Farmers in Training: A City Dweller Gets Lessons in Harvesting, Milking and the Meaning of Life

| 2/18/2013 11:34:16 AM

 interior of milking stable 

The wall above my head tells a story. Days of the week are written in German, a generations-old milk tally in faded looping cursive: Donnerstag, Freitag, Samstag . . . . Which of the farmers who came before me wrote it is a mystery, but their ghostly white script remains stark against the dark siding of this 200-year-old barn, recalling a once-familiar way of living that I’m only recently getting acquainted with.

I’m crouched down, fumbling around between the legs of a 1,000-pound cow, a Jersey named Patience, trying to get the 2 gallons of milk from her bulging udder into a steel bucket at my feet. Until now, I’ve spent my days in Boston working as a freelance photographer. Compared with the cold mechanics of lens and camera, this exercise feels intimate and mildly inappropriate. I clumsily squeeze her left teat and then her right, but the milk mostly dribbles down my arm and disappears into my sleeve. Patience, who is living up to her name, stops chewing to glance back at me, eyebrows raised, hay poking from the corners of her mouth. As if to say “good luck,” she swipes her muck-crusted tail across the back of my neck and returns to her munching. I bury my head deeper into her flank, squeezing again and again hoping for a different result. Eventually, as the first light of morning begins to fill the stall, my bungling gives way to a rhythmic hiss, hiss as the bucket slowly fills with frothy milk. Maybe I won’t miss breakfast today, I muse.

farmhouse at sunrise 

The place I call home these days is The Farm School, a fertile 180-acre strip of ridge top in Athol, where 15 student-farmers are spending a year learning the ins and outs of growing food, managing forests, and raising animals for meat. I arrived at the farm in October, just as the leaves were reaching their peak brilliance. The Farm School — which offers three-day programs for schoolchildren, a summer camp, a full-time middle school, and the apprenticeship program I’m in — takes us through all seasons of farming, weaving together class work and on-farm training.

Throughout the year, we will manage the 150 acres of forest, grow food for a 175-member Community-Supported Agriculture group (CSA); and husband a variety of animals for the 50-member meat CSA. I, like many who have gone before me, have traded in my career, left family and friends behind, and delved into the inner workings of this farm to see if this is a life I can really live. I’m here because I want to be a farmer but don’t yet know whether I can handle both the physical and the economic realities, the simplicity and the ruralness of farm living.

Steven Buehre
3/27/2013 2:03:10 AM

simply awesome. best of luck on your awesome adventure.

Misty DeLaine
3/26/2013 1:40:16 AM

I have to say that I am rather surprised that there isn't a soul who has left a comment. This is tremendous! I felt everything that you were trying to say. I felt the love that you have for your wife, your search for something that is more meaningful than what we have been led to believe is meaningful. I felt your pain at having to kill an animal and the discipline it takes to overcome yourself. I see dirt in a different way. It has so much humility, yet gives us so much. What we consider mere dirt is so taken for granted. I am so moved. Perhaps, you should write as well as farming and photography. I wish you and your family great spiritual blessings from the King of the Universe who is Jesus. He is ultimately where your search is taking you. Remember to search out the Real Jesus, please don't look at those who say they are His followers, but are out for self for it causes dismay and discouragement.Just because they say they represent Him doesn't mean that they are a good representation .There are those who truly love Him. The search is for something greater than ourselves. There are always answers to every question, though it may take time and effort to find them. Thank you for your beautifully well written story. It should win an award.

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