Posts Tagged ‘neighbors’

Helping Hands

I have come to discover that all work on this farm falls into one of two categories- a “job” or a  “project”.  A job usually needs to be completed in a shorter time frame, and a project can sometimes be left open-ended for a time. Both can mean a lot of hard work, and sometimes we put these things off for as long as we can before starting, knowing the work ahead of us. But just like in the song from Mary Poppins, if we try to have some fun while doing it, or at least make it interesting, it can go by a lot quicker and not seem as taxing on our minds and bodies. Also, more hands always make the work load lighter, so if you can get others to help out, it does make a big difference.

The Saturday after Thanksgiving was a “work day” on the farm that started very early for us. After the morning’s first cups of coffee, it was time to finish the project of getting the large Joseph’s Coat rose, that has been overgrown and pulling his arbor down for the last 2 years, under control. I had already spent the better part of three or four hours (on and off) cutting back the overgrowth and bagging up the canes with their abundant sharp spines. Not an easy or fun task to say the least. Anyone who has ever tackled this particular species of rose knows exactly what I am talking about. He is a wicked spiny beast that is hard to tame – even the leaves have spines!

Now it was time to get down to shaping the main part of the bush, and getting the arbor back in an upright position. Since this was way too big a job for just myself, I enlisted the help of my friend Matt Boeck from Rancho Organica in Santa Barbara. He has much more knowledge then I do when it comes to pruning back canes. So, armed with long handled loppers and pruners in hand, we marched together into the battle against this massive errant rose. It took us a solid 45 minutes of clipping, lopping, and pulling, all the while being pricked, poked, scratched, and snagging our clothes before we were able to finally get this beastly climber under our control. Then we had to reposition the huge rebar arbor and tie the remaining canes to it. At last we were able to step back, tired and bloodied from the struggle, to admire our handiwork. A long hard project finished at last! In no time Joseph will make his comeback in a controlled way, and he will be much easier to deal with and tame in the coming years. Thank you Matt!

Next, it was time for processing the Christmas turkey and a few meat birds to go into the freezer. If you are vegan or a PETA person, please skip this part of the story and read below about the goats. This bird was scheduled to be done the week before Thanksgiving, but was given a stay of execution because we got rained out that day.  Our friend Katie from Zack Family Farm came over for this job, and Christy also joined in, and we spent the next couple of hours having what we affectionately call one of our “chicken pickin’ parties.” Again, the more hands, the easier and faster the job goes, and before we knew it, this job too was completed.

Then Dr. Rose (who happens to be our dentist) stopped by for a long overdue visit, and we gave her a full tour of the farm and all the animals. After that pleasant break, it was time for the last job of the day that we had been putting off for a week – time to worm. delouse, and trim the hoofs of all the goats who are out in the field (13). Christy graciously volunteered to help me with this. We moved the milk stand in front of the empty nursery pen and then brought out all of the tools and treatments necessary for this procedure. The goats were all bribed into the small pen with a bucket full of sweet grain and locked in. It is an old trick but they fall for it every time. Each goat is then brought out in turn, and either held on a lap, depending on how cooperative they are, or placed on the milk stand with their heads in the sanction while we treat them.  Most of the younger goats don’t mind these ministrations, but some of the older does do not like having their feet worked on, and in fact will fight against it. But in the end everyone gets treated and nothing is really hurt but the pride.  We also take this time to check eyes and noses, feel to see if everyone is in good weight under their heavy winter coats, adjust collars, and try to see if we can feel movement of the babies with any of the pregnant does. We were blessed to discover that all are in good health this winter.  After all the catching, dragging, hoisting, holding, inspecting, clipping and treating, it was the day’s end and we were beat. 13 goats times 4 feet each makes for 52 little hoofs to trim, so there is inevitably a blister or two by the end! As we walked wearily from the field and close the gate behind us, we are very tired, yet at the same time there is a great sense of satisfaction in knowing that we completed this job. It needed to be done and we did it. As I dragged myself to my final reward – a nice hot shower to wash away the day’s dirt and grime – I felt good about the jobs and projects completed this day. I am thankful for all who joined in, their helping hands made these things easier and their company made the time go faster.  Thank you, one and all!

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Farmwear

Each year in October St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Ojai hosts their “Blessing of the Animals” service. It is a service conducted in honor of St. Francis of Assisi. He was said to have a great love for all animals and even preached sermons to the birds. Francis wrote a Canticle of the Creatures, an ode to God’s living things. He knew that the bond between person and animals is like no other relationship.

No wonder people enjoy this opportunity to take their animal companions to St. Andrews for this special blessing. It is always held outdoors and I just love the sight of pairs of creatures – one human, one animal sitting close together, or held in arms. There is such a variety of dogs, large and small, that attend but each and every living thing is welcomed. Every year a large tortoise spends most of his time meandering through the rows of chairs set up on the grassy lawn. I remember one year a small clear plastic box being passed around with a very cool little horned toad, who looked prickly but felt more like rubber when touched. There have been birds, bunnies, snakes, and a large white goose in attendance over the years.

Katie with Junior

When the priest passes each animal for the blessing, he asks for the animal’s name, and then he welcomes them with a special prayer. As the prayer is offered they are gently sprinkled with holy water. Believe it or not, most of the animals take this sacramental spritz with dignity. During the singing of the hymns a few non-human voices can be heard lifted in song, and usually a very well-timed grunt or squeal is heard during the sermon, which makes everyone giggle. I think this is enjoyed by all who attend, regardless if they are pet owners or not…

Every year we go and take one or two of the baby goats with us. This year, I took Mercy and Val. Christy held little Val and I had the larger kid on a lead. She went from standing next to me to wanting to be held.

Christy with Val

Just as the service ended, I was sitting down with Mercy draped across my lap when a little boy approched us. He spoke softly so I leaned closer to hear him. He was around 4 years old with light brown hair and big blue eyes. “What is your goat’s name?” he asked me softly. “Her name is Mercy,” I responded. “What is your name?” I asked him. “Landon” he answered. “Landon, would you like to pet Mercy?” I asked. He immediately dropped onto his knees in the grass and made eye contact with her. He cupped his little hands and then gently put them under the goat’s chin, and brought their noses together until they touched. Then he gave the goat a gentle scratch on the head. He stood up again, and looked at me, “Ya know what?” he said. “What?” I asked. “I can tell that you are a farmer.” he said. “Really?” I asked, thinking that he was obviously discerning this from the fact that I was sitting there with a barnyard animal in my lap, “How can you tell?” He pointed to the overalls I was wearing. “Because you are wearing those, and that’s what farmers wear.” he stated confidently. “Yes, you are right,” I said, taken back a bit by this observation, “farmers wear overalls.” I was not even thinking that I had put on a pair of capri-length bib overalls and blue work shirt that morning. I didn’t do it to look like a farmer, just as something I wear to deal with the animals in. I guess somewhere along the way this little boy must have identifed overalls as something that only farmers wear- our “costume” for the job of farmer. I smiled at his statement as this was something that had never crossed my mind before. In another moment he ran off.I don’t think I will ever be able to buckle up into my overalls ever again without thinking about that exchange. Pointed out to me by a four year old boy, I will think of them always as my costume, my uniform that identifies me as a farmer. From now on I will wear my overalls as a symbol of my occupation, not as just a cover-up from barnyard debris. Thank you, Landon for bringing dignity to my farm clothes, I will wear them proudly from now on.

My First Garden Experience

I actually grew up a city kid in Los Angeles. I was raised by a single mother who had a hard time making anything grow – including geraniums (now honestly, who can’t grow geraniums?) I remember way more weeds in our flowerbeds then anything else, and one very sad rose bush that I don’t ever recall having flowered.

BUT we did have an old neighbor couple right next door, Irene and Emery Gellert, with a very extensive flower garden and a home that I was welcomed into. I had a VERY well worn path beaten between my house and theirs. They must have been in their 70s and had no children of their own. I learned at her hand the very peaceful art of “watering” a garden, and how to walk among the bees and not be afraid, how to not to excite them while they worked so I would not get stung. I learned from her how to face my back to the sun so I would not burn the end of my nose, and how to put a daisy in my hair so that it would stay.

Their garden must have covered about half an acre, but was terraced up a steep hillside, with many beautiful paths, retaining walls, stairs and landings to all the different planting beds. It must have taken years to build the whole thing. Their house had huge vases in every room filled daily with fresh picked flowers in all shapes and colors. They were both from Hungary, at the time (I was 6 or 7 years old) I only knew that it was a far off land somewhere else in the world. He had a silver Olympic medal for gymnastics that was displayed in a very special frame in their living room along with an old photo of himself as a much younger man. There was also an engraving that I was too young at the time to read, but I sensed it was something he must be very proud of, so I always tried to walk by it with quiet dignity. I learned from him how to drink hot tea from beautiful flowered china cups with saucers, and to enjoy the heavy, dark semi-sweet chocolate layer cake she would bring us as we sat among the gardens and enjoyed them. He was a painter, and I would sit propped up on a stool for hours and watch him paint with oils on canvas. He loved to paint her gardens. She loved him to paint her gardens. They loved each other.
I was in heaven in their garden.