We here in Georgia have had seven years of drought. Serious, for real, drought. Fertility plundering drought. The kind of drought that when it does rain, the delicate topsoil is so dry, the roots of the plants so frail that it simply washes away with nothing to hold it in place. It was the kind of drought where manure from our animals, rich with vital nutrients and potential to restore fertility shrivels, dries up, and blows away in the wind. It was the kind of drought that forced cattlemen to buy hay until the money ran out, then to sell their entire herds to the feedlot, abandoning their life's work. It was the kind of drought that caused vegetable crops to wither and succumb to disease. It was the kind of drought where folks worried about the long-term viability of ground water as a resource. It was the kind of drought that one summer, a few years ago, a family was killed in their car as a tree fell on them. The roots of the great oak had become so shallow from years of too little rain that when it rained in earnest for a few short hours, the tree had no grip on the softening earth.

So it was.

But not anymore. The relief has been more generous than any of us could have imagined. Sweet, summer rain, like God's own mercy. Only now, as summer wanes and the mercy continues day after day, there are some who scorn. Now, it is the special privilege of the farmer to complain about the weather. It is never perfect. It is never as we would have it be for our plants and animals in our custody. But mother nature always takes the long view. Our problems as farmers are present and near, despite the fact that a larger problem is resolving for the longer good.

Many of our vegetable farmer friends have been hit hard. Real hard. Tomatoes and peppers are late. Melons rot before they can be picked. Bugs gorge themselves on the overly lush leaves of crops. What little does come out of the field tastes watered down. Farmers can hardly work for the mud: delicate little plant starts can't survive in sodden ground and tractors slip and worse, compact the beds. Our farmer friend Darby of the magnificent Sun Dog Farm writes beautifully about the struggle the rain has caused her burgeoning vegetable operation. It's a mess. A mess that has demanded that customers step up and show up to often wet farmers' markets and shell out for the goods that are there. It is, in many ways, a test of the loyalty of customers to see their farmers through the rough patches and a test of the whole system of local agriculture. It is only sustainable if patrons sustain it, even when the tomatoes are infrequent and imperfect.

For us, however, and I say this with the deepest sympathy and respect to my suffering vegetable farmer friends, the rain has been amazing. Grass loves rain. It can't get enough of it. Our farmhand Pete recently noticed how a hose that had been left in the pasture for about a week had been devoured by the vigorous sward, making it nearly impossible to extract. Roots deepen and expand. Leaves turn lush, thick, and palatable to our sheep. The health of our sheep improves, for while the foul barber-pole worm that kills our animals loves the rain, the abundant, lush grass gives the ewes the nutrients they need to help fight it. We can't keep up with the growth. Plants grow tall and seed heads form before the sheep have finished eating the previous day's ration. This time last year we were buying hay and making sacrifice paddocks. The world felt frighteningly arid. This year the rain has made those sacrifice paddocks rich and green long before we thought they would.

We are excited. Organic matter produced by our sheep is soaking into the soil (not washing away), enriching it and building it, putting back what the poor farming practices of our forebears took away. More years like this will help us build our soil faster, and the more our soil is built, the more drought tolerance we can achieve for when the dryness returns (and it will always return). Organic matter, lively with bacteria and fungus, held together by a deep and broad network of roots, its surface utterly opaque with grass, is a sponge. It holds water. Water does not evaporate away off a bare surface. Fertility increases. Agricultural stability increases. The land, as Joel Salatin puts it, builds forgiveness (starts at 6:00 mark). And lord knows, we farmers could use some forgiveness.

And so I implore you, my vegetable-growing friends: have faith. Take the rain as a sign of good things to come. Take it as a sign that the world wants balance: that the long view bends towards stability, fertility, and abundance. Think on how a year or two of rain has the power to undo seven of drought. And to my good food eating friends, I implore you: have the tenacity to support us all through nature's ebbs and flows. Know that buying a blemished tomato this year is an investment in the perfect tomatoes to come. It is an investment in the process of restoration. Forgive the farmer her imperfect fruit and buy it anyway. Take the long view. Be the one who builds forgiveness into the system.

Some words about Brie.

Let's have a conversation about Brie.

But before we talk about Brie in specific, we should take a moment to understand something about cheese in general: while there are a zillion types of cheese in the world, nearly all of them fall into basic categories, or "families." These families attempt to group cheeses together based on a common quality not shared with other cheeses. For example, blue cheeses must have their distinctive blue mold; cheddars have their essential "cheddering" process to help define them; there is the pasta filata family of fresh cheeses that are heated and stretched, like mozzarella. The list goes on...

Brie is perhaps the most abused cheese name in all of the cheese-making and cheese-eating world. It seems that "brie" in North America has become the de facto name for any cheese with a white-mold exterior. The reality is, that Brie is not a family of cheese, but rather it falls into a family called "bloomy rind" or "soft-ripened" cheese. Brie is a soft, creamy, cow's milk cheese made using specific techniques in a specific part of the world. Here at Many Fold Farm, three of our cheeses fall into this category. So when someone asks us at a cheese tasting or at a farmers' market if our Garretts Ferry is a Brie, and then asks if the Rivertown is a Brie, it creates some confusion. How can two distinctly different cheeses both be Brie? Well, that's because neither of them are.

Brie is a bloomy-rind cheese made in the Brie region of France. It is AOC protected, meaning that anyone who is not making Brie in accordance with the AOC standards (within the EU) cannot call their product "Brie." Of course, that doesn't stop anyone outside the EU from calling their cheese "brie." Most "brie" made in or for the United States is characteristically smooth and uniform in texture with a thick, white rind, and a very mild, creamy taste. One would not be wrong to call the paste "bland" due to its mandatory pasteurization and short aging period, or the rind "unpalatable" due to its cakey thickness (often, when brie is served at cocktail parties, you see a picked-over cheese plate with a disemboweled shell of rind with bits of gooey paste smeared all over where folks have unceremoniously scraped out the poor cheeses' innards!). Sometimes, though, American cheesemakers make a soft-ripened white mold cheese with a gooey, creamy, smooth paste that is in the style of Brie, but is, to my mind, worlds better tasting. Sweetgrass Dairy's famous Green Hill is an outstanding example, as is Jasper Hill's Moses Sleeper.

So when you're at the grocery store or farmer's market and you're looking for "brie" to serve at your next cocktail party, or you've got one of those recipes for baked Brie in pastry, don't go with the bland "wannabe brie." Get something original and American; something that respects the cheesemaking traditions of a place and that does not attempt to be a re-place-ment. And for heaven's sake! Don't call it Brie!




“Town takes a man out of the truth of himself.”

The next time anyone asks us why we farm, I'm not going to answer, I'm just going to give them this article.
The next time you think about the prospect of farming for yourself, or even just getting you garden going in the Spring, and you think to yourself, I don't have time, I'm not ready, in short, thinking of all the things about your live you may lose by changing it in the direction of Nature, read this article.

the gospel choir

On this Thanksgiving, no one is saying "thank you" better than our friends at Hope Grows Farm. We are honored and grateful to count ourselves singers in "the gospel choir for the Southern Neo-Agrarian movement" alongside Arianne & Elliot and all the other amazing growers among us. Y'all give so much so many can be grateful for.

An End. A Beginning. A Thanksgiving Manifesto.

You're reading this because somewhere along the way you became part of the story of Hope Grows. Maybe you helped us process chickens. Maybe you ate our bacon. Maybe you're a farmer we called for advice. Maybe you wrote about us in the newspaper. Maybe you made a documentary about hot, young Georgia farmers. Maybe you came to one of our workshops or listened to one of our presentations. Maybe you've read the blog or are our Facebook friend or watched one of our zany videos. Maybe we ate dinner together. Maybe your children insist on our eggs… Read More

grey hair

Ross and I just had a conversation while looking at our books that I thought I'd share: Rebecca: I see why people open franchises. Ross: Or just don't go into business for themselves. Rebecca: Being an entrepreneur is hard. Ross: It is the hardest way. Rebecca: Why are we such over-achievers? Ross: Because we wouldn't be happy any other way. We are pushing the world forward one grey hair at a time.

Wanna help GROW the movement?

Hey, got $5 for local food? Our friends Owen and Christine are making a film about young farmers in the sustainable food movement (including us here at Manyfold-- they did the footage of the sheep wrangling below!). The purpose of the film is to help raise awareness about the movement and the importance of sustainable food sources in Georgia. As with all good things, they need a little funding to make it all come together. Check out their kickstarter page and trailer to learn how you can help!

Farm Workday!

Wow, it's been a while since I've posted. I promise, there will be fresh posts this week. In the meantime, however, I want you all to know that we are planning Farm Workday No. 3 for Sunday, July 25th from 9am until…

Items on the agenda include: finishing cleaning the barns, clearing debris from pastures, weed whacking, and blueberry picking

Please let us know if you can come out! We will provide plenty of hydration and a fresh farm lunch!

sermon on the farm

This morning I had the great pleasure and honor to be invited to speak at the Interfaith Gathering that takes place in my community on Sunday mornings. The group is a non-denominational, inclusive space for meditation and conversation on spiritual matters. I was asked to speak about the spirituality of farming and to tell a bit of the story of how I came to farming. We had a lovely time and a lively, engaging discussion. It was a real treat that reminded me of how much I love living here. Below is what I read before the group this morning in order to generate conversation. Enjoy. * * * * *

How I came to farm is as winding and complex as a life. I wasn't searching for it; there was no method. There was no one influence, no one “ah ha,” no thought or conscious realization. It was just a thing that happened, that felt right, and that made sense. If I could pinpoint a moment, I might say it was the asparagus that in the back yard of my childhood home and the fact that I was stunned to realize that not everyone knew what the spindly shoots looked like coming up out of the ground. Maybe it was later, when my mother sat in bed with me and read aloud Laura Ingles Wilder’s Farmer Boy. So great was my childhood enthusiasm for the food in that book that the yellowed paperback still bears a 6-year old’s teethmarks on the corners of certain pages describing the simple and sumptuous farm meals Alonzo Wilder grew up with. Perhaps it was the plain fact that my mother always seemed happiest either in the garden (in her old, white blouse so worn it has the texture of tissue) or in the kitchen (which smelled of garlic and never saw a can of store-bought tomato sauce). There was something about big suppers like Thanksgiving and Christmas when the table would fall silent at my mother’s cooking and all you could hear was the scraping of forks and the occasional “mmmm… ohh…mmmmm.” I knew, no, I didn’t know, I felt, I felt the love and nourishment of that food and I saw that others could feel it too. I felt that somehow I wanted to be the person who could make a crowd of people around a table stop, become calm, and give attention to their food. I wanted them to feel the nourishment and love it transferred to them and I wanted to be its cause.

This love of food and feeding people kept coming back over and over again. One of my college entrance essays was all about my relationship with food and how, like Eudora Welty’s magnificent Phoenix Jackson in A Worn Path is sustained and able to continue on her journey just by the vision of a piece of marble cake. In college, I would take the train to the Union Square Greenmarket every Saturday, lugging grapes, cheese, and lettuces in my bag as I wandered through the Met, carefully cradling precious eggs up and down stairs and into crowded subway cars. My freshman year I abandoned the cafeteria and set up an illegal hot plate in my dorm where I could make Fettuchine Alfredo or Chinese hot pots and share them with my dorm-mates. By my sophomore year I could make puff pastry in a dorm, a feat I would challenge anyone to surpass.

But the question remains: what is it about food that has this hold on me, that has this hold on all of us? Maybe not everyone is moved to tears by a simple plate of sliced tomatoes like I am, but everyone, everyone has experienced the pleasure of eating. So what is it? Sure, biology plays an obvious roll, but to say that we eat only because it is a biological imperative is about as true as saying we have sex only to reproduce. The fact is we don’t. We don’t do things only because we must; if we did, having sex would be as equally appealing as doing laundry or paying bills: just one more thing to get you through the day. Biology is just one part of a larger whole, that whole being the uniquely human experience of pleasure: the force that generates wanting, that generates desire. The fact is that for a biological imperative like food or sex to happen successfully and sustainably over time, the reality that it is needed is less important than the fact that it must also be wanted.

The link between desire and food is hard to miss. But food, desire, and God is a less-likely combination. In a world of boxed mashed potatoes and pre-packaged tenderloin, the closest one might get to God in the grocery store is the occasional kosher label. However, the roots of western civilization are steeped in the connection between the three. The most obvious example can be found in the biblical Canticle, the Song of Songs, which can be interpreted as a metaphorical description of God's relationship with humanity. The speaker writes of his beloved,

Your stature resembles the palm, your breasts the clusters. Methinks I'll climb the palm, I'll grasp its branches. Let your breasts be like grape clusters, your scent like apples, your palate like the best wine…

The fact that in the Catholic tradition, the Christian rite of communion involves the transformation of food, typically bread and wine, into the actual body and blood of Christ, which is then eaten together among the parishioners is perhaps the best example. Gross it may be, but erotic, it certainly is: it is a means of finding closeness with the divine where there is an intimate exchange that transpires by putting the divine body inside mortal body. Though I was not raised in a particularly religious home, and certainly not a Catholic one, I was always drawn to study religion and religious practices. As my religious and spiritual understandings grew, somewhere along the line I had to ask myself, what, fundamentally, is the difference between a bit of bread imbued with the life force of God and any other food. If God created all that is and is ultimately all that there is, then surely it would follow that when we eat, we are bringing the divine into our bodies, allowing us to be nourished and to create and sustain life.There is a longer story here, one that can trace my relationship with the divine from a child-like enthrallment to an adolescent agnosticism, to an ever-growing felt knowledge, that there is some spirit in the wind that moves and binds, that creates, that nourishes that my heart sings to think upon. It is a particular voice I find in the Song of Songs. It is the thing that makes me want: the great, internal generator of desire that points to something beyond mere biology. It makes me want to want. It makes me relish biting into a summer peach and its explosion of juice all over my face, it makes me run for my camera when I slice into beets in order to preserve the sight of their red veins variegating the root, it is the thing that makes me cry with pleasure when I am presented with slices of fresh summer tomatoes. It makes me want to get closer to what I eat.

Food writer Michael Ableman, whom I had the pleasure of hearing speak at the Carolina Farm Stewardship Conference a few years ago, put it best. He described the foods growing on farms he visited for his most recent book: clusters of dewy cherries heavy on branches; great baskets of corn and rye you could stick your hand into down to your elbow to feel the cool grains; and the musk of goats, heavy with their babies and taut sacks of milk. The reason, he says, people love farmers and farming, that folks return to farmers markets, want to visit our farms, and want to get to know us is that : "they all want what we've got." There is an intimacy farmers have with creation and the act of creating. At the Thanksgiving table of my childhood, I found that what I wanted was to create and share in pleasure. The pleasure of eating made me, my mom, my family happy; it made us feel together, it made me feel close to them. It was our communion. I found the same feeling had been enhanced 10-fold selling lamb, beef, and pork at a farmer's market in Asheville. People held my hand and thanked me for what I was doing. They chatted with me, telling me their stories, and asking me about anything and everything going on on the farm. With hundreds of people clamoring to be near me and what I did with my life every week, I thought to myself, this is the closest I will ever be to being a rock star, isn't it?

This feeling of intimate unity with the land and food is confirmed by some of the greatest farmers in the world. Wendell Berry writes,

Sowing the seed, my hand is one with the earth. Wanting the seed to grow, my mind is one with the light.

Hoeing the crop, my hands are one with the rain,

Having cared for the plants, my mind is one with the air.

Hungry and trusting, my mind is one with the earth.

Eating the fruit, my body is one with the earth.

The great farmer Masonobu Fukuoka likens farming to a perfect marriage, a unity between a human and the land that is "not bestowed, not received; the perfect pair comes into existence of itself." Of course, not all farming is like this. To continue the marriage analogy, most modern agriculture is a child-bride, married against her will, and repeatedly raped by her husband. The great monocultures of the midwest deplete, poison, and abuse. The way we eat these foods follows suit. These foods are high in calories, but devoid of nutrition, leading to disease. More disturbing still, I am concerned that our wanting to eat, the thing that has sustained human existence for a millennia, is declining. Studies find families don't eat together. Indeed, a family of four may eat four different meals, in four different rooms of the house, at four different times. An increasingly large percentage of meals are eaten in the car. Studies also find that most people spend approximately 10 minutes or fewer eating a meal. We are eating as if it is something we must do, not as if it is something we want to do. Worse still, food is avoided through an increased focus on weight loss, which exacerbates the problem by encouraging us to eat scientifically over pleasurably. And if eating isn't a "chore" for some, than it is something done obsessively, as if we are trying to reconnect to the land and each other over and over and over again, to no avail but more illness. As the land has been abused and neglected, our wanting has become warped.

As I learned about these abuses and their affects, I became more and more concerned with not just being able to cook a good meal, but knowing whether or not the food I was handling and preparing to put into my body and share among my friends was the product of creation or a contributor to destruction. Growing up with with my abiding love of food also gave me a sense of ethics about eating. My father kept kosher and insisted we keep a kosher house and that I be raised on a kosher diet. My childhood eating habits were infused with a sense of right and wrong eating, especially when it came to meat. Whenever we ate out, I was an automatic vegetarian, since very little restaurant food is kosher. I hated him for it, mostly because a bacon cheeseburger looked and smelled to be about the best food on the planet. I craved getting to explore mixes of foods and flavors that were “off-limits.” When my first grade teacher made us Ritz crackers with melted cheese and slices of hot dog on top, I neglected to tell her I wasn’t allowed. I learned that transgression can be downright blissful. In retrospect, however, I am grateful. This atmosphere instilled in me that there is right and wrong eating. My whole life I scanned menus, looking for the one or two things I could eat, but as I left childhood and started to make my own decisions, I started scanning menus, ingredients lists, and markets for my own reasons. I was looking for the foods that weren't tainted, for a communion that didn't have to become sacred by the prayer of a rabbi or priest, but that really, actually was.

As I looked for these foods, I began to learn about how they were grown and was daunted. In the maze of information about organic and all natural, certified this and certified that, I consistently felt that I was being duped. I abandoned grocery stores except for certain imported staples like sugar, coffee, and olive oil and started getting my foods almost exclusively from farmer's markets. I abandoned meat altogether for many years, that is, until Ross, who was working at the Warren Wilson College Farm at the time, started talking about a fellow called Joel Salatin. As the notion of becoming a farmer began to roll around in my mind, I had always envisioned vegetables, but Joel Salatin changed that. The first farms I was directly exposed to used the methods of raising livestock called "grassfarming" that Salatin has perfected. Salatin practices a method of raising livestock and grassfarming that is, to use his term, "beyond organic." It is a style and method of farming that so closely works with the nature of animals, cultivates symbiotic relationships between them, and that fundamentally builds and regenerates soil and the land. He calls his farming "regenerative." It is a way that humans and the land interact that is neither destructive, as with conventional farming, nor neutral, as with many organic farms, but that is inherently creative, making the quality of the land better than it would be, even if it were simply left alone. If you ask Joel Salatin what he does for a living he would tell you he's "in the business of redemption." He sees himself as a co-creator with God, that it is his scared mission to heal the land by building fertility into the dirt, and thus make this barren and broken world a little more like Eden. I became a disciple.

It was ultimately Joel Salatin, along with the writings of Wendell Berry and Massonobu Fukuoka, who allowed me to see that I want to farm because I want to be close to God. I want to be close to God because I love to eat, I love to imbibe creation. I am in love with creation. I crave intimacy with it. I desire it. I am in love with creation right down to the nitty-gritty teeth of it, down in the dirt and pain of it as much as with the blossoming, joyful beauty of it. I am smitten with it. I want to emulate the divine by being a caretaker of creation. We are not made in the image of God because God looks like us, we are made in the image of God because we have the capacity to act like God and do the things God does best: create, nourish, and protect. This is recreation (RE-creation). It's fun, it's pleasurable, and it's how we get a little closer to making heaven a place on earth.

The best farmers understand that the healing of the land and the purification of the human spirit to be one process. Wendell Berry writes, "Make the human race a better head. Make the world a better piece of ground." For Massonobu Fukuoka, natural, regenerative farming practices easily lead to a life of harmony with nature that occurs almost spontaneously and fluidly, as if it was nascent, always there, just waiting to be a part of one's self and approach to daily business. The natural, regenerative farmer comes to understand that intellectual knowledge is insufficient for understanding creation, and that the farmer can begin to cast aside, "the thought that humans exist apart from heaven and earth." This work can make you quiet and kind. Farmers are some of the kindest, quietest, most introspective people I know. They can also be some of the most fiery and angry. Wendell Berry has a character who recurs throughout many of his poems; the Mad Farmer, he calls him, a figure very much in the spirit of the French farmer who drove his tractor into a McDonald's or the Italian grandmothers who protested a fast food restaurant at the Spanish Steps by sharing great plates of handmade pasta with whoever happened by. The natural, regenerative farmer is a Mad Farmer, mad because he or she is so in love with creation that to see the manifestations of what harms it ignites a fire in the heart. It is a fire that burns in the pursuit of changing the world. The Mad Farmer wants a revolution:

The mad farmer, the thirsty one, went dry. When he had time he threw a visionary high lonesome on the holy communion wine.

"It is an awesome event when an earthen man has drunk his fill of the blood of a god," people said, and got out of his way.

He plowed the churchyard, the minister's wife, three graveyards and a golf course. In a parking lot he planted a forest of little pines.

He sanctified the groves, dancing at night in the oak shades with goddesses. He led a field of corn to creep up and tassel like an Indian tribe on the courthouse lawn. Pumpkins ran out the ends of their vines to follow him. Ripe plums and peaches reached into his pockets.

Flowers sprang up in his tracks everywhere he stepped. And then his planter's eye fell on that parson's fine fair lady again. "Oh holy plowman," cried she, "I am all grown up in weeds. Pray, bring me back to good tilth."

He tilled her carefully and laid her by, and she did bring forth others of her kind, and others, and some more.

They sowed and reaped till all the countryside was filled with farmers and their brides sowing and reaping.

And so, I leave you with this knowledge, this one little thing that has been made clear to me in this process, as I have learned about and been guided towards a life of loving the land:

What I know of spirit is astir in the world. The god I have always expected to appear at the woods' edge, beckoning, I have always expected to be a great relisher of this world, its good grown immortal in his mind.

we have sheep: the complete tale

So, as indicated by the previous post, we have our sheep. At last. They are wonderful, peaceful animals… nervous, but peaceful. Here is the riviting tale: We awoke at 5:00am to have some breakfast and collect Frankie who was going in for a neuter while we were going to be away from the farm. We chucked him into the back of my station wagon and arrived at the vet's by 7:00. We returned to the farm by about 8:00 to finish preparing the trailer and finally we were away by 9:00. The drive up to Rapidan, Virginia was a grueling 11 hours in our awesome but loud F350 with some seriously rigid seats. We had meant to arrive just outside of Rapidan the night before we were scheduled to pick up the sheep, but we ended up cowering in a roadside hotel laundry room about 100 miles short of our intended destination due to about three tornados touching down around us. As we fell into bed that night, we were seriously grateful we decided to pull over when it started hailing and that we didn't have the sheep at that point.

After another 5:00am wake up call, we arrived at Everona Dairy around 9:00 to a queue of East Friesians in a chute that we were told were ours that looked waaaay too big to have been born in February. Turns out they were indeed the wrong ones. We had anticipated based on our email communications that Dr. Elliot, who is a breeder of good repute in the dairy sheep world, had picked out a group of 15 ewes with good genetics, including two rams of different lines. How wrong we were. We spent the next few hours rifling through several sheets of semi-complete records on two groups of lambs, picking them out by the ear tag number to get a good look at them, only to find that after we had grabbed, looked, and released, that we would be catching the individuals by hand rather than running them through the chute to sort. Basically, due to a number of miscommunications, we hand to hunt and peck for ear tag numbers for the same sheep twice. We did not have the sheep loaded until after 12:00. Small, but wonderful consolation was that Dr. Elliot's son, Brian gave us ample slices of his warm, home-made lamb sausage and a lovely chunk of herb-crusted Piedmont (Everona's signature cheese) for the road. It was a phenomenally delicious little farm lunch. We are riding on the hope that our little lambs will help us produce food as good.

After our morning adventure, we drove about an hour south east to pick up a group of Katahdin sheep from MyArk Farm. This was a much more straightforward experience, mostly due to the fact that Katahdins, as meat sheep, are not as valuable as dairy sheep and so long as your working with a good breeder, a bit less care can be given to the selection process. We actually ended up taking their entire crop of ewe lambs. Though some were less perfect than others, our thought is to go with all of them in order to gain experience with whatever they end up being and doing. It should be fun.

So, after picking up and loading up everyone, we were ready to take our new babies home. Our original plan was to be finished with everything by about 12:00 to give ups plenty of time to get all the way back in one night (arriving late, but not too late) so the sheep did not have to spend a night out on the road. But, since we didn't end up pulling away from our second pickup until 3:00, we prepared ourselves to find a safe place to stay for the night. I did not want to stay in a hotel with my sheep sitting in an anonymous parking lot by the highway. It felt vulnerable. Ultimately, we headed south toward Greenville where Ross' uncle lives on a cul-de-sac with enough room for a trailer. I am so grateful for their generosity for letting us arrive at 11:00 at night, watering the sheep, and providing us with a free bed. It was really a godsend.

The ride itself was quite its own adventure. I-95 with a livestock trailer full of precious, precious sheep is NOT a fun place to be. Remember, I-95 is the same road that, in New Jersey, is the New Jersey Turnpike, the single most hellatious road I have ever travelled on. Well, it seems that the Turnpike extends its negative influence all the way down the eastern seaboard. The lanes around Richmond, VA are horrifyingly narrow, the road is in ill-repair (bumpy, grated, cracked, and generally uneven), and everyone seems to be hauling something (yachts, cars, semi-trucks, the contents of a small household, ass). We pulled off as soon as we got clear of Richmond and decided to take a parallel road. No joy. It was a suburban wasteland filled with strip malls and the obligatory traffic lights. Unpleasantus maximus. We were actually delighted when we finally reached I-85. Let me tell you, hauling a livestock trailer with 32 sheep in it on the connector through downtown Atlanta was a totally surreal experience. Come to think of it, it probably wasn't a legal experience; we probably should have gone around on I-285 with the rest of the truckers.

But we got there in the end. We unloaded them and tagged the ones that didn't have one. They have been rotating through our smallest pasture since their arrival and should be ready for their first big move later next week. Thus far, we've only had one serious mishap (knock on wood!). Franklin got a little too playful with one of the ewe lambs and seriously hurt her leg. She will be fine; she's living in our basement with another sheep for company while we nurse her back to health. We've christened her "Cookie" for being such a tough cookie. Frankie is in a better situation where he has less access to the lambs, but can still bond with and protect them properly. Every day is this intense learning experience, making changes, shifting things, figuring out a better way to keep everyone safe, healthy, and happy, including ourselves.

This whole learning curve we're riding here feels a bit like playing The Oregon Trail, only _for real_. It's like I'm constantly circling the wagon going "is everyone ok? all alive? no snakebites? no dysentery? cool, lets get moving at a strenuous pace." Every time I hear coyotes at night my heartbeat quickens; I pray the fences are strong and that the dogs are diligent. I have never hoped and prayed like I have since so many lives have been in my care.

swiss cheese

When most of us think of Swiss cheese we think of creamy, holey slices on our ham sandwiches. The truth is, Swiss cheeses are as diverse as cheeses anywhere else, coming in all shapes, sizes, forms, and textures. Most common are the traditional Alpine varieties that come in gigantic wheels of sweet, nutty, calcium-rich, deliciousness from which we in America have singularized into those "Swiss" sandwich slices. Recently, photographers Fabian Scheffold and István Vizner have been tromping around the beautiful Swiss countryside photographing these cheese makers. Their description of the cheese landscape in Switzerland sums up the attitude of most artisan cheese makers anywhere:

"The Book about Swiss Cheese Makers began as an editorial project for a journalist friend. " I expected this to be an agricultural trip, meeting people who make a living through the production of cheese in a more or less industrial way, " Scheffold confesses."But fare(sic) from it: I met unorthodox lateral thinkers, visionary fellows, modest canny and successful people living and working in some of the most spectacular landscapes of Switzerland. Some sell their products abroad, inventing a new cheese every other month, some work exactly as they have learned from their fathers, now sometimes just selling to hikers visiting their remote location by chance. But all of them seemed to follow an individual vision they are not willing to betray for growth and money."

I believe that this quotation is an example of an excellent and honest observation of the appeal of artisan cheese making and artisan farming in general (not just in Switzerland) and why so many young people are drawn toward it as a valid career option. We have become terribly jaded by the consequences of an endless pursuit of money. I recently watched the 1980's film Wall Street, made by Oliver Stone as a kind of modern morality tale about the perils of big money. Despite the creative intentions for the film, the reaction of most young, upstart business people at the time was that the film's villain, Gordon Gekko, was a hero, calling out to young businesspeople and showing them the unqualified pleasures of making gobs of money, regardless of the shady ways and shaky ethics this pursuit necessitates. I wonder now, though, in a world with Etsy in it and the New York Times doing pieces on people like this as real business, if Gordon Gekko's famous quotations would fly: "I don't create, I own."

With some, it probably always will, but it seems that the incoming generations are placing a higher value on the benefits of the qualitative aspects of life: a vision that is uniquely their own that attempts to define what a good product and process is over which product and process gives the most economic gain. There is a strong pull among young folks to create for a living over creating money in pursuit of owning for a living. Along with this notion comes the idea that a business is more than a money-generating enterprise. It can have multiple bottom lines. Businesses are accounting for triple bottom lines more and more, looking out for things like impact on people and environmental impact alongside profits. Multiple bottom lines can generate a variety of tangible and intangible values that the business creates and is responsible for; it is at once more complex and diverse than the simple profit bottom line, and yet can yield a drastic cut in the chaos of running a business. It can force it to slow down and can limit the business in helpful ways. In other words, multiple bottom lines can close doors to certain options, making the path that the business needs to take much clearer. One thing this means is that a business often has to be clear about how big it will get from the outset: when a business has unchecked growth it is often at the expense of either people, the environment, or both. We've seen the results of the illusion of infinite growth both in economics and in agriculture. It ends in disaster. That an entrepreneur and business person can draw a hard line about how big his or her company can grow and still be hugely successful and economically viable isn't a new thought in America, but the increased traction is. And it's encouraging. Let's hope we can all become Swiss cheese makers.

With these thoughts in mind, I leave you with a lovely piece from the website Civil Eats, the Young Farmer's Manifesto:

Many of us never meant to become farmers. We had ambitions to enter the world as accountants or lawyers or teachers or some other clean, respectable professional. We never really thought about the origins of our food; we always knew that the supermarket shelves would fill themselves, that food came in boxes or cans ready to serve and that farmers were simply one dimensional photographs in the mix of a hot new marketing campaign.
Farming was at best some idyllic retirement scheme, never a seriously considered career possibility.
But then something happened. In the previously steady route of our lives, a shift occurred. The soil moved under us somehow, got stuck in the creases of our pants, in the ridges of our shoes, in the lines of our palms. Suddenly white picket fences, situation comedies and mutual fund returns didn’t seem so interesting anymore…(Read More)

The Mad Farmer Liberation is happening…

spring fever

I'm writing this from my kitchen counter on a rainy (again) afternoon feeling the restless tension of a Spring that is coming, but has not yet come. Daffodils are pushing up, the grass is growing; I walk the pastures and see lush, vivid patches of clover just waiting to be munched by our sheep; our sheep, which, like Spring, are not quite here yet. We anticipated their arrival in March, but the ewes dropped a little late and so our lambs are still too young to come to their new home.

We've started rotating our seven borrowed sheep through one of the pastures. It's sort of nice to get to practice some of our systems on a small group before our large group of permanent sheep arrive, and while Franklin appriciastes that he has a job to do while we're waiting, I am experiencing a kind of anxious listlessness: I am chomping at the bit, rearin' to go!

Amidst this lull in farm activity, I feel the need to give myself a moment to reflect on everything that has happened since January and to take stock of where we've been. I've compiled a list:

  • arranged for acquiring 15 ewe lambs and 1 ram lamb of dairy genetics
  • researched and contacted farms selling lambs with meat genetics
  • purchased 160 baby chickens and raise them
  • designed logotype and print business cards
  • designed fencing system, hired crew, and got fences built and electrified
  • moved a telephone pole/ fought with the power company
  • demolished a house (after removing the more useful items and the rest of Chattahoochee Hills removing the less useful ones)
  • learned how to use a generator and that corn-subsidized ethanol in gasoline destroys small engines
  • purchased a truck
  • purchased a livestock trailer
  • purchased a flatbed trailer
  • purchased a tractor
  • clean out barn (12 ft dumpster's worth of crap!)
  • hauled over a ton of old metal to recycler
  • built a portable chicken house
  • wired the red barn for electricity
  • acquired two livestock guardian dogs, one via airport, one via 6-hour drive
  • lost and retrieved two livestock guardian dogs
  • begun working with an architect for the creamery
  • had one big face-to-face meeting w/ dairy consultant plus lots of phone calls and emails
  • solidified cheese types and initial make procedures
  • made our first sales commitment for eggs
  • attended the Georgia Organics Annual Conference
  • registered with USDA/FSA for grants
  • hosted two farm volunteer days
  • acquired a business license
  • repiped the spigot on the well
  • been to home depot about a bazillion times
  • re-roofed and replaced rotted wood on red barn and hey barn (as of today!)

I know there's a load of stuff I'm forgetting, not to mention the minutia involved in every one of these activites, plus daily chores and other "life activites" such as eating, sleeping, and doing laundry, but it's all been seriously, seriously awesome. I really, honestly can't wait for it to get busier! Bring on the Spring!

meet Franklin

Sheep are tasty. They are small and not terribly smart, making them quite easy for a predator (human, canine, feline, or otherwise) to get hold of one and enjoy. However, humans have taken it upon themselves to horde sheep for their own, private consumption. In return for their meat, milk, and fibre, we provide sheep plentiful sources of food and water, along with protection from other creatures that find them just as delectable as we do. This is, essentially, the sacred contract of farming with livestock. In return for their lives, we provide them with food, water, medicine, protection from predators, humane treatment, and a humane death. Consider for a moment which you would rather have happen to you: coyotes kill an animal by opening the abdomen and eating the internal organs, wild dogs will maim to death slowly and violently. Humans kill animals, when we do it correctly, by either stunning with a single blow to the head or else slitting the throat with a sharp knife. Neither is pretty, neither is fun, but you get where I'm going here. The same goes for food and water. Food and water are precious amenities in nature that often shift, dry up, or are otherwise of limited access. Most wild animals spend every minute of their waking lives looking for food. Part of the deal when one raises livestock is that food for the stock is always provided and is easy for them to get. Temple Grandin, whom I love and write about often, says that nature is harsh, but we don't have to be. Agriculture itself is a kind of insurance against the harshness of nature. It is still very much at the mercy of nature, but it allows us some respite from the daily struggle to fill one's belly. Part of how we keep the harshness of nature at bay for animals is by providing them with a similar respite as well as protection through the use of guardian animals.

Guardians are an essential part of any farm that raises small animals. Dogs are the most common and have been used for this purpose the longest. There are literally, a bazillion different breeds of guardian dog, each bread for its home region, type of stock it is works well with, specific behaviors, and specific temperaments. In addition to dogs, farmers have also used llamas and donkey's as effective guardians. For a long time, Ross and I thought we would use llamas to guard our sheep. That all changed, however, when we met Nancy Osborne of Cordero Farms when we were in Vermont last summer. Nancy told a story about the dogs that guard her sheep. Apparently, her farm lost power during a big, midwestern snowstorm. Nancy had painstakingly sorted her sheep into different breeding groups and put a dog with each group. Because of the loss of power, she was convinced that she was going to have a very long couple of days re-sorting everyone. How wrong she was! The dogs not only kept the sheep safe while the electric fences were out, but kept each group of sheep together and separate from the others. This sold me completely, not just on using dogs, but on using a particular breed: Maremmas.

In a nutshell, Maremmas are the Italian version of the well-known Great Pyrenees. They are big, white, bushy dogs with calm demeanors but formidable when they or their charges are threatened. The main difference between the two is that the Pyrenees was bread to guard a perimeter; thus, they wander, sometimes quite far, and don't generally stick with the stock. Maremmas, however, develop a strong bond with their stock and stick with them.

I spent the better part of the past few months learning about these dogs, watching information and questions pass through Maremma list-serves, reading, and talking with breeders and other farmers who keep them. Through this process, I was able to find Frankie.

Frankie, is an 18-month old Maremma from Washington State. He is an amazing dog. In preparation for his arrival, we borrowed three sheep and six lambs from a neighbor for him to look after until our sheep arrive. It took Frankie a while to adjust to things here. He arrived via 747 jet, clearly a bit traumatized from the experience and wondering where the heck his mom and sheep were. I'm sure he also had a bit of jet-lag; he was quite sleepy for several days. His transiton has been less than perfectly smooth. Due to his privious owner's schedule, we had to take Frankie about two-weeks sooner than we were really ready for. I wanted to make sure all of our fences were up before we brought a dog to the farm, but that didn't happen and on Saturday, we paid the price.

While we were working on building our chicken houses with a group of volunteers, Ross and I both heard a yelp and saw a flash of white coming down the hill from the barn where the borrowed sheep were. Frankie had gotten out. My theory is that he jumped out of his pen to get nearer to the sheep. The sheep were inside a temporary electro-net fence. Frankie's pen was just outside this fence. We think Frankie must have touched his nose to the electro-net, got a shock, and took off in the opposite direction. Ross and I both yelled "shit!" and took off after him, leaving our poor volunteers quite bewildered. However, once they figured out what was going on, they sprang into action, either following after us or jumping into cars to go patrol the roads. We were able to find him after about half an hour of searching. He had made his way over to our neighbor's pasture, across the creek, and had nestled himself on the side of a steep ledge. The relief I felt was profound. We had him. But a new tension was emerging in me: how in the world were we going to get him back? After looking and talking for a few minutes, we could not figure out a good way to get him down. The whole time, I was just so worried; Frankie had been with us only two days. He had no idea who any of us were or what we were asking him to do. It was not hot outside, but he was panting from stress and several times looked as if he was going to fall asleep standing up. We were all stressed as we floated ideas, tried to get Frankie to come along, only to have it fail. We called our friend Chip, who had been helping us with the chicken houses. He's a firefighter, and so I figured he had some good expirence with these types of rescue missions. My hunch was right, after quite a lot of discussion and a series of failed attempts that only stressed Frankie further. Chip's idea to dig down from the top of the ledge to make it less steep so Frankie might be more inclined to hop up safely worked. Again, there was a sense of huge relief. We breathed again and cheered. Chip took a big, celebratory swig of Gatorade. Ross started walking Frankie through the woods back towards the farm. We thought the long struggle was over. My friend Lauren and I went back up to the barn to reconfigure things so that he would not be able to get out again. After we finished, though, Ross and Frankie had not appeared. Something was wrong. Lauren and I walked down the road towards the bridge that crosses the creek where there seemed to be some activity. The bridge. The damn bridge. Frankie would not cross the bridge. The floor of the bridge is grated steel, something we knew we would have to fix for the sheep to be willing to cross it, but we did not anticipate a dog having such an adverse reaction. In the fray of trying to get him to cross, Frankie had come out of his collar, which made matters more tense. Chip and I hopped in the truck to go get another collar, a long lead, and some wet dog food that would hopefully entice Frankie back into his crate, which we finally resolved, was the best way to move him at this point. It was slow going to get him to accept a new collar and lead and even slower going to get him into the crate. He would not eat the wet food, so the idea of luring him was out. Ross and I spent much of the time just sitting with Frankie, waiting for him to calm down, showing him that we were calm and trustworthy, but this did little to help us progress. Finally, our friend Lauren, who had done some work in vet school and worked in a vets office for several years coached us through forcing Frankie into the crate as carefully and gently as possible. We latched two leads to Frankie's collar so that he could only move forwards and backwards and moved the crate to be directly in front of him. Lauren got behind Frankie, pushing his bum with the side of her foot and gently lowering his head into the crate. Slowly. One. Foot. At. A. Time. He was in. Sweet, sweet relief. We got him. He was safe. Stressed, to be sure, but safe.

The whole process, start to finish, lasted from 2:00pm to 7:00pm. When we got Frankie back up to the barn and settled, Ross bent over and nearly vomited from stress. I gave Lauren a huge hug. I don't know if we could have do it without her help. Afterwards, as I sat there and blamed myself for the mistakes I had made in assuming Frankie would not jump out of his pen and in accepting a dog before our fences were ready, Lauren very kindly and wisely pointed out that this process probably helped Frankie to bond with us, especially Ross. Lauren said she did not think Frankie associated the stress of the afternoon with us. Rather, we were the ones who were with him during a difficult time. I noticed at one point, when we were trying to get Frankie to move in the direction of the crate without a lead, that he walked when Ross walked, and he looked back at Ross every time something changed, as if to ask "is this alright?" It was amazing to see.

What was even more amazing were my wonderful friends and neighbors who helped get Frankie back. Our neighbor, Fuller, without missing a beat, jumped into his truck with Ross to go looking through the pastures. Chip and our neighbor Sarah immediately went hunting for Frankie, offered help and suggestions and stuck with us to the very end. Carter and Laura stayed with the chicken house and kept framing while the search and rescue team went out, erecting the back wall entirely on their own; and our dear Lauren, without whom we would probably still be out there, trying to coax Frankie into his crate. Living out here, doing farm work, I am continually amazed by the generosity and fortitude of the people around me. This kind of thing is the stuff that community is made of. I am so, so grateful.

Frankie is currently doing well. He's out of his pen and with the borrowed sheep. Already he is exhibiting protective behaviors with them, keeping them where they belong, watching them, looking up at any sound or disturbance. He's a wonderful dog. We really got a sense of his character and demeanor on Saturday. The characteristic calmness of Maremmas shone clearly. Frankie could have freaked out with us so many times, but he didn't. In all his stress, he remained quite calm and even submissive at times. He is eating heartily now and enjoying firm butt scratches from us. Now that he's had almost a week to adjust, we are going to begin the real work of training him to us and to our farm. We'll keep you posted.

what cheese am I eating no. 6

Back in November, I had the pleasure of attending a brief talk at the Great Lakes Dairy Sheep Symposium from Carol Delaney of UVM who spent a good bit of time in Sardinia, learning about their cheesemaking practices. She came back with slides and stories, mostly about the manufacture of Pecorino Sardo, or Sardinian Pecorino. Sardinia, though a part of unified Italy, like all the Italian regions, has its own particular culture that it zealously protects. Indeed, you would be remiss if you were to lump Sardinia, or Tuscany, or Umbria into the broad category being merely "Italian". Pecorino, as a general term, is a hard, aged, sheep's milk cheese (pecora means sheep, or hoofed ruminant in Italian). You are probably familiar with the well-known Pecorino Romano cheese, or Roman Pecorino. The region Lazio, where Pecorino Romano is made, lies in the central western coast of the peninsula and has its own terroir that is different from that of the island of Sardinia, about 125 miles to its west. In general, Sardinia is much drier and hotter than Lazio, yielding different conditions for the grass, the sheep, and the aging process of their version of Pecorino. According to Ms. Delaney, it is quite difficult to get hold of true Pecorino Sardo. The Sardinians covet it and keep it mostly for themselves.

During the talk, I was excited most by the slides of the Sardinian cheesemakers burying their Pecorino Sardo in hot ashes to produce Fiore Sardo. Now, I'm not generally a big fan of smoked cheeses. Usually the smoked flavor becomes a mask that overwhelms the flavor of the cheese itself; all you taste is smoke. But as a sometime potter, this slide reminded me so much of the process of ash firing ceramics that I had to try a cheese that was made using the same technique. So, you can imagine that when it finally came in at the cheesemonger, I was very excited to see it.

If you're going to have a smoked cheese, this is the one to try. The taste of smoke is clearly present, but truly enhances the overall flavor of the cheese, punching out its earthy tang. When I taste it I get lots of roasted sweet aromatics like caramelized onion. It also has a garlic-like piquantness that mingles with the lactic flavors really nicely. And of course, the smokey complexity of the cheese yields a strong sense of umami. The rind is especially interesting. It tastes like a garden store or nursery: loads of soil, greenery, and fertilizer aromas. Overall, as a fine D.O.P. cheese, I give it a 3.

what cheese am I eating now no. 5

Sorry for the absence of fresh cheese posts over the past few weeks. I've be so busy with the farm and life and everything else that I have not stopped by the cheesemonger in far too long. But yesterday I made up for the lack, picking up four new cheeses. I will post about each in turn, beginning with Moses Sleeper.

Holy frijoles. This is a good cheese. Really, really good. For those folks out there who enjoy Green Hill from Sweetgrass Dairy, think of that cheese on steroids. It has a seriously creamy, filling mouthfeel without being goupy. It has a very thick consistency, like custard, only quite sticky. The rind is soft and flavorful, not chewy, ammoniated, or bitter in the least. The rind just melts in with the rest of the cheese in the mouth. The flavors are delicate and yet distinctly complex: hard to pin down into distinct categories and yet satisfying and pleasing: sweet and lactic with melted butter, maybe even a hint of white chocolate mingled with a cashew-like meaty, umami flavor would be my best stab at describing it. I've got to give it a 6. I ate the little wedge at one sitting and I've sent Ross to the cheesemonger this week to come home with a whole wheel both for me and to share. I had tried Moses Sleeper before several months ago, but it had so many off flavors that, being a cheese from Jasper Hill, I knew clearly that it been damaged in shipping.

Jasper Hill. Let me say a few words about who they are and what they are up to. The farm and creamery are owned by two brothers, Mateo and Andy Kehler and is located in northern Vermont. They make rock-star cheese. Don't believe me? Do a search for "Constant Bliss." Chefs like Emeril Lagasse and Martha Stewart advocate for it and use it in their recipes. Not only do they make rock-star cheese, but they are also working hard to renew and regenerate Vermont's local dairy economy. Specifically, they have created The Cellars at Jasper Hill, a beautiful, huge facility built exclusively for affinage. The cellars are not only where Jasper Hill ages its cheese, but where cheesemakers all over Vermont come to partake of Mateo and Andy's facility and expertise. When we were last in Vermont, we met a pair of young cheesemakers just starting out. They had a very small facility and could not afford the equipment needed to create a good cheese cave. So, these two women age their cheese at The Cellars. When Ross and I were at VIAC over the summer, we had the oppertunity to meet Mateo and talk with him about the Cellars project. Mateo essentially said that the aging process is one of the most cost-prohibitive aspects of small-scale dairying, especially at start-up. His Cellars support the cheesemaking industry in Vermont by providing a common facility. The fine folks of Cheese By Hand did a wonderful interview with Jasper Hill, where you can learn loads about their awesome work.

Constant Bliss, Jasper Hill's most well-know cheese, just got a huge makeover in that Mateo has started to pasteurize it. It's a totally different cheese now, and one very much still in progress. The exterior mould is much "fluffier" now and the mouthfeel is out-of-this-world creamy. However, it's quite bitter at the moment. According to my cheesemonger, Mateo is having a "cheese ninja" from France come help sort out the bitter problem. The in-constance of Constant Bliss is really interesting to me. On the one hand, the goal of a good cheesemaker is to deliver a consistent product. On the other, cheesemakers are artists practicing a craft, working to find the cheese they want to make, and therefore altering make procedures and recipes. Now, there are always variations in hand-made cheese, just like anything else hand-made, but these are variances more than they are changes. However, Constant Bliss has made a series of changes since it was first made, this one being the most dramatic I have seen. Some might react to this process by saying "quit messing with a good thing," which I can get on board with to a degree, but at the same time, I can't begrudge a cheesemaker's desire to edit in pursuit of getting it just right. I look forward to watching the cheeses from Jasper Hill shift. They always start out so strong, it's amazing to think of how they can and will become even better.

things are easier to destroy than to build

The house on the farm is gone. After word got out that we were planning to demolish it, it was scavenged to its bare bones over the course of a week. Finally, the might and force of a track-hoe dealt it a final blow. Ross and our friend Clay were down in the hay barn cleaning up when they heard a resounding "BOOM" unexpectedly on a Sunday afternoon. Apparently they wanted to get things going before the anticipated snow. I came over with a video recorder:

I was struck, as I videoed the demolition like a tourist, by a sudden and profound sense of responsibility. My choices wiped away someone's home, and with it, physical manifestations of a memory. Now there is a flat, graded patch of red clay in its place. Despite the consent that comes when a piece of property is bought and sold, I could not help but feel a small pang from the loss, from the gone-ness of the thing. And beyond that feeling came the feeling of responsibility to do right by the place, to build and create something that could justify the destruction occurring before me.

I had always been aware of the responsibilities that come with land-ownership and farming. There is a commitment on a multitude of levels, and for both me and Ross, a profound intention to recreate the land and to assist it to become something better than when we found it. A mere 100 years ago, there was not a tree to be seen where our farm is, in all of Chattahoochee Hill Country. It was all cotton. Everywhere you go, you see ripples in the landscape from trellising and the red clay, indicative of spent soil. All of the dirt that was here was literally spun away into cloth of which there are only scraps left. As I stood and watched this house fall down, I remembered that there is a human element to this responsibility; thoughts, memories, hearts, and minds all needing to be seen, heard, and understood. Mateo Kehler, of Jasper Hill Farm makes some of the best cheeses in this country, if not the world, and he has a proclivity for naming them after the people who were on his farm before him. According to their website:

Constant Bliss [was] a revolutionary war scout killed in Greensboro by native Americans in 1781. He was guarding the Bayley Hazen Military Road with his compatriot Moses Sleeper, who died with him.

Three of Jasper Hill's cheeses are named, Constant Bliss, Bayley Hazen, and Moses Sleeper. This always struck me as a wonderful naming scheme for cheese, but it never quite consciously occurred to me why. As I watched our neighbor standing and watching, it drove home to me that when you farm, you have to respect the land in and of itself, but you also have to respect its people who have shaped it, for better or for worse, and the memories that hang over it.

These memories have to be respected with the land for a reason that did not fully impress itself upon me until just this past weekend when I was attending the GA Organics Conference. While there, I had the opportunity to go to a screening of the film Dirt: The Movie. The film, as you might imagine, is all about dirt, dirt and the human relationship to it. As I watched footage of farmers running from dust storms in the midwest, or else digging themselves out of the heaps of dried out, worn out topsoil that was forever leaving them, I thought of what it took to build that soil. How many plants and animals lived and died on that land to build up the humus, the fertility, the "black gold" as it was advertised. How many aeons did it take? And then, in the blink of an eye, in a single lifetime: gone. Just gone. I remembered as I watched those scenes my own words as I watched the house disappear into big green dumpsters, I looked over at one of the guys on the demolition crew, smiled, and said, "it's easier to destroy something than it is to build it, isn't it?"

A memory is no different from the soil. If abused, neglected, or mistreated, it is lost. It does not ever come back. It takes a lifetime to build, but in a moment, can be gone. I've come to understand over the past two weeks, how inexorably linked the land is to ourselves and our histories, the very things that make for a culture.

I think farming, is at its heart, a series of alternating moments of creation and destruction. I remember, several years ago now, standing in a greenhouse, thinning seedlings, killing little plants so that other plants can grow stronger and healthier; and again, this past summer, thinning radishes and carrots, talking with my neighbor as she and I both struggled with killing the little carrots and broccoli's we had nurtured for weeks so that the strongest ones would be stronger. With animals, the feeling of culling is more intense. We culled our first animal yesterday. One of our chickens had developed a serious infection in both of her feet. Her feet had doubled in size with swelling, and parts were grey-black with necropsy. She was clearly in serious pain. Ross and I were both tempted just to remove her from the rest of the flock, set her down, and let her die, but the cold and the anxiety would only increase her pain. With a flick of her tiny neck she was gone. Weeks and weeks she grew, then, in an instant, she was gone.

Farming is so powerful. The first farmer Ross worked with, saw himself as an agent of destruction, an agent of death, not as some romanticized, pastoral creator and protector of beauty. He was absolutely right to do so. This job and this way of life can be awful. That power to destroy, to end the existence of a thing, is not a responsibility to be taken lightly. But we do it, or I do it, because each choice to end something or not, I think, has to be about the creation of something more beautiful. Any artist will tell you that most art is a series of mistakes and corrections. Lines get culled by other lines or eraser marks or a different color laid over. This process continues until the artist gets to a point of some kind of satisfaction, so that every line, shadow, and color ends up where it belongs. This is farming exactly. You are constantly shaping, reshaping, killing, breeding, altering systems, trying to get things into some kind of shape that makes sense, that works, that tells a story, even. The reason that it is easier to destroy than to build, perhaps, is that building and creating is made up of a series of destructions.

I am realizing the full power of this process, the care one must take in each of those choices. The land, the people, memories, stories, all of it has to be considered. I am beginning to get a taste for what Joel Salatin means when he calls himself a "caretaker of creation." To be such a thing, you must be many things, you must nurture and protect, but most importantly, you must also be an agent of destruction.