Winning Entry

Ken J:

“Those who labour in the earth are the chosen people of God, if ever he had a chosen people”       –Thomas Jefferson

Farming, if you ask anybody in a large metropolitan area like Chicago, which happens to be where I grew up, consist of iconic red barns, large gardens, apple pie, chickens scratching in the grass and cows mooing in the fields. Everyone knows what that farm scene looks like because the advertisers remind us everyday with their various colored packages on the store shelves.

I ponder, in my conversations with my friends from the city, if it is my job to replace the illusions that they live under. How do you explain to someone that most of the farms that they see on their drive down do not even have a garden attached to them? Is it my job to tell my city friends that most of my country neighbors get their chicken from the same place that they do, from the local Wal-Mart? Should I let them know that the price of their corn flakes might be going up this year because by current estimates up to 30% of the corn they see growing in the fields will be turned into fuel for their cars?

“Ignorance is Bliss” states my city living niece when she asks why the extra roosters are separated from the rest of the flock. I guess she did not like my invitation to come over for a chicken and noodle dinner tomorrow. While I can understand the concept of ignorance being bliss, and in fact some days wish for ignorance about how our food is processed, but I was raised under a different mindset, “You are what you eat” I guess that I just do not want to be a “hydrolyzed corn gluten, modified corn starch, autolyzed yeast, polysorbate 80, propylene glycol or mono-diglycerides and datem” (What is a datem anyway?) All of these ingredients and more are from a package of Healthy Choice Homestyle Salisbury Steak. Homestyle? They call those ingredients Homestyle cooking? For whom, Frankenstein?

Farming for me is a choice, a choice to have control over what food we put into our bodies. A choice to truly understand you are what you eat. From putting in the compost and tilling the garden. Planting the seed and nurturing the plant, watering and weeding until it blossoms in full abundance for you to enjoy.

We started our first Homestead Family Farm on rented land about 8 years ago. Armed with years of yearning and learning we were ready to take the plunge. Horses, dogs, cats and chickens were the mainstay of our animals. Our current Family Farm is now going on it’s second year. Gone is the rented status and now comes the expansion stage. More chickens, meat chickens, turkeys and someday a couple of pigs.

And a really big garden. Which is currently getting bigger.

Farming allows you to create anything from the land if you are willing to work for it. If parents can teach their children only one thing, this will rank up there with one of the most important.

Since this is a Family Farm everyone has some say in what we are going to grow. So at the end of last year out came the “Fund Jar” Only this time it became the “Cow Fund Jar”. So the race was on to get a cow. The time that passes while the jar starts to fill up is used to obtain the knowledge and resources that we will need. Books read, websites like this one found. My wife has been offered help if needed from the local farmer we get our wholesome very fresh milk from. Another Dairy farmer that offers cow shares has even offered to come and walk us thru the entire milking process.

Imagine my surprise when reading the family cow forums to see this contest. Maybe we will not have to wait until the ‘Cow Fund Jar” is finally full. Maybe, by writing this essay I will be able to show the kids that once again, you can create anything you want if you are willing to work at it.

Jacqueline J:

Ten years ago, I couldn’t even imagine myself to be the person I am today. I found this wonderful person who loved to farm hiding inside of me. A year ago this past December we moved to our very own six-acre farm. When I turn down the road to my house and see my big barn in the distance it is still enough to make my heart flutter.

Spring is almost here and Erik my oldest son just turned over the garden for the first time, this year the dirt is rich in organic matter from our horses and chickens. I expect to have a much better garden this year. In the last three years my oldest daughter Heather and I have learned to preserve that garden with canning. I found that it is the most incredible feeling to pull jars of food you have grown and preserved from a canner.

We have had chickens for the past five years. I love to see them scattering happily across the pasture chasing bugs through the air. Last summer we raised one hundred of our own meat chickens and butchered them. I canned meat for the first time. We also had some hens go broody and hatched our very first chicks. The look on Erik’s face when he brought me that first chick to see was priceless.

We have been drinking real milk, which is what I call raw milk, for about two years. I drive forty-five minutes one-way every week to pick up milk. I purchase it from a small farm and the amount I can buy is limited.

After reading The Family Cow, my heart is willing to give this little girl a happy home. I have empty stalls in my barn and a three acre green pasture. I have four children who are willing to help me take care of her, especially my daughter Kirsten. One day about a year ago she asked me when we were going to get our own cow, I started my milk-cow fund that day. She is sixteen and owns a small cart pony. She faithfully cares for her without any prodding from me.

I love this little farm and I love being a farmer family. With each adventure we grow and learn, I would love if the little heifer named Amethyst could be a part of our farming adventure. If she did, I would give one of her heifers the same chance to find a new family, I guess we could call it the Spirited Rose Amethyst Project. Just imagine how many families could benefit if we each gave the gift of a single heifer.

Kirsten J:

Raw milk has been apart of our life for about two years now. With raw milk and cream we experimented with making ice cream, and I’ll certainly say that it was some of the best we had ever tasted. Our next goal would be to make cheese, except that the farmers that we buy milk from have limited supply so making cheese isn’t in our grasp yet.

That was when I had asked my Mom about when are we going to buy a cow. I think she had been mildly surprise when I had said that I would dedicate myself to her, milk her, care for her and read all that I can on the subject to keep her healthy and understand her better. And in turn, I was surprised when my older brother, Erik, said that he would help with the cow. Then my little brother, Joshua, also said that he was interested in learning how to milk a cow. This pleased me, because then the lucky cow would truly become the Family Cow.

It was early Sunday that my Dad brought me over to the computer to show me this contest. I was riveted by the beautiful little cow, staring at the camera with her sweet eyes. I was driven to write the essay, without any thought of not doing so.

For the past few years, I would say that we have earned the term ‘Farmer’. Which started with our first real garden (not the plants in pots like we had the previous year), to raising chickens, to learning how to can (which I’m still squeamish about) but my Mom and my older sister, Heather, have really got it down.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t do my fair share of the canning work. I peel and cut apples for jelly and pie filling. I even picked the apples from our very own apple tree last year. I pick tomatoes and peppers, dig up onions and potatoes, helped weed the garden through its season. Except we didn’t get to enjoy any carrots because the sweet potatoes vines got so overpowering that you couldn’t even see the carrots anymore. Then when we went looking for the carrots we couldn’t find them, apparently the sweet potatoes had decided that they hadn’t needed to live.

There was only one particular fruit that I didn’t quite enjoy preparing. Even though it made great pie. And that would be the dear cherries that we picked from a local orchard. I do insist that we should invest in a cherry pitter next season. Because somehow we didn’t this past season.

As farmers, we are growing every year with the abundant knowledge we learn about over the winter months, then put it at work in the new year. Constantly learning from mistakes and finding new and fun things to try. I believe the cow, Amethyst, would help us reach another goal as farmers.

As a family, we our close-knit and understanding of each other. We strive to live in harmony with the land and our animals; we yearn for the days when we’re truly independent, and we keep each other up even when the road seems grim.

We wait for the days when we finally reach the goal of true homesteaders, but until then, we’ll be dedicated farmers.

Heather J:

I grew up dreaming of living on a farm. We were then living in the suburbs of Chicago and it seemed an impossible wish, except for the fact that we all dreamed it together. A tide of events swept my family to a tiny town in Southeast Illinois about eight years ago where the dream began.

In the dream, I didn’t think to include having a stripe of bright red sunburn between shirt and jeans from weeding the garden, and getting chased by roosters or broody hens, which I think the latter are scarier! But it did include having my own horse in my backyard, something out of the question in the city.

There is a satisfaction in standing up after weeding, and seeing I had finished the row, freeing the plants. It is an incredible feeling to fall into bed exhausted from cleaning the barn. (And what’s even weirder, I thought it was fun!)

Our first large garden was at the rent house. As the tomatoes grew at an amazing rate, my Mom and I overcame our biggest hurdle: canning. People in the city are terrified of canning. The food businesses have convinced them you will never preserve food as good as them. After having our confidence raised by reading articles by a woman named Jackie Clay, we canned the tomatoes successfully. Not only that, we even purchased a pressure canner off of Craigslist and canned our own chili and beef stew. Even now, it is still a marvel to pick up a jar of something we preserved. I repeat to myself, we did that!

We knew something was still missing, and we found it when we purchased our own property. There was something so uplifting to move from dreary Grayville to the town known as New Harmony .

Our property has six acres, three of it pasture. We moved in December of last year, and had a five thousand square foot garden that spring. We laughed because it was larger than the house!

There was quite a conflict with the insects for that garden, but we still managed to put up many tomatoes, peppers, pumpkins, zucchini and potatoes, but no cucumbers much to my dismay. We even had some sweet potatoes weighing at almost ten pounds. (We have not run out of those yet.)

My brother decided to raise hens for eggs. It was so exciting to get the chicks in the mail and watch them grow. He still has the first tiny egg shell. We raised one hundred meat birds for the first time last year. I learned that meat birds were vastly different from laying birds – they grew like weeds! Putting them up was a family affair. My Dad and brothers worked outside. Even my Dad’s brother helped with the processing. My Mom, sister and I worked in the house, cleaning and cutting up the meat as necessary. It was a very long, but rewarding day.

I can’t wait for us to get a dairy cow. Even though she will be the family cow, my sister and my brother plan to be doing the main care for her. My Mom and I will be learning the many uses for her milk. Homemade butter, mmm! Learning to make cheese is the leap that will be the scariest. But like using the pressure canner for the first time, I will get through it!

I can’t say there is one favorite aspect to farming. I love waking up to the sounds of the roosters, not sirens on the highway. The old red barn stands so proud, glad to be of use again. When I eat the chicken and eggs we have raised, I know they were produced by healthy and happy birds. The potatoes may not be pretty, but what a taste!

As the eldest child at twenty three, I know that wild horses cannot drag me away from this place. I know a farmer’s wife, who jokes that her husband married her for the farm. Perhaps I will say that of my own husband one day.

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