Sentiment and Sentimentality

I haven't really slept in three days. That's how I know lambing is now in full swing. Little creatures have been hitting the ground since New Years Day and slowly but surely ramping up to now. As Ross so aptly put it, it's like popping popcorn: first there's one or two, then a pause, then one or two, then a pause, then five or ten, then a pause, then more than you can count before it tapers off again. I've said it here before, but I'll say it again, lambing is simultaneously really energizing and devastatingly draining. The oscillations between life and death can send us emotionally reeling. Worse still, our self-judgements of our relative success (when a lamb lives) or failure (when a lamb dies) are crazy-making. Ross and I are both guilty of ascribing judgements to the forces of nature playing out their grim realities, realities that are ultimately out of our control. It is hard to absolve onself of the overwhelming feeling of personal responsibility when a lamb dies, and when one lives, it's as if nature has somehow has cut us a break. But this notion is, of course, absurd. This is nature at work, and while we shepherds play a role, its influence is minimal. In the sleep-deprived space of a few days of lambing, it's very hard to keep such a level perspective and all our ambitions can evaporate into a feeling of pure futility. Here's what I mean: About a week ago, Ross went out around midnight to help a ewe in labor. It was our first set of triplets, ever. Triplets are not uncommon in sheep, and it is equally common for one or two of the three to not survive. In this case, the first baby died minutes after birth. The second came out fine, and the third had some respiratory problems; as if she aspirated on fluids a little bit on the way out. Ross put them in the claiming pen (a little pen on pasture that contains mama and babies to assist with bonding and to keep the babies from wandering off). One lambs was doing great, the other was clearly struggling. Then, in a horrifying stroke, the stronger of the two lambs turned up dead after having drowned in his mothers' water bucket. We were momentarily devastated. It was an obvious mistake to leave the water bucket on the ground (who'd have thought the lamb could jump in there without also knocking the thing over?). Ross took it in pretty good stride, saying that for once it was clear what went wrong and what can be done to prevent it in the future. I really allowed myself to despair pretty intensely. The work we were doing felt totally pointless. Then, in that moment, I thought of my vegetable farming friends. I remember how Paige and Justin at Serenbe Farms talk about when entire crops die: weeks and weeks of growing and work and then suddenly comes some blight, some pest, or some unknown something and the whole thing goes up in smoke. I remembered William at W.A. Hennessy Farm down the road from us saying that something happens almost every day that makes you question the value of this whole enterprise of farming. And most of all, I remembered Joe and Judith of Love is Love, whose farm was completely destroyed in a flood nearly three years ago… and yet they still farm, they still grow, they still make it happen. Their perseverance especially acted as a salve for me in that rough moment. I remembered that I can do this.

Then, three nights ago I went out for the 11pm shift to check on the ewes. One huge ewe was clearly laboring and having difficulties. I called Ross out and together we got her two lambs out. The first one needed some help getting going. She wasn't breathing right away and some quick pats and shakes had no effect. Ross preformed the "swing" technique wherein one literally swings the lamb by its hindquarters in a circle to help shake out mucous from the lungs and to give the lamb a little adrenaline boost. Amusingly, Ross preformed this task with a lubricated OB glove still on and so the lamb slipped and went a-flying like a gangly, multi-legged bowling ball. It was a brief moment of panic, but the lamb was no worse for the wear and was actually a good bit livelier for it! The second lamb followed shortly thereafter with minimal assistance. Mama and babies seemed to be bonding well (licking, nuzzling, making sweet little sheep cooing noises), and so we left. Ross went on to bed, but I went back out around 1:00 am to check on things. One of the babies was missing. I searched around by the light of my headlamp, trying to be as un-frantic as possible. Thankfully, the little guy turned up pretty quickly and I brought him to his mama and sister. After watching them together for a few minutes, I could see the new babies were having a lot of trouble nursing. The mama's udders were still high (they usually drop low close to the time of birth because they start producing milk and so the lambs can access them easily) and the lambs were having a lot of difficulty finding the teat. In an effort to make sure these lambs would make it through the night, I ran back home to thaw some frozen sheep colostrum (that amazing first milk that jump-starts baby mammals and initiates the immune system) from a ewe whose lamb died last spring. I figured a little colostrum would get them through the night at least, then we could work out what to do in the morning. I braced myself for what could be a very, very long night if they did not take to the bottle or if the lambs had gotten lost again. When I returned to the farm, bottle-in-hand (around 2:30am) I was immensely relieved to find both babies merrily sucking away! The happiness, the gratitude I felt was just wonderful. Despite not having to be out bottle-feeding in the night, I was so wound up from the intensity, the oscillations between anxiety and relief, that it took me until about 5:00 am to fall asleep.

Everything seemed to be humming along smoothly until about 2:00 am the next night. Ross went out to check on things and returned with one dead lamb and one severely hypothermic. Apparently the mama ewe of these twins had abandoned them in the night. This happens sometimes. Bonding in mammals is a delicate hormonal balance and if for whatever reason those hormones are not triggered, they will not mother properly. Something was clearly wrong with this ewe. Her udders never properly dropped, and while it was clear that her babies did get some colostrum and had some initial success nursing, it seems mama's milk never fully came in. We don't know why and have rulled out the usual suspects (retained placenta, etc.). At any rate, Ross spent the better part of that night alternately dunking the hypothermic lamb in warm water and then blowing him with a hair dryer and rubbing him vigorously. Finally, Ross was able to get a few onces of milk replacer in him and the little guy has now made a full recovery (but will be a bottle baby, for sure).

With lambs now dropping daily and nightly, we are in full swing with the first round. Hopefully we will see a lull in the next two weeks to recover for a bit before our second group gets going. Through the sleepless haze, we are working to keep this perspective: we are not great actors in this drama. We are custodians. Our job is to provide a space for things to be when they work, and to minimize the damage and clean up the mess when they don't. The degree of emotional detachment needed to do this is hard to learn. In farming there is much sentiment, but little room for sentimentality (apologies to Lady Edith and Julian Fellowes) and it is a very fine line between the two.


Big News!

Check it out! After weeks and weeks and weeks and months and months and months of sisyphean effort, on Friday we got our foundation permit. We can move dirt, put in conduit and plumbing, and pour a pad. Next week (sometime) we should be fully permitted for the structure. I can hardly let myself believe it!

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.

"It takes great thinking and work to keep from working. "

This week, there has been a lot of talk about the USDA's nutrition guidelines. The great pyramid of my childhood has been revised. I mean, let's be honest, this was crazy:

I remember looking at this kind of pyramid as a kid in my public school cafeteria and would feel a pang of anxiety. My good-girl, type-A over-achieving, follow the rules and guidelines self would heap pasta onto her plate in a spasm of fear about how I would eat the recommended 11 servings of graina along with everything else I had to eat to be "healthy." Fortunately, the carb overload would calm me down just enough to nearly fall asleep in my afternoon classes. Sometimes I wonder how my kid self would have responded to this, revised pyramid:

Huh? Wait, that's just a big pile of food. A big pile of food and some colors that appear to be beaming down from the heavens. Why are some of the items illustrated and others photographs? Were there only clip-art carrots but not apples? Did they just do a Google image search for "bread" and stick in the first result? And excuse me, but what are those little blobs emanating from the purple beam and why are they also floating around the green beam? And why is there a photograph of canola oil in the milk section? Or is it in the fruit section? And what's with the stick figure? Are we supposed to climb something? Perhaps he's going up to the heavens to ask the gods for some key to understanding the great mystery of how this was ever considered an "improvement" or how anyone ever conceived that such a chart would be at all helpful. Or maybe this new pyramid tells us what we all needed to know: THROW ALL YOUR FOOD ON THE FLOOR AND GO CLIMB SOME STAIRS, YOU FATTIES! (thanks Fitbomb).

Somebody apparently, was also confused, and so the USDA released its new, revised nutrition guideline visualization. Behold:

Welcome to the "My Plate" revolution, the new panacea of nutrition information. So clean, so simple, so not a pyramid! "What's easier to understand than a plate?" our First Lady asks when this was unveiled this week. This is what our plate should look like, we are told. This is the way to good health; half a plate of vegetables and fruit, half a plate of grains and protein, and a little dairy on the side. Simple, right? Easy to follow. We've hit graphic design gold! But wait, I'm confused again. Doesn't dairy have protein in it? Don't grains? Don't some veggies, too? Are beans a veggie or a protein? Also, where are the fats? Is butter "dairy" and margarine, since it's made from soy "protein"? Let me put it in terms of something familair to school children, the standardized test:

Which of these items does not fit in the series?

Fruits, Vegetables, Grains, Protein, Dairy

a) Dairy

b) Grains

c) Protein

d) None of the above

Yeah, that's right, protein. Why? Because fruits, veggies, grains, and dairy are foods; protein isn't a food, it's a nutrient. It's in foods. In point of fact, there is protein in foods from each of the food categories on the chart. Now, I do think that protein here is probably being used as a euphemism for meat, but meat is not comprehensive enough. What about fish or eggs? And what about vegetarians? And can't dairy count as a protein? See the quandary? What I'm getting at here is that food is more complex than this graphic can reasonably handle. The simplicity of this graphic leaves room fr the kinds of absurdity Bill Cosby  points out in his famous routine where, instead of cooking breakfast for his children, Bill gives them chocolate cake and grapefruit juice. By the standards of MyPlate, his wife would have no cause to admonish him: cake has a bit of protein from eggs, has a hearty serving of grains, and a serving of dairy. With the addition of the grapefruit juice, the only thing missing is the vegetable! Perhaps this could be corrected by giving the children carrot cake!

Part of the problem with the previous iterations of these food charts is the complexity of eating. Older graphics have been criticized as "vague." There is a lot of food out there and, as omnivores, we can eat pretty much all of it. I think the first government food chart was probably the best, as it wisely counsels us to "Eat some food from each group every day… [and] eat any other foods you want." It may indeed be a vague suggestion, but tell me what is so specific about "grains, dairy, fruit, protein, and vegetables"?

These inconsistencies aside, what may be most informative about this graphic is how it reflects the way we are collectivly thinking about food. MyPlate, graphically, suggests neat categories where foods can be defined and clearly understood, but in a world where folks aren't sure about whether a tomato is a fruit or a vegetable, I wonder hour realistic this is, or how meaningful. Additionally, MyPlate assumes that its categories and ratios are ideal for most people. But what are most people in the "melting pot" of America? MyPlate presents itself as a kind of proscription for eating, but this isn't Scandinavia or Japan where people are genetically similar and thrive on similar, traditional diets. In a country with tremendous diversity, isn't MyPlate bound to be less than ideal for some groups? And so here's what disturbs me most about MyPlate: with its categorizing and simplifying, with its lack of deference to the inherent diversity of foods (and by extension, people), it shows that we are thinking about how we eat food the same way we think about how we grow food: as a monoculture.

I saw another chart today, twos diagrams of the White House Kitchen Garden:


The first diagram is full of the diverse bounty of late spring: an assortment of leafy green veggies, root veggies, varied salad greens, peas, and blueberries that, come summer, will shift into tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and beans. These kinds of foods are passively supported through things like, well, the White House Garden. It's bounty and diversity are subsumed by a quaintness, an utter lack of seriousness. In the second diagram, we see serious agriculture. It's serious for a number of reasons, not least of which is the fact that it is actively supported through government subsidies and is so cheap and so plentiful that it finds its way into our diet from all angles: a monoculture of starch in the form of corn, rice, wheat, and soybeans. The idea of MyPlate is to make sure people eat a veriety of the right foods, it hopes that its vageries will be interpreted to reflect the White House Garden. How quaint. The reality is this:


Courtesy of CBS news. Click the image to see the original video.

Yummy. Dry, brown, corn syrup-laced slurry bread is the "grain"; corn syrup-soaked mandarin oranges are the "fruit"; sad, canned, overcooked green beans represents the vegetable; and protein looks, well, like protein, you know, that stuff they're growing in labs these days. Oh, and don't forget the delicious corn-fed, denatured (pasteurized, homogenized, and defatted) 2% milk. THIS ISN'T A MEAL, PEOPLE! THIS IS CATEGORIES. Neat, tidy, bland-ass, fat-free categories. Call it food segregation. Everything is orderly, everything is in its place. On a standardized test, this meal would get an A. This type of eating, through MyPlate, is what we are culturally subsidizing. When we teach our children how to eat, this is what we want them to have. Trouble is, they don't want to eat it anyway. I mean, who would? What in the world is appetizing about MyPlate? This interpretation (and it is the dominent one in school cafeterias) supports a false dichotomy: good food tastes bad, bad food tastes good. They are rarely given the option of good food that also tastes good. Children will eat what tastes good. What tastes good and is also good for you? A meal. Foods that go together, that harmoniously blend and meld through the medium of fat, that are fresh and in-season, that are whole, that satisfy our appetite by giving us both the calories AND nutrients as well as the combinations that help us metabolize those nutrients that we need to make it though the day with energy and alertness. But we don't do this, and so, our children will keep eating their onion rings.

Bill Cosby is right. We have hemmed and hawed about what we eat and what we should eat, we have consulted experts, read the science, considered the needs of our agricultural economy, hired a graphic designer, written speeches, and pass out pamphlets. Indeed, it takes a lot of thinking and work to keep from working.

lessons learned in lambing (or, reproduction is risky)

Lambing. Lambing is so many things. It really can run the emotional gamut: from elation and joy watching the little fluffers leap and bound, to quiet peacefulness watching a ewe give birth, to high anxiety and fear when there is a complication, frustration when you just don't know what to do or can't get the thing needed to help. For us, in our first year, it really was trial by fire. Nothing has taught us about the difficulty of growing food the way lambing has. It really is a miracle that life regenerates itself so successfully so much of the time in the face of so much that can and will go wrong. And nowhere else is the farmer's charge to care more apparent.

All in all, lambing went remarkably well. In terms of number have some 50 babies (some of which have by now grown into monstrously large über-lambs), with about a 20/30 split in girls to boys. It's a success that, as first time lambers, is nothing to sneeze at. However, we took some truly ugly hits. We lost 1 lamb in birth, 1 the day after she was born (probably to clostridium), and 1 after several days to unknown causes. Lamb loss is almost inevitable, but what was really awful was that we lost five Katadhin ewes: 2 to complications from vaginal prolapse, 2 to instances of ringwomb (!!!), and 1 to complications from mastitis. We have no idea what caused the ringwomb, but we feel strongly that the other losses could have been prevented with more experience and better advice, mostly about what kinds of antibiotics to keep on-hand. Not having a farm vet who will service our area is a huge obstacle. We drove back and forth to Athens, GA to the vet school at UGA I don't even remember how many times dealing with all these issues. We do have one local-ish vet, but he's still 45 minutes away and the quality of care is much, much less then what we get from the vets at UGA. Having antibiotics and other drugs on-hand during lambing is pretty much a given. Most lambing kit lists will just give the recommendation to have "antibiotics," which is pretty meaningless. Without a good vet who will come out and see the animal, complications are like walking into a huge library where you know there is a book you really, really need, but there's no librarian and no card catalogue: it is frustration laced with panic (especially since the animal will likely die without the information and tools specific to her need) that causes one to shoot in the dark with what tools one has, and then resign oneself to having done all that could be done when it fails. It is not fun.

So, to hedge against this fate next season, as well as in hopes of helping others to a less stressful, more successful lambing season, here is a list of the major issues that occurred and what we have found to be the remedy:

Lambing went on way too long: We made the horrible mistake of putting the first ram in with the ewes in October, and not taking out the last ram until December. Don't do this! A good rule of thumb is for every day the ram is in with the ewes, there will be a night you will have to be awake every 2-4 hours during lambing. For the first two weeks, energy was good and excitement was high. However, as the weeks wore on to four weeks, then six weeks, the temptation to just let it go and sleep an extra hour or two was overwhelming. Of course, that would inevitably be the cold, rainy night that we would go out and a lamb would be halfway out with a leg caught and we'd have to pull it, so we persisted in our vigils.  I remember when we went to the Great Lakes Dairy Sheep Symposium a couple of years ago; a guy from Pfizer was there promoting a new drug that synchronizes oestrus in sheep, thus allowing them all to get pregnant at more-or-less the same time. I remember thinking, why on earth would you need such a thing? Well, now I know! If the ewes get pregnant at the same time, they will lamb at more-or-less the same time, thus shortening the length of time one must be awake all night (though perhaps adding to the intensity of those fewer nights).

If you know anything about us, you know there's no way we're giving our animals proprietary hormone therapy just so we don't have to stay up all night. Fortunately, the natural way to do this is to keep a ram across the fence from the ewes for about two weeks. His presence will cause the ewes to go into oestrus. Then, drop another ram in with the girls and let him do his job for another two weeks. Then replace that ram with a "clean-up" ram to catch any of the girls not yet serviced for another two weeks AND NOT A DAY LONGER.

Lambing on pasture:  I always thought that the primary purpose of lambing in a barn was to protect fragile, wet, little newborn lambs from the cold of January, February, and March (usual lambing months). With our mild winters here in Georgia, it doesn't make a lot of sense to deal with building winter housing and all that goes with that, mainly lots of cleaning and dealing with the piles of manure that accrue. That said, I clearly see one major benefit of lambing in the barn: access. We spent a lot of nights wandering amongst the sheep, looking for signs of labor, and then, if a ewe was in labor and needed assistance, we had the grand task of chasing her, catching her, ting her to a fencepost, and then assisting her. Needless to say, this situation caused a lot of unnecessary trauma both for us and for the ewe in need. The remedy will be a project for this fall. We will be building pasture jugs for the ewes. As the ewe comes close to her due date, set her up in the jug with plenty of hay and water. That way we know where the mama is, can attend to her if needed, and she and her lamb can bond more readily.

Complications from vaginal prolapse: I've covered this in some detail in a previous post. Here is what we learned: as soon as you start to see prolapse, act. Delay, even just 12 hours, can greatly increase the likelihood of infection. We watched two ewes succumb to infection who did not have to had we just had enough prolapse retainers on-hand. We thought two or three would suffice, but when we had upwards of 5 prolapsed ewes, two or three was not going to cut it. We had to wait on shipping while the infection bloomed. We called a vet who recommended Banamine, but it too would have to be ordered. We gave them electrolytes, injections of Naxel, and watched them, along with their lambs within, die. The remedy for us now is simple, if you don't have a vet, you are the vet. Keep an extra stash of everything and get any drugs you might need from a vet well ahead of time, even if you think you won't need it, even if you've been advised by others that you won't need it. No two lambing seasons are alike. You will need it all.

Prior to lambing, we hunted around for good lists of equipment needed for lambing. Most of them contained the basics: the arm-length OB gloves, syringes, iodine, sutures, lube, rope for pulling, etc. Here's what none of the lists had that we found we really, really needed:

1) Headlamp. Seriously. Get two, the LED kind, and some backup batteries. Put one in your lambing kit and one in the barn as backup. Leave your flashlight at home.

2) Emergency Drugs. Banamine, CD antitoxin, and Spectam specifically. Had we had the Banamine, I'm confident we could have saved three of our ewes. Had we had the CD antitoxin, we could have saved a lamb.

3) Prolapse Retainers. More than two of both the spoon kind and the harness kind. If we had just two more of these, we could have saved two of our ewes.

4) Halters with Ties. How are you going to hold on to that ewe who needs her lamb pulled, huh? You got two extra arms to hold her while performing veterinary obstetrical maneuvers? Yeah, that's what I thought.

5) Udderly EZ. Unless you're a very skilled hand-milker, don't mess around with hand-milking in the middle of the night to get a lamb fed if mama isn't taking up with baby quick enough. This little device is a godsend.

6) Colosturm Replacer and Milk Replacer. Backup is essential.

7) Large Animal Crate. A dog shipping crate is what we use to transport single animals to the vet. It is one of our most essential tools.

8 ) Small Animal Crate. In case you need to transport a lamb for any reason. Seriously, don't mess around with putting them in a big crate were they can stand up and get jostled around.

Also, some terrific advice we got: if you have a ewe whose lamb dies or does not otherwise bond with her, milk out her colostrum and freeze it. You'll be glad to have it on hand later in the season or next season.

These lessons were incredibly hard. Nothing we have done in farming so far has taken such a physical and emotional toll on us. Plenty of times Ross and I had short tempers and bleak outlooks. As one of our farming mentors wisely advised, never make any long-term decisions during lambing, your whole perspective becomes addled with sleeplessness and stress. It's really true and another good lessoned learned in this process.

Lambing is an ego-tester. What I mean by that is one's sense of control and confidence gets stripped away; what you think you know, you find out you don't know at all. In biology there is no such thing as "always" and "never", there are no rules, only shoddy, malleable guidelines. Nowhere is that reality more apparent then in reproduction. Reproduction is risky. In the great genetic shuffle, it is inevitable that some part of it will, at some point, go wrong and the good farmer will, inevitably, feel responsible. Of course, unless there is true neglect going on, the farmer isn't really responsible for any of it. But we feel so, horribly responsible. We feel this way because we are beholden to care. It is our charge to care for these creatures, it is our job to help soften the blows of nature for our stock, as well as for ourselves. Sometimes there is meaning and a lesson to be learned. Sometimes there isn't. A huge part of farming is learning where that line is.

The truth of the matter is, if it weren't for our nightly vigils, checking for labor, assisting lambs in need, we would have easily lost a dozen or more lambs; yet the night there was a stillbirth, we we thought, if only we had gotten here a half-an-hour ago, did we miss this ewe in labor at the last check? Was some part of her feed/mineral intake wrong? Did she grow too much, not enough? We endlessly consternated when anything went wrong, trying to find a reason why, trying to find meaning in what happened, trying to find where the blame belonged. But there wasn't anything to blame. What was there, though, was a lesson. As I held the ewe and calmly stroked her and spoke softly to her, Ross pulled the dead lamb out. It was the first time he ever pulled a lamb, dead or alive. As he pulled, the shoulders broke with a sickening crunch. Horrible though it was (and it was), Ross now knew exactly how hard he could pull, exactly where the point of doing harm was; this was vital information that lead to getting all the living lambs that needed puling out safely. We will never know why that stillbirth or many of the other things that went wrong went wrong. But we will be damned if we don't try to learn from them what we can.


GROW! Released and Reviewed.

The film GROW! has been released to rave reviews. Contact the filmmakers if you want a copy or to schedule a screening in your commuinty. Oh, and check out this article in today's Civil Eats.

“I got into farming because I like the idea of feeding people, and I like the idea of feeding people stuff that’s good for them, that makes them feel good, that makes their days better, that’s pleasurable and nourishing.”

it's supposed to be hard

For the past two years, the second weekend in March we have attended the annual Georgia Organics Conference. We've loved going to this conference for the inspiration, camaraderie, and learning opportunities that are typically abundant, but this year we didn't go. This year, instead of buckets of inspiration, we spent the weekend at the University of Georgia getting sacks full of "this is really hard." Friday morning, we had a ewe who had lost a bag of waters, but whose labor had completely halted. Ross and I went out to catch her, and I performed an internal exam to see if she perhaps had a stuck lamb that needed assistance. So, I lubed my arm-length glove and found that there was no lamb in the birth canal and that I could only get two fingers into her cervix. I gave the tissue a gentle massage to see if it would give, but it felt completely taut and would not soften. We called our friend Nancy Osborn of Cordero Farms who has years of sheep and lambing experience. She advised us to seek out a vet at this point. Unfortunately, there is a real dearth of large animal vets in Georgia (unless you're talking horses) and none who will come out to our farm. So, we packed her up and drove 2 hours up to the vet school at UGA. The vet performed an ultrasound and found that the lamb, much to our collective surprise, was still alive.

They also confirmed that her cervix was only partly dilated and was not going to go any farther. She had a condition called "ringwomb" (more on that in a moment). The only way to have a chance to save both of them was to preform an emergency c-section. This was a tough choice that really tested the ethics of our business. Surgery on any animal is costly, and as a start-up business without a lot of income, it's pretty prohibitive, but it was a choice between letting this animal and her lamb die or the possibility of saving one or both. The value of both the lamb and the ewe together was more than the cost of the surgery, but if one or both died in the process, we would be losing a serious amount of money. If one or both lived, the financial loss would be less, and frankly, so would the weight on our hearts. So, we gave the green light to perform the surgery.

After the lamb was born, the vets insisted on keeping them overnight for observation. At first, the ewe seemed to be recovering and was letting the lamb nurse, but by the next morning she was rapidly deteriorating. She was developing sepsis from failure to pass the afterbirth (in sheep, unlike humans, the placenta is attached in such a way that it can't be taken out without killing the ewe; it has to detach on its own). On top of this, the lamb seemed to have suffered from hypoxia before he was born and was a bit listless and weak. Furthermore, the ewe was no longer interested in her lamb, she was so ill. The vet asked us what we wanted to do. The ewe would need substantial medical interventions at this point and even with these treatments, the prognosis was not good. Ross and I had already made the decision that this ewe would never breed again and if she lived, we would cull her for meat in the fall. But the infection was too much to do this, so instead of letting her slowly, painfully die of infection, we opted to euthanize her (we could not have taken her to the slaughterhouse due to the infection and to the presence of strong antibiotics in her system). Retrieving her lamb later Saturday afternoon was heartbreaking. He was all curled up under a heat lamp sleeping and we were told was taking to the bottle, but weakly. We took him home and made a little space for him in our bathroom where we could look after him.

Then, early Monday morning, Ross went out at 4:00am for the usual ewe check to see if anyone was in labor or if there were any new lambs on the ground. He reported that there was a new lamb and that another ewe was in labor. When he went back out around 6:00am, the ewe had lost a bag of waters, but there was no lamb and she was not in labor. We both went out to her around 7:00am, and I did an internal exam. I felt the lamb move, but her cervix was not open. A few hours later, Ross did another internal exam: ringwomb. Again. This time, because we knew what we were dealing with and it was a weekday, we went to a vet that was a little closer. The lamb was lost. We had to euthanize the ewe.

What the hell was going on? We've already had unusual reproductive problems in the form of an abnormally high number of vaginal prolapses (two ewes died from complications just a few days before all of this) and now two ewes with a truly rare anomaly, ringwomb. Oddly, the problems have all been with our Katahdins, sheep known for being especially hardy and easy lambers. The breeder we got these ewes from said that he'd never seen ringwomb in his flock in 20 years of breeding. Unfortunately, there is almost no research on ringwomb or its pathology. Some folks suggest it is a mineral deficiency. Others say it's genetic in the ewe. Still others say it is linked to the phenotype of the fetus and is linked to the ram. We have no idea, but we are putting a call into the ruminant reproduction specialist at UGA. We are going to do a complete nutritional analysis of our winter feed and mineral, just to see if there is an outstanding deficiency. We've also considered it could be something odd in our breeding. We've crossed these two Katahdin ewes with our East Friesian rams. It's possible, especially if there is a link between ringwomb and the fetus itself, that something strange happened in the cross. We will work on this, but I'm prepared for the reality that we may never know. I will certainly pray it never happens again.

Since then, we've had the successful birth of a whole crop of lambs. When 9030, aka “Big Mama”, our alpha ewe, dropped a set of healthy female twins, Ross and I both got a big boost of confidence that helped to heal our frayed nerves and quell our anxieties about our ability to do this work. Of the many things we've been learning from this experience, the thing that keeps coming into my mind is just how hard it is to grow food. Lambing has made it very, very clear to me just what we're getting into starting a farm; how risky it really is; how dependent on the unknown. The loss of four ewes, the vet bills, the unusual number of prolapses, plus the looming onset of parasites this summer; it all made me question the value of trying to start a small-scale farm. I wondered if our farm would ever amount to anything more than the product of a boutique industry. I was reminded of a quotation I once read from Edwin Land, who co-founded Polaroid: “Don't undertake a project unless it is manifestly important and nearly impossible.” While what we are doing most certainly meets the criteria of “nearly impossible,” I have to ask if what we're doing is manifestly important. We could keep buying food from the grocery store indefinitely, at least for our lifetime. Big farms aren't so bad. If we really do need small farms, somebody else can build them, right? Right? Of course not. But when things get tough it's hard not to doubt. Heck, it's important to doubt. Doubting, at least in this instance, helps to define what's important. It helps to identify where to place your faith. I was reminded by all this difficulty that what we are doing, despite the fact that it is nearly impossible, is also manifestly important.

We were tested in this experience: we already knew we were in love with the idea and ideal of farming along with all the hard work it entails, but what we didn't know was if we were in love with the idea and ideal of farming with all it's hard work along with the failures and the inevitable feelings frustration and doubt they generate. Ross went out for the 4:00am check the other night. There was a lamb being born. Its nose and feet were out, but it appeared to be stuck there. Ross spent 45 minutes trying to catch her to help pull the lamb. He called me at home, angry and frustrated and worried sick that this lamb would be dead, that he should have thought of a better way to catch her, and upset that he had not learned to use a shepherds crook from boyhood as they do in New Zealand and Wales. Fifteen minutes later he called me back: he had caught the ewe, pulled the lamb, and successfully resuscitated it. That's the beauty of failure, if you can push beyond it, things suddenly start to work.

In lambing, we are going through a kind of rite of passage . We have to remember that this is hard and it's supposed to be. We are being pushed outside of what is safe and comfortable. After a year of of farming, of setting things up, of shaping our land and our stock the way we want, of dreaming and thinking, we are finally really, truly working and we're letting the work shape us.

Shear Madness!

I know, I know, that pun has so been done, but I had to. We spent all of yesterday shearing our 30 wooly sheep (the rest are Katadhins, which are hair sheep, and so they shed).  On the referral of our friend Robin who works at the Atlanta zoo, we hired Randy Pinson, pretty much the last and only sheep shearer in Georgia. Under his confident and gentle hands, each sheep parted with its wool while we watched, asked questions, and began to learn how all this is done. Shearing really is quite an art form. You've got to know exactly how to handle the sheep in order to have clear access to its body without hurting or causing undue stress to the animal; you've got to work the fleece so that it all comes off in one, whole piece; you've got to have the physical strength to stay bent over the sheep for hours; and you've got to have a light but firm hand so as to get the wool cut without cutting the sheep's skin. It's not really something that can be learned from a book or by being told. It's something you've got to watch and practice. You've got to cultivate the "feel" for it.

It was so cute and so sad to see our big fluffy critters reduced so much in bulk in just a few short minutes. Some of them just looked completely pathetic afterwards, but it will all be back in just a few short months!

We also took some time to do some basic care: replacing ear tags, body condition scoring, FAMACHA scoring, and any necessary de-worming. We bagged the wool and now are left with the task of figuring out what to do with it. The original plan was alway to sell the wool as industrial-grade for carpets, felt, etc. However, we've had so much interest from handspinners and knitters that we are looking into selling whole fleeces, making roving for spinning, and of course, making yarn. In the meantime, I am taking it upon myself to start a project of taking one of the fleeces and seeing it through to a knitted garment, or sheep-to-shawl, as it is sometimes called. I will document the progress here on the blog over the next few weeks. My goal is to be done by the time we start milking in late spring (!!!). Y'all help keep me to it!

Internal and External

Winter on a farm is an amazing time. Things are quiet. Everything feels internal. There is mystery, and with the mystery, a touch of anxiety, a shade of wondering if all that is unseen right now will become seen, all we hope for will be confirmed. Most pressing of these anxieties for me has been the question: Are the ewes pregnant? Is that just a full rumen, or are their bellies swelling with lambs? Is all the work of the past year going to pay off? Now, as the days lengthen, all those internal questions are being slowly answered, all the internal mystery is slowly making an external presence known: the ewes are dropping their udders. This happy news has had its other signs as well. Three of our ewes have made the interior exterior in a more literal way. About two weeks ago, Ross called over to me that a ewe was in labor. We were alarmed since this baby seemed to be coming about a month early. She lay down, grunting, and red protruding out of her hind-end. We started to monitor her very closely and prepared ourselves for all that could come with a premie lamb, very little of it good. But when we looked in on her an hour later, labor seemed to have stopped completely. This was a relief, however, we began to notice that every time this ewe lay down, more and more red was visible on her backside.  By the next morning, it was clear that this ewe had a vaginal prolapse. For folks unfamiliar with livestock, this is a condition where prior to birth, and sometimes during birth, the vagina pops out of the body. This sounds a lot worse than it is. While it can be life-threatening if untreated, it is highly treatable. You just pop it back in and use something to apply a bit of pressure to the area to hold it in until the lamb is born. There's a neat little device called a prolapse retainer or "ewe spoon" that is gently inserted once you put everything back in and you tie it to the wool.

It took us two tries to get it right. It happened that we had two of our friends visiting that day, both of whom were EMT's, which was handy. But no sooner did we get the first ewe put back together then we noticed a second ewe beginning to have the same problem. What was going on? We hit the books and called a few shepherd friends. There is some indication that vaginal prolapse is a nutritional problem, so we immediately increased their regular alfalfa and hay rations and added a bit of whole corn. In the meantime, Ross called on our farmer friend Tim to help catch and repair the second ewe. Her prolapse was worse. It actually looks like the sphincter itself had torn, so retaining the prolapse was highly challenging, especially considering that this girl was a Katadhin, and had no wool to tie anything on to. We ordered a prolapse harness that is designed for this very situation, but it hadn't arrived yet and we had to create a makeshift one in the interim. We called a vet, who suggested suturing her vagina closed, but the major problem with this is that you have to monitor the ewe extremely closely to cut the suture the moment she goes into labor, otherwise the lamb will not be able to get out and both could die. There is also the risk of further damaging the tissue through the suturing itself. We decided that we had her in a stable situation. Highly imperfect, but stable, and we didn't want to further stress or harm her. Finally, we had a third prolapse, just a day ago, this time it was another Katadhin from the same genetic group as the first, which is leading us to believe that the problem may be genetic rather than nutritional. Ross and I spent about an hour catching her, cleaning the tissue, and outfitting her with a proper prolapse harness. By now, we had the process down. I held her on her side, gently holding her legs up to keep her hind-end off the ground with her limp, submissive head in my lap while Ross gently picked off bits of hay, washed of the general filth, and gently pushed the prolapse back inside.

While we were caring for this ewe, we heard a flock of Sandhill Cranes nearby. We looked up, but did not see them right away. Then they suddenly appeared, high above in their characteristic wonky-V formation, making their way northward towards their nesting grounds in Ohio and Indiana. I thought about how these birds fly right over Atlanta every year, totally unbeknownst to the city-dwellers below. I thought how grateful I am for the work I get to do. As I sat in wet, fresh sheep dung, with my husband's gloved hands bloodied by being inside a sheep, I felt so grateful for the opportunity to be quiet and attentive to the world. If you're listening and looking, the mystery is revealed and the anxiety is lifted. Spring is coming.

A Brief Meditation on Gratitude on Thanksgiving Morning

We here at Manyfold have so very, very much to be grateful for: we've lived through our first year of farming on our own, our ewes are happy and healthy, our chickens are productive and funny as can be, I could sit down with our three dogs and have a whole conversation with them about how grateful I am for their work; the egg business is booming, even as winter approaches; so many good people have helped make our farm sucessful this year, to name a few: our parents who came out almost every week to help with chores in the dead of summer heat; our friends who buy our eggs, come out to workdays, and get excited about what we're doing; our neighbors who come out and lend a hand, buy eggs, and tell us how much they can't wait for lamb and cheese; our community without which we could not have cut our hay, built our chicken houses, re-roofed the barn, or rescued two of our dogs (Carter W. and Chip N., I'm looking at you!); our customers who keep coming back for more, and especially to our co-producers who inspire us every day. Without these farming folks this whole endeavor to provide good, clean, and fair food to people would be an absurd task. I am so grateful to call you among my friends. As I write this, I see that building a farm creates a feast of gratitude, from the people around us to the food on our plates: it is all conncected. We could not make food without the people who help us, and we would not have people to help us if we did not have food. If Garrison Keillor is right when he tells us, "gratitude is the deepest way we are happy," and I believe he is, then we have had a year of unbelievable happiness.

So, as you sit down to your bountiful meal today, consider for a moment how this food came to be. Consider the people around you and how they came to be among you. Focus your minds eye on all the connections present at your table and take pleasure in it. It will make you happy. I promise.

I leave you with the words of Wendell Berry,

Eating with the fullest pleasure - pleasure, that is, that does not depend on ignorance - is perhaps the profoundest enactment of our connection with the world. In this pleasure we experience and celebrate our dependence and our gratitude, for we are living from mystery, from creatures we did not make and powers we cannot comprehend.

I wish you all the deepest pleasure of gratitude this Thanksgiving. Be well and eat well.

Press Clippings

I'm so thrilled! Apparently, a writer for the Atlanta Creative Loafing nabbed some of our eggs and decided to write about them. Glowingly. All I've got to say is that it's not us, it's the chickens. If you let these birds be themselves, then that's all you need to make a good egg. If you're in the area and want some of these "creamy, dreamy" eggs, you can start buying them the week after Thanksgiving at The Local Farmstand ,at Bella Cucina, or, through our CSA program starting up the first week of January.

What We've Been Up To

After the past few more intelectual/political posts I thought it was high time for just a plain old update as to what in the world we have been up to over the past few weeks. Here's a quick run-down: Haying. Making hay came late this year, so we only took one cut from two of our pastures (Southfarthing and Little Pasture). This took about a week longer than expected because about five passes in, our mower bit the dust. After taking it to the shop to see if it could be salvaged, it was pronounced dead, so, we needed a new mower. Trouble is, a new mower will run you about $7000 and after a litany of start-up costs this year, with still more essential stuff to get hold of (see below) we decided to put that expense off as long as possible. Fortunately, a neighbor down the road cuts hay and came out to mow for us for a tidy $175. Problem solved! Of course, the delay in mowing put us dangerously close to some rain. As the freshly cut hay sat in the field to dry, I heard little pitter-patters on my roof. For the second time in my life (the first being last year when so many farms flooded from an excess of rain), I prayed for the rain to stop. It only rained off-and-on for about 6 minutes. Blessedly.

It took us a grand total of four nights to pick up and store all the hay. In that time, we also broke the arm of the tedder by hitting a fence post, the rake by running one of the hydraulic hoses through the PTO, and the bale thrower through one of the belts coming loose. We were able to fix everything without problem, but my goodness were we delayed. Thus, we baled into the night. Fortunelty, we had some help. The first night, Tim, one of our neighbors came by to watch the process and got wrangled into driving the truck with our trailer behind it so that RJ, our trusty employee (see below) picked up the bales and stacked them. We finished that first round swilling beer by starlight, filthy, tired, and deeply satisfied. Another week or so went by before we finished up, again, with Ross and RJ working into the night slinging and stacking bales into the hay barn.  Ross came home that last night after so much hard, hard work and simply said as he beamed at me, "we brought the harvest in."

Finding a good employee. With Ross' day job and my work on our local charter school, plus the day-to-day of keeping a house, we quickly realized that we needed some help on the farm to keep things moving. Somewhat dreading the process of finding a person and training them, I was happily surprised that help came almost immediately in the form of RJ, a former Serenbe Farms intern who has spent the last few years travelling around working on all sorts of farms in all sorts of situations. He's worked on livestock farms, vegetable farms doing pretty much every type of farm work imaginable, plus, he has tractor skills. He has been a total godsend.

Eggs. While we've been working on building our flock of sheep, we've also been maintaining a flock of chickens whose eggs keep the cash flowing for the farm. Sort of. We've been developing relationships with restaurants, retailers, CSA customers, and farmer's markets to make sure our weekly output of around 52 dozen eggs get sold. We hold a candling license, which involved going to a one day class and taking an exam that they gave the answers for (ask Ross about it sometime). Each week, we wash and pack eggs, label the cartons, and carry them off to market. It takes about two months worth of egg sales to pay for their certified organic feed, but they do, along with a touch extra to pay for the overhead of raising them, housing them, and paying RJ. The markets are a lot of fun. It's wonderful to be putting our name out there, getting positive feedback about our plans, and hearing how much folks appreciate access to pasture-raised eggs. It makes me feel like a real farmer, actually feeding people real food.

Infrastructure. This has been huge. A farm, however small, needs a certain amount of infrastructure to function smoothly. This is a long, slow process. The main infrastructure projects have been fencing, water, equipment, and structures. The fencing early this year came pretty quickly. Ross already had some good fencing expertise and was able to pick a good fencer to work with and we knew pretty much exactly what we wanted. Water, on the other hand, is still in the planning stages. We've got pretty much no experience in hydrophysics, so we went to our county extension agent for help. Unfortunately, we live in a county that is a whole lot more urban than rural, so our agent really lacks in some of the deeper areas of farming. So we hit the Internet and have been developing what we think is a workable plan. This is really what farming is about so much of the time: you've gotta be an expret in pretty much everything, and if you're not, you've gotta learn and make d with what you've got while you're learning. Our "make do" for water has been the use of a 200 gallon water tank strapped to a small flatbed trailer and a whole lot of pasture pipe that we use to fill the ewe's 40 gallon tank about 5-7 times per week (depending on the heat). For much of the summer, we made use of our hilly landscape and ran the water through the pipe with gravity, which is easier said than done. We spent a silly amount of time getting the pasture pipe to lay just right to get flow going, and eventually, after spending sometimes as long as 45 minutes getting water to flow, we broke down and bought a small pump and a car battery and I tell you what, a little bit of technology can go a long way to save time and relieve stress. It only takes about 10 minutes to fill the ewe's waterer now. Hopefully, soon, with a little more planning we will have a system in place that will keep us from having to spend any time on watering at all. Hopefully.

Alongside these two major projects we've been slowly working on getting the farm's structures sound. Our 150+ year-old barn got a new roof and a few new floorboards, joists, and rafters. We're working on putting new doors on so that we will be able to use it this winter in case of any early lambs. The hay barn also needed some roof repairs, and was completely filled with the junky detritus of old wood, random bits of metal, plastic, and various other items that invariably collect on farms in the name of the noble and industrious, if not flawed intention of "you never know when you might need it." The barns have been cleaned out in several rounds. We've taken about 4 dumpster loads (20ft-30ft) of junk out of the two of them, making room for our tractor, bush hog, and bailer, as well as about 500-600 bales of hay and room for some indoor animal housing.

Flock management. This takes up the bulk of our time on the farm. We rotate our sheep on pasture more-or-less daily, picking up portable electrified fencing and setting it back up in a new spot and calling the ewes to come enjoy the fresh grass, which is so much fun to watch as they eagerly trot into the new paddock, pronking, and baaing their little hearts out. This is the essential feature of our management. It works to keep both the pastures and the stock healthy and happy, but it takes a bit of work. These portable fences, while dead useful for management intensive grazing systems like ours, are also insanely frustrating to use. The slightest mistake in how you set it up or take it down can cause tangling, sagging, and twisting that can sap you of your time and sanity. Eventually, we plan to have a system in place akin to what many of the New Zealanders do. Once we are at full stocking capacity and have a sense of how we want the sheep to move across the pastures each season, we will set up permanent and semi-permanent fencing for paddocks that we won't have to set up at all. All they would require is opening a gate. . . someday.

Planning the creamery. A good chunk of our time has also been devoted to figuring out our creamery. We've been working with a gentleman in Wisconsin to help with design as we've studied the GA regulations, conversed with other cheese makers, and formulated recipes for some 5 or 6 different cheeses. It's a hell of a lot to think about all trying to balance out anticipated demand (how much cheese we can sell) with anticipated production limitations (how much cheese we can make) with overhead and capitol costs (which are rather a lot). We don't want to be too small and have to spend extra money later to expand and replace already expensive equipment, but we don't want to start out too big in case we overestimate our production capacity and/or demand that would keep us from paying the bills. We're at the point now were we are nailing down or floor plan and equipment lists, but it will still be some time before we are fully confident and ready to break ground. I'm looking forward to getting the ewes in milk this spring and starting to get familiar with our recipes, our milk quality, and our milk quantity. This will really be the litmus test for the farm: how good is our fertility and can we do what it takes to sustain a really good milking flock?  If we can do that, we can proceed, but until we do that, it's all a massive leap of faith. Fingers and toes crossed, prayers said.

A Guide to Electing Your New Agricultural Commissioner

(Editor's Note: while I'm not typically known for wearing my politics on my sleeve, I felt the need to offer some of my impressions of the GA Agricultural Commissioner candidates; it's an under-sung office up for grabs in the ever-under-sung mid-term election cycle that is pretty important for farmers of all shapes and sizes. It is my hope simply to bring attention to this election and to use my opinions to get folks thinking about this particular office. It is not my aim to sway anybody towards or away from a candidate. What follows are my own impressions, which I hope are useful to you. If not, pay them no mind. Either way, I urge you see the candidates for yourself.)

About three weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend a debate between the three candidates for Georgia's agricultural commissioner. This is kind of a big deal. The office of Agricultural Commissioner in Georgia has not changed hands in more than 40 years, but now, Tommy Irvin is stepping down from his perennial incumbency and three new gentleman are vying to take his place: J.B. Powell, Gary Black, and Kevin Cherry. These men played to a packed house. Apparently there were over 600 RSVP's to the event, making it the largest political event so far in this election season, further disarming the credibility of arguments that suggest organics and sustainable food is a "hippie/yuppie fad." If these politicians learned nothing else that night, I hope they learned from the attendance level alone that we are a very real group of the voting citizenry and must be taken seriously.

As for the candidates themselves, here are my impressions:

Gary Black: Mr. Black has both tremendous agricultural and political experience. He appeared to be a competent candidate, with a firm grasp on a number of issues and practical and pragmatic approaches to handling them. I feel fully confident that he understands how to move within the political arena to get things done. However, I question exactly what he would do. He offered to support the economic development of local agriculture by doing things such as devoting a section of the Georgia State Farmer's Market in Forest Park exclusively to local and organic producers. While this change would be nice, it is a mere token. Very few consumers of local foods even know the State Farmer's Market exists, much less shop there. The real business for local producers lies in supporting and creating new local farmer's markets, developing relationships with institutional providers such as hospitals and schools, and facilitating efficient means distribution throughout the State. Bolstering an already flimsy existing institution felt like being tossed a few crumbs.

Black also suggested that small-scale, on-farm poultry processing needed "more research" to deal with potential environmental and sanitation hazards. This was a red flag for me. While I do agree that small-scale processing is in desperate need of research (there's hardly any out there), assuming that the hazards of processing 1 million birds can be related to processing a mere 1000 is absurd. Anacdotally, on-farm processing at a small-scale level has virtually no environmental hazards and is generally much better in terms of food safety. I would have preferred to hear a plan for generating research in this area, perhaps lead or supported by the Commissioner's Office. For me, what was underwritten in Black's comment was concern for the protection of Georgia's largest agricultural commodity: chicken. If on-farm, small-scale processing is found to be as safe or safer, how would that make Georgia's big Tyson farms look? Frankly, anyone who thinks that it is not the job of the Agricultural Comissioner to protect those poultry houses is deluding themselves. It is and will be for some time. What is important is that whoever is elected is forward-thinking enough to support activities that may or may not change the status quo in the future; indeed, to give the underdog a chance to show its worth rather than silencing it. Black's comment that more research is needed with no caveat to support such research I read as a deflection more than a real answer.

During the course of evening, Black's history of support for big agriculture became clear along with a temperament I found reprehensible. Black has headed the Georgia Agribusiness Council for the past 20 years and through this organization has lobbied for the interests of big agriculture in Georgia. While there is nothing outwardly wrong with such activities, his involvement in this organization shows a certain proclivity towards the interests of big agriculture that leaves me wondering, along with his other lackluster offerings to the local organic agriculture community, if he is seriously interested in lending an ear to our cause.

What is outwardly wrong with Black's involvement with the GAC are the allegations of ethics violations, specifically tax fraud during his tenure, which Black has not been able to sufficiently put to rest. While these allegations are cause for concern, what alarmed me the most what when candidate Kevin Cherry brought up Black's involvement with GAC and questioned how someone who was a lobbyist for big agriculture could reasonably address the needs of small-scale local producers. Black responded by asking the audience if they knew Alice Rolls, the founder of Georgia Organics. He then asked the audience if we knew that Ms. Rolls was also a lobbyist. His self-alignment with Alice Rolls drew huge applause from the folks wearing Black buttons in the audience. It drew a loud hiss from me. This rhetorical slight of hand was a textbook example of a red herring with a particularly dexterous division fallacy embedded within it. The comment was a red herring because it simply failed to address Cherry's question and redirected it down a different path. Cherry asked how Black's affiliations with an organization that lobbied for agribusiness would affect his ability to vouch for small producers. It is not at all clear how the fact that Alice Rolls is also a lobbyist is relevant to Black's ability to vouch for small producers. Black's division fallacy within this red herring I found particularly offensive. Black's comment equates himself as a lobbyist with Alice Rolls, who is also a lobbyist. The comment does not account for the fact that not all lobbyists lobby for the same cause. To say that Alice Rolls, who lobbied for the benefit of small, organic farms is the same as Gary Black, who lobbied for large-scale agribusiness on the basis that they are both lobbyists is asinine and frankly, I found it insulting to the work Ms. Rolls has done on behalf of small, organic producers.

Kevin Cherry: Cherry was far and away the biggest crowd pleaser. From the moment he opened his mouth, I knew he would be making a lot of friends in the room that night. He was very clear about the need to change agriculture in Georgia; to move away from agribusiness and towards small-scale, local production. His very first sentence was, "The era of  corporate, cheap oil, chemical and fertilizer-based, steroid and anti-biotic based farming is over." Yep, he was singing our song. As the libertarian candidate, Cherry took the textbook libertarian stance, clearly against what he called "government subsidies and interference in the market." I listend to him with rapt attention. Was he serious? Was there really an agricultural commissioner candidate that was sympathetic to the cause of small-scale, sustainable production? I wanted to get up and cheer with the rest of the audience, yet something held me back. What was his plan for achieving these goals? How would he convince the Tyson farmers that smaller is better? How was he going to get Georgia cattlemen to stop sending their steers to feed lots in Nebraska? How was he going to help increase the market for Georgia-grown produce? I waited. I listened. No real answers came. It seemed, to my disappointment, that once I heard Cherry's initial, very exciting statements, I really didn't hear a lot more. Sure, he was able to address nearly every question that came his way intelligently; he offered great ideas, such as to privatize inspection of food processors (as an aspiring dairywoman, I would love to see inspectors come into my facility who have actual expertise in what a cheesemaking plant should look like and run like as opposed to someone who has simply read over the regulations and arbitrarily enforces them, but that's a whole other article for another time). He also offered some horrible ideas, like the privatization of water (which has been tried and is one of the fastest ways imaginable to put a farmer out of business).

Overall, I loved what Mr. Cherry had to say, but I couldn't agree more with Mr. Black when at the end, he asked Cherry directly, "You're elected tomorrow, what's the first thing you do?" Embedded in this question was the skepticism I too was feeling about the reasonability of Cherry's goals. While Cherry initially addressed the question strongly with talk of a need to analyze the rules and regulations within commissioner's office and to develop a plan for dealing with the complex issues around the budget crisis, he quickly entered murkier waters, saying he would then "get with the legislature" to develop a plan to change the priority of the Commissioner's Office from one supportive of agribusiness to one that is supportive of small, local producers. I just shook my head. Don't get me wrong, I loved what Cherry says here, but he's talking about a sea-change in Georgia's approach to agriculture. "Getting with the legislature" to affect this level of change is a tremendous undertaking, and one that Georgia's agribusinesses would fight tooth and nail by also "getting with the legislators." Frankly, I'm not convinced Mr. Cherry is fully capable of this formidable task. Why? Not only did he lack in providing sufficient evidence of a plan to achieve his goals during the debate, but I am unsure that his background would serve him well in a political office, particularly in agriculture. His biography on his website reads:

I am originally from Florida, born in Miami and raised in Jacksonville, Florida. I moved to Georgia in 1983 and settled in Douglas County in 1986. Agriculture has been apart of my life since I was a lad. My father worked in the citrus fruit industry for 25 years and my uncle was a commercial vegetable grower in Asheville, North Carolina. I am a former Army Signal Corpsman, Honorably Discharged in 1981. In 1987 I got involved in dealing with Food Safety and Public Health issues as a Certified Pest Control Operator, and I haven’t looked back since. Currently I hold certifications in Georgia and all surrounding states. In Georgia I hold the Public Health Pest Control Certification. Currently I am the Technical Director for Trutech Pest and Animal Removal Inc. of Marietta, Georgia. I am the Chairman of the Douglas County Libertarian Party affiliate, a former member of the State Executive Committee, and was the Libertarian candidate for Public Service Commission District 5 in 2006.

Cherry has minimal expirence in agriculture. He runs a pest-control business and ran a mere two years ago for the Public Service Commission, whose mission "is to exercise its authority and influence to ensure that consumers receive safe, reliable and reasonably priced telecommunications, transportation, electric and natural gas services from financially viable and technically competent companies." Which leads me to ask, what in the world does that have to do with agriculture? And, more importantly, if Mr. Cherry wanted to be on the Public Service Commission, why does he now want to be Agricultural Commissioner? Something seems odd here.

I can only surmise (and somewhat cynically, I know) that Cherry's primary interest is not in agriculture, but is in the Libertarian Party, which often employs a political strategy of "get elected into any office you can in order to give the party more legitimacy." My interpretation of Cherry's motivations here, leads me to believe that while at the debate, he was making a huge appeal to pathos, the rhetoric of emotions. Cherry knew his audience would be made of GA Organics members and those sympathetic to its politics. Nowhere else save for this debate, can I find Cherry making such sweeping comments about small-scale,  local agriculture. All this leads me to understand Mr. Cherry through the age-old warning: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

JB Powell: Powell is the Raw Milk Man. The one comment the whole night that got my enthusiastic applause was when I heard Mr. Powell say that he would work to legalize the sale of raw milk in Georgia. If I were a single-issue voter, Powell would have had my vote right there. Oddly,  apart from his comment about raw milk, I have a great deal of difficulty remembering anything else about him. In point of fact, what struck me the most was that, at the end of the debate when the candidates could ask questions of each other, no one asked Mr. Powell a single question. It seemed that both Powell and Cherry were aligned in attacking Mr. Black, and Mr. Black only fired questions to Mr. Cherry. Clearly, both Cherry and Black did not find Powell particularly threatening, or else they would have drawn attention to him. This troubled me. Why were his opponents so unthreatened?

Powell's biggest point, which he made multiple times over, and over, and over again was to use existing institutions, particularly in the University System to expand and legitimize the market for local products. Indeed, this seemed to be the blanket solution for the first few questions posed to Mr. Powell, including a question regarding the difficulty in legally processing pastured poultry, for which there is already an underserved market. How expanding the market for a product that farmer's can't easily process in Georgia will help farmers meet their demand is beyond me!

What I find most interesting about Mr. Powell is what he chose to omit during the debate. One of the cornerstones of Powell's campaign is his push to legalize horse racing in Georgia. It's the second major issue point on his website after food safety and he regularly mentions the notion in the press. However, horse racing is an issue that is not even under the jurisdiction of the Department of Agriculture. Powell makes the claim that legalizing horse racing will provide a boost to Georgia's economy, but given recent declines in the financial feasibility of horse racing, even in Kentucky, I'm not so sure. Bizarre though I find Powell's stance here, I found it plenty more odd that nowhere in the debate did anyone, including Powell himself, mention this issue. Why not? If he really believes that it is a legitimate solution, or that this idea can at least help Georgia's overall agricultural economy, than why not say something about it? And, moreover, why didn't one of his opponents bring it up during the last round where they could question each other? It's just plain strange.

Be that as it may, I did find that Mr. Powell and Mr. Cherry were often aligned in their goals and philosophy but my eyebrows raised less often by Powell. He at least seemed more pragmatic in his comments and, being himself a life-long farmer and member of the State Senate, I find his motivations for seeking the post of Agricultural Commissioner more legitimate. But on the whole, I am afraid he is a fairly weak candidate. While he is certainly more amicable than Mr. Black and more pragmatic than Mr. Cherry, nothing about him strongly stood out.  No one wanted to argue with him, and apart from his statement about raw milk, little he said was memorable or engaging. While the other candidates ran hot and cold, Mr. Powell stayed quite tepid. And it's hard to rally around tepid.

So, who am I voting for? Honestly, I wish I could vote for a hybrid of all three. There are things I find unacceptable in all three candidates and there are things I really appriciate and admire about all three candidates. I want Black's pragmatisim and political connectedness, Cherry's idealism, and Powell's moderateness.

Who do I think will win? Gary Black. He's a strong candidate that folks can clearly rally behind, he's got loads of experience both politically and agriculturally (as well as in the meeting of the two), and while he would be fresh blood in the office, he's not hugely different from Tommy Irvin in terms of policy. He represents a slightly shifted status quo, is a Republican candidate in a Republican state, running for an office that not many folks apart from predominately conservative, rural farmers care much about. Steve Nygren, who is working hard on behalf of sustainable small-scale agriculture down here in Chattahoochee Hills asked me if I thought Black could be educated about our cause. Honestly, I don't know. I'm glad that whatever happens, there will be fresh blood in the Agricultural Comissioner's Office, which is always more pliant than a 40-year old, ensconced tradition of more of the same. I think it's worth trying, and it certainly is not going to stop me or anyone I know from farming the way we do.

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!

sheep wrangling

Owen and Christine of Anthony-Masterson photography are an amazing couple who volunteer their skills to benefit the movement towards sustainable farming in Georgia. They've been out to the farm a couple of times now, and most recently, got some awesome footage of Ross wrangling our sheep for hoof-trimming. As we don't yet have a proper handling facility built yet, this process can be a little crazy, involving electric mesh fencing as a crowding pen and a shepherds crook. As the video below attests, this makeshift system has its problems, but such is the way of things in a farm's first year… humility and patience is the name of the game.