Don’t Shake the Piglet
Most of our friends have young children – we’re just all at that “now or never” sort of age, and it’s been pretty great to be able to commiserate..er.. celebrate this time of life together. In the rare instances that we gather, the entire situation is overrun with babies and toddlers and frazzled parents rolling eyes and un-tethered objects crashing to the floor, and the inevitable wailing of an unsteady walker falling (splat!). It’s exhausting. But I don’t get together with my farm friends. Because they are on their farm, we are on our farm, and never the twain shall meet. Or at least, it’s nearly impossible. When we don’t have our kids with us, we’re probably with the animals, or milking, or in the cheese kitchen, or delivering product. We’re generally not having a casual meetup over wine to discuss our most recent spa treatment. So in late October when the annual American Dairy Goat Association (ADGA) convention was held in Austin and several goat and cheese-centric events sprung up around the event, and I was asked to attend, I said Yes. Despite the fact that it made my schedule difficult. Despite the fact that it meant some tough, single-father evenings for Jeremy (and with twin toddlers, a single parent has no upper hand. Ever). Because it meant I could finally meet and talk to some of my farm friends face-to-face.
The hotel lobby where the convention was held was transformed into a goat and dairy wonderland – vendor tables snaked through the entrance and were covered with veterinary supplies, milk pails, goat milk soaps, pamphlets for various feed companies and everywhere were large pictures of the glorious dairy goat and shining examples of her many breeds. Just outside the doors of the lobby, an enormous tent sheltered hundreds of pens of show animals and so many trucks had beds stuffed full of clean bedding, their windows and fenders plastered with stickers that advertised goat farms from across the country and asked “Have you Kissed Your Goat Today?” (The answer is always yes). Folks bustled between sessions wearing conference badges, notebooks and pens tucked beneath their arms and -inside the hotel at least – it could have been any convention for any topic. Not so different from the many I used to regularly attend for my old work, except instead of heels I saw lots of boots. Pantyhose were replaced with jeans. And there was a lot more laughter. A lot. Until meeting up with the group of Texas cheese makers waiting in the event hall, I really didn’t know a single person and yet it was evident I was with My People. They were strangers but friends, and this place was Mecca for those who worship at the hooves of the Dairy Goat. We were all home.
Through the events that took place that week I finally met several people I’ve admired or have had limited communication with over the years – all of them very strong women – entrepreneurs who trade in milk in all its various forms. Women who share a caprine addiction, trying to scratch a living from dirt and dairy. One in particular is a person whose drive and stamina are truly awe-inspiring. She’s got two very young children, milks goats (AND COWS) commercially, turns that milk into phenomenal soaps and cheese so good that she took first place in the amateur category at the national convention. After many years swapping texts and messages online it was just so lovely to finally meet Nicole. I hugged her pretty hard before leaving and drove home with a distinct feeling of victory. In late October I was limping towards the finish line of what proved to be an awkward, agonizing, amazing first season but at the end of it all was the tangible certainty I had finally found my place. This leap of faith decision to open the dairy wasn’t much of a leap. It was me just knowing where I needed to be. And going there.
Last week as I tossed flakes of alfalfa into hay feeders, I had my phone tucked up against my shoulder, and listened as Nicole explain her goats’ mineral program. It’s changed the health of her herd so successfully that she was encouraging me to look into it as well. It involves soil testing and a hefty financial investment, some careful research: all the usual trouble. Our conversation skipped from minerals to somatic cell counts, to seasonal butterfat content, then goat breeds and was only interrupted once when she had to shout a warning to her son. She was also out in the pasture with her animals, holding a baby on one hip, her young son playing with the livestock. Half shouting into the phone and half way towards her son I heard her firm warning: “DON’T SHAKE THE PIGLET!” I let out a whoop of laughter before I could contain it, this conversation so different from the ones I share with my non-farming mom friends. Later that night I told Jeremy about the call, one I now equate to a business conversation with a colleague. He just shook his head and smiled, “You really have finally found your people.”
And now this season is over. In a rush, in a whirlwind, after countless sleepless nights, and so many early mornings, and unfathomable late evenings in the milk parlor with a Yeti full of wine and rows of udders in my face, the sweat burning my eyes as it trickles off my forehead. Equipment that broke, then got fixed, then puttered along again. Batches of cheese ruined, or not good enough, and sometimes fabulous due to luck, or weather, or perfect pH. The goats that got sick, then recovered, the storms I milked through and milked IN, the mountains of hay laid out for fresh bedding and the constant bleating bleating bleating of a barn full of all those damn goats. All of those goddamn goats who sauntered into my life five years ago, as if they knew exactly what they were doing, without asking permission, without any apology, and simultaneously turned our world upside down and set me firmly on the path that, clearly, I was searching for. Oh I haven’t even hit the hard parts yet. That’s my biggest lesson in this short yet expansive Season One. I ain’t seen nothin’ yet. But I ain’t terrified either. I’m ready to sleep for two months, wake up, get back out to getting back at it again.
Til then, I am wrapping myself in an extension of the Monty Python quote: Blessed are the cheese makers – but I would add – blessed are all the makers, the dreamers, the believers, the hard workers, the fellowship of I Can Do-ers, who share their life with good animals, and good food, and all the good people who Do. All. Of. That.