enough. Glad to be a barn. No happy, really happy, to be a working barn on a family dairy farm and have the whole mix of moms and dads and granddads and kids and calves and cows and chickens and cats.

I heard Pam say, and I take it as the highest compliment,

“Barn, you are the hub, more than the house. And we work hard, but we have a lot of fun in you, you old barn. Why, I think if you could speak for yourself you’d say,

‘I’m a happy old working barn full of love. And I’m going to stay that way.’”