Sunday, October 14, 2012

An Awesome Day

Today was an awesome day.

I got up at 5am this morning to have the morning milking and barn chores done before the clock struck 8am. I managed to do so with just ten minutes to spare! The sun was dawning behind a shade of clouds, but no rain fell; things looked good so far. I was waiting for someone I had never yet met before, but we had emailed multiple times over a span of time (story of my life). She was the event coordinator for today's adventure and offered me a ride to our destination since she would be passing by, and I had no other method of transportation barring the option of riding the milk cow (not a bad thought, really...). I looked forward to this day with such excitement that I fairly beamed. After meeting my new friend and exchanging smiles and laughs, we set out! We were headed to a meeting of small farmers who live in the Sheridan, Willamina, and Grande Ronde area, where we would discuss our food system we have, how we can make it better, and what we small farmers can and should do.

Driving through the winding roads of Sheridan, I admired the autumnal colors of golden rod, burnt umber, and soft red. The town was putting on a color show that I didn't even know about. :) Passing by an empty lot that was blanketed with leaves, I spied a pair of crows. At the sight of those black birds I smiled and relaxed completely; this was going to be a great day, and the duo of crows were not only a good omen, but a foretelling. Come what may, there are autumn leaves and a pair of crows behind me.

The meeting (or "conversation" as it was actually called) was being hosted in, oddly enough, a small Japanese school that resided just off the main road in Sheridan. A Japanese school? Here in Sheridan? Will wonders never cease?? Surprise aside, it was indeed a Japanese school that was even complete with the rule of "no shoes in the house". Yep, there was about to be a gathering of local farmers and we would all be wearing our socks the whole day. I couldn't resist chuckling at the thought.

As usual, I wore my teal-colored shirt from Polyface Farms that says on the front, 'Lunatic Farmer', and on the back it blares, 'Healing the land one bite at a time.', it seemed pretty appropriate to wear and it helps blog readers find me. We won't even mention the fact that it's a great conversation starter... LOL.

People began to trickle in, slowly, one after the other. I would be lying if I said I wasn't secretly hoping that someone younger than me would come walking in the door. Always the youngest in every agriculture event, I am looking forward to the day where I can shake the hand of someone who is younger than I am. I think that just might make me feel like an adult. :) A young looking guy came in and we eventually struck up a conversation about (what else?) farming, Joel Salatin, and draft horses. After a few minutes, I couldn't bear it anymore; I absolutely HAD to ask him how old he was. No, I'm not looking for any possible future farm partners, I just wanted to know if I was by any chance a little older than he. Incorrigible, am I. Alas, it turned out that he was four years older. Darn it. So once again feeling like a kid who took the wrong turn at Albuquerque, I sat down at a round table seated for five people, and awaited the start of everything.

You may think you've seen the real "Caitlyn" when you see me at church, or at the library, or even here at the farm, but I don't think you've seen the real person until you've seen me in a group like today's. I am a different animal when around my type of people. Surrounded by lovers of farms and food, I was in my element and if I had the ability to purr, I think I would have.

The meeting officially started at 10am and what followed seemed almost magical. Using sticky notes that were then stuck to a giant map of our area (it was longer than I am tall, and I ain't short!) we mapped out our assets here in the area. What do we have here? What can we use? We had farmers/gardeners/producers scattered all over the landscape, we had butchers, bakers, and wine makers hither thither. We had warehouses, truckers, food banks and non-profits sprinkled throughout, and consumers pretty much everywhere. Here's the start of a battle plan, now what do we do?

As impressive as our map with brightly colored sticky notes looked, it was missing stuff. We had our assets, now what were our gaps? If we had all this, then what was keeping us from turning these three towns into a food-centered paradise? All of us who were here were practically foaming at the mouth to be tangibly working with food in some form or fashion; what was hindering us?

We then worked on a list of our gaps. I think we came up with 20 things? Everything from lack of equipment and local grain, to needing a community composting center, to realizing that we need to some how lower the price of organic, local food. Twenty gaps that all needed solutions... To make the process easier and more fun, the list was split into portions and doled out to the five groups that were here. Everyone got four gaps to sort through and flush out before reporting back to the leaders and everyone else. My group got the challenge of figuring out possible answers to a community composting center, the lack of local grain (and how to mill small amounts for us small farmers!), how to deal with the problem of people having land and not knowing what to do with it, meanwhile there were dozens upon dozens of people who didn't have land, but wanted to farm, and the last problem was the barrier of the "organic" certification that the small folks face.

After much talking, brainstorming, laughing, scribbling, and head scratching, we had our game plans. And so did everyone else. [enter Beethoven's 5th symphony] Our leader grinned with a smile that reminded me of the Cheshire cat and slyly announced that each table now had to report their craziest idea. Oh boy... My group and I all sheepishly agreed that our composting idea was probably our craziest (but also our brainchild and favorite!). Now who do you suppose they chose to report the crazy idea? If you guessed the answer to be me then please move to the front of the class. It seems that I can't get away from crazy ideas and I am forever the one to explain them. Hehe. Oh well, I will take the title of absurdity; it's kind of fun being a lunatic farmer.

Second to last, I stood up and walked over to our flip chart when it was my time. I had no idea what I was going to say, but I'd give it a shot. Our composting idea was as follows: We need an area, rural most likely, that could perhaps be donated to the community for our composting site. Everyone would bring their food scraps here, both consumer and restaurants, and it would be mixed with their leaf piles of autumn, their Christmas trees of winter, their wilted weeds of spring, their spoiled fruit of summer, and the soiled bedding from their barns. The piles would be neatly piled until they grew to a height of 4' feet or more and began to heat up. Then came our favorite part: Once the piles were ready to be turned and stirred, instead of investing in expensive machinery that would put us in debt and fall apart at inopportune moments, we would put hogs in there! Just like what Joel Salatin does, we would release small hogs that were around 100+ lbs. into the enclosed area and watch them root and stir that compost into the blackest, richest stuff you could ever want for your garden. Folks who put their food scraps into the pile could have the option of purchasing a quarter of half of a finished hog, and would also get a discount for the finished compost. By the time all was said and done, you had a happy farmer who had sold the hogs, happy hogs who were literally in "hog heaven", happy people who were getting grand compost to grow more food with and weren't being saddled with expensive machinery and infrastructure, and best of all, there would be BACON at the end, and that's just flat out awesome. I was laughing by the time I finished my last sentence about the awesomeness of bacon and sat down to a healthy round of applause. I guess these people like bacon too.

After that exercise, we looked at this idea further... We've dreamed it up, it sounds crazy, now how could we make it feasible? What if we had local 4-H or FFA kids help take care of the hogs which would double as a livestock project, AND community service? What if we put all of this over on yonder piece of property? There's a fellow down the road a bit with some weaner pigs for sale... Oh we talked. And laughed. And dreamed. For the first time, I was with people who weren't afraid to dream the impossible. I was with people who had big ideas and they weren't afraid to make these things happen. Did I mention I could have purred?

All the other groups had wonderful ideas as well; one group was on fire for starting a food hub for our area, complete with a website that would be frequently updated. Another group wanted to create a food guide so people would know what is available and where to find the farms. A third group was scheming up gardens for children and teens, and the fourth group had invented a master plan of a farmer's market that encouraged bartering and had children selling produce from their very own little gardens.

By the end of the meeting, er, conversation that is, we were all stoked, full to the brim with ideas, and we had just made a bunch of new friends. I was plumb tuckered out by the time I got home, but I was also excited. Excited for what I learned, who I met, and excited for things to come. I love these kinds of people. :)


Jocelyn said...

That sounds like a great day.

I love your compost idea--it's very clever. Our county composts in that way, but with machinery--no pigs. I like the pig idea.

Keep thinking those different thoughts. Those are the ones that will make the difference.

nancy said...

You guys are the wave of the future! Keep it going :)

nancy said...
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Stacey Jane said...

We have a small farm in Sheridan and would love to get involved with this group. Who can we contact, what's the next meeting/step. We too are lunatic farmers, ie followers of Joel! Stacey

Goat Song said...

Stacey! The group is via 'Nourish Yamhill Valley' which you can learn more about at:

You might consider coming to the meeting in Willamina this Tuesday the 16th... It's not going to be the same as this, but most of us will be there again and we may touch on the ideas we came up with on Saturday. Let me see if I can't find an address to where that meeting is going to be held...