Being back on the farm wasn’t easy at first. Early in my career, I was used to successive moves, hopping from one newspaper to another. Then, it was the promise of living overseas, in Kenya. Oh, how I wanted that to be a permanent move.
But, again and again, the farm drew me back.
As I described my situation to friends — “I love living overseas, but I know the farm is where I’m supposed to be” — they would get this incredulous look on their faces, and respond with comments like, “Your life sounds incredible. You live on a farm. I envy you.”
Slowly by slowly, as they say in Kenya, the farm became my life again. I no longer chaffed at the sameness of some things. My commute took 30 seconds, instead of an hour of clogged, polluted Nairobi traffic. Instead of dodging careening public transport vans and street hawkers, I hopped in the four-wheeler and headed to the barns every day.
Anyone who works on a farm understands that, really, sameness isn’t the best description. Any given day, you could be pulling a lamb, rescuing a ewe from a swamp, fixing a broken fence or trouble shooting a mystery illness and treating it.
I also realized the thing I’ve been striving to do my whole career still held true: Tell the story, truthfully and openly.
Now, I talk with friends about the crazy day I had, when the hooligan sheep staged a mutiny and blew through all of the fences. We laugh about how goofy and annoying feeder lambs can be. They breathe deep and marvel at the open land, when they bring their families to visit.
What it means
I’m still working out what it means to be a sheep farmer on this farm in Ohio. (And, now, a sheep-farming newspaper editor.)
But I’m giving you fair warning: You’re probably going to see a similar refrain here as I mull it over. Tell the story, truthfully and openly. Two of my preceding columns already started that mantra. The connection we have to the land, to livestock and to the stewardship of it all is not something many people experience. And it shows.
Food without animals
It seems that almost daily, I hear of new experiments to create food that eliminates the need for animal products. As much as we might like to post ironic memes about it on social media, or laugh it off, it’s here.
When I was traveling in Australia in 2018, livestock industry officials told me they were worried about the lab-cultured meat and how it might impact their industry. A U.S. beef representative speaking at the American Sheep Industry convention in January 2019 echoed those sentiments. That has played out in following months as more companies announce they’re jumping on that bandwagon.
News just broke of a vegan, dairy-free ice cream, produced by a company called Perfect Day, that was started by two bioengineers in the San Francisco, California, area. According to a story published July 15, on Vox.com, “they wanted to create a product that’s indistinguishable from cow-made dairy, yet reduces animal suffering by steering us away from factory farming, and helps fight global warming by reducing the number of methane-producing cattle and the land needed for grazing.”
It’s there in print. They believe they’re saving the world, one pint of ice cream at a time. They have raised $60 million in venture funding. It’s here.
By the numbers
As much as we might try to explain it away or shake our heads, the truth is that people are eating these things, or drinking them, more often. According to research published July 12 by the Plant Based Foods Association and The Good Food Institute, U.S retail sales of plant-based food grew more than 10% from April 2018 to April 2019. Milk alternatives, once a niche market, are growing.
Like I said, I’m still mulling this over. It comes back to the life we live. And how we share it with others. On one hand, we just want to mind our own business and get stuff done.
Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s the way agriculture will survive.
I am not sure what the answers are, yet. But maybe it’s in a clear summer night. The stars are shining and the crickets chirping, the sounds of sheep settling in, and chewing their cud. Maybe it’s in the movements of my livestock guardian dogs as they take up their night watch posts, watching over us all.
If only more people could experience that. Maybe that’s where the answer lies.
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