So I haven’t posted my (seemingly) obligatory “OMG I FINISHED MY 2nd YEAR OF TEACH FOR AMERICA) but, rest assured, I did finish my second year of teaching. The extra-large bag of emotions I typically carry around with me is a mixed bag. I have not fully sorted through said bag, and I certainly don’t intend to peel through all of my feelings on this blog (sorry to disappoint, creepers). However, I also knew that if I gave myself more than a weekend to “reflect on and assess” my experience over the last two years, I would inevitably find myself three weeks into the summer, half dead in front of a never-ending Breaking Bad marathon, queso dripping down the front of my pajama shirt, the same pajamas I would have put on after finishing my last day of work three weeks prior. SO, I decided to do my “reflecting” while also forcing myself to do something productive and learn something new. So I signed up to “WWOOF” or in other words, volunteer on an organic farm in, you guessed it, rural Alabama for the next two weeks.
Last Weekend: To prepare (my boyfriend can attest to this) I re-watched Charlotte’s Web, followed by Milo and Otis. Then I made him watch The Godfather II for good measure. So, come to think of it, I didn’t really prepare at all. I just watched movies all weekend.
I have now been volunteering for one week.
The following is my attempt to make agrarian practices entertaining for my readers. Ok, for my reader. HI, MOM!
On the first day, I woke up at 5:30 sans alarm! This was also, coincidentally, day 4 sans RedBull, so I think documentation of my morning feat is necessary. After preparing myself for the day by slathering 5 bottles of poison sunscreen on my body, I made my way to the barn for the most exciting lesson in farming thus far…GOAT MILKING!!! There are currently three milking goats on the farm. I quickly discovered no two sets of udders are alike. Also, milking is not as easy as it looks. I was given very specific instructions to milk “as if you’re icing a cake” squeezing and holding from the top and pushing the milk down to the tip of the…teat? YAY, I FINALLY HAVE AN EXCUSE TO TYPE THE WORD TEAT WITHOUT BEING PROFANE!
The first goat had medium sized teats…hehehe…and while she was the easiest to milk of the three, I quickly discovered that I was terrible at milking. I thought it would be better when I made it to the next goat, who had massive teats, but she was just as difficult for me to milk. I thought I was going to have one more chance to get it right, but the last goat’s udders were so small, it was like milking two earlobes. On this particular goat, I used the strategy I learned from Ben Stiller’s character in Meet the Parents when he discussed milking his pet cat (which of course the character did not do, but the thumb and forefinger strategy was most effective!) The smallest goat, coincidentally, has the richest milk, but she produces very little of it and makes it very difficult to procure the milk…she’s a kicker so you have to hold her leg with one hand while milking with the other.
In all honesty, the goats were perfectly lovely and milking them was a joy, and though I wasn’t able to get much on the first day, I have been milking every morning this week with another wwoofer, and we have been able to get our original hour and ten minutes down to 40, so we’ve clearly been improving!
What horrifying little beasts they are. They really don’t do much. They just hang around waiting for you to accidentally drop some food, and then they swarm your feet like a ravenous hoard of angry bees. I still cannot help but scream, though the first time I fed them I was quite dramatic with my screaming, and now I’ve managed to bring it down to a relatively controlled whimper. The best part about the chickens? The eggs of course! All of the eggs that aren’t sold go straight into the fridge, and they are a staple of both breakfast and often lunch, so they’re always freshly rotated in! Not to mention, several of the chickens are about to have baby chicks! On Wednesday, I held an egg during the hatching process! Eggs with little chicks in them are soooo warm! As far as I’m concerned, the only tolerable chickens are the ones that haven’t left the egg yet.
They’re kind of just there.
On the farm, there are also several honey bee hives. Apparently, many honey producers feed their bees high fructose corn syrup, and of course the honey the bees make is a product of what they consume, so often when we eat honey, we’re really eating a derivative of corn syrup. In Alabama at least, farmers can label it “natural honey” and don’t have to inform you of what the bee has been consuming. Yikes! However, that isn’t happening here, and the honey is so delicious and has a very distinctive flavor and a dark color. The spring honey will be a lighter color due to the difference in plant live, while the fall honey in Alabama is typically darker, and that is the honey being eaten and sold on the farm currently.
Feed the Pig:
The hogs on the farm are massive and terrifying, though I’ve been told they have quite sunny dispositions. They eat fermented pig slop and sprouted/fermented seeds that have been washed, left in water for 8 hours, and then poured onto a tray in the greenhouse until they have sprouted. I have been trying to understand the chemistry behind this, but basically they are attempting to lower the ph in the food and produce very specific types of lactic acid through the fermentation process. Apparently, this will be very good for the pigs digestive systems and will lead to healthier pigs and tastier pork…but I could be misstating some of that. I will continue to absorb, and will report back on this later!
Food on the farm is fantastic! Nearly everything the family eats they picked/milked/slaughtered themselves. Breakfast is almost entirely farm-to-table. Homemade yogurt and freshly gathered eggs are a staple of every breakfast here, as well as homemade granola, berries picked from the garden when they’re in season, and of course all of the goat milk you could want. It’s fortunate I have always loved goat milk, because it has a distinctive, sort of musky quality to it. Lunches and dinners consist of farm vegetables, legumes, often homemade bread, and a meat dish made with pork raised on the farm. Mozzarella will be made in the morning and put on the homemade pizza that night! It’s THAT fresh! I’m to the point where I’m enjoying eating raw okra. RAW OKRA! The vegetables are so tender and tiny, perhaps because we’ve been picking them kind of young, but nonetheless they are out-of-this-world delicious and full of flavor!
The second day i was here, I was recruited for my first experience on a MASSIVE John Deere tractor. Terrifying. But I can now say that I have successfully plowed a field. One thing I have found thus far on the farm is that at the end of every day you can point to something tangible and say “Because of my work today we are visibly, physically one step closer to achieving the end goal.” Vegetables have been harvested, fields have been plowed, fences have been painted, pigs have been fed, goats have been milked, and the birds at the farm have two newly renovated homes (took me less than 3 hours…beat that Extreme Home Makeover). Right now, nothing can beat the satisfaction of being able to say “I did that today.” It’s a pretty sweet feeling.