So you want to be a farmer?

You devour every last tidbit of postings on Facebook from your local farmers.  You pick through their blogs for buzz words to store in your internal farm dictionary.  You learn how they pollinate the squash blossoms, what is trendy for livestock feed and you read every Joel Salatin book three times (from air conditioned comfort).  You watched the goats kid on the maternity cam and just wanted to jump in and help that last little one as she struggled to stand.  Did you realize the temperature in that barn was 30 degrees and the wind was blowing through the cracks with a chill that would freeze ear wax?

I get it all the time, “we want to retire and have a little farm”.  Do you really call that retirement?  Up when the roosters decide you should awaken, putting in an 18 hour work day and falling into bed to be awaken in the wee hours by the dogs fending off a predator in the barnyard.  You get really good at going back to sleep after an hour on coyote watch.  How about raking out the chicken pen in the mid summer rainy season with a smell that would gag a maggot?  There is something about the smell of chickens in the rainy season that you will never forget – not really one of those fond memories, either!  Rates right up there with the dead rat that you just can’t find, that is getting you back in the afterlife by forcing your olfactory senses into shutdown mode.

When hubby and I lost our jobs after 9/11, we thought turning our kids’ 4H project would be a really cool adventure.  After all who doesn’t like to pet goats and drink milk?  What part of cool did I miss April through October?  We were one of those disillusioned “we want a farm in our retirement” type of people. As hubby’s debilitating arthritis took it’s toll and I inherited the farm duties, it became very clear that even though we were finding proficiency, perhaps we should have been more realistic about the labor end of the lifestyle.  A hobby farm is a lot of work, but taking it to an occupational level changes the ball game completely.  And who can afford a hobby farm with the price of feed and property taxes?  I can sling hay with the best, birth triplet goat kids with the speed of a caprine midwife and necropsy a chicken on the picnic table but pay the price with aching muscles and callused hands to rival a steel worker.

After almost a decade of being the local farmer I can only hope to live to retirement one day – in about 10 years and I will be hitting 70.  I have dreams of a secluded beach in Panama, living in a thatched shack with no goats, no horses, no dogs, no cats, not even a parrot to mock me.  If I want an animal I will feed the seagulls!  They can fend for themselves if I decide to sleep in one day.  As I sit in my beach chair with my feet in the sand getting the suntan of my life, I want to order very fruity drinks (don’t skimp on the rum) with a festive umbrella adornment and write. I want to write those stories about all the adventures that have driven me to look forward to a retirement of doing nothing!

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Dysfunctional Parenting

Dysfunctional Parenting

I haven’t been the best Mom, in fact I got so busy trying to make a living that we became a dysfunctional family and my disabled husband became the domestic caretaker.  We liked to call it Foreign Affairs (being the breadwinner) and Domestic Affairs (putting dinner on the table and laundry control).  Being the working farmer lady probably didn’t fit the “Mom Mold” and unsettled a few of daughter’s suitors and while I can laugh now, I doubt they think it funny to this day. 

Our daughter was about 14 at the time when Nick came to visit that day after school.  He showed up in the height of non-fashion with trousers showing every last stitch of his boxers and the hat crooked on his head.  First thing at hand was noting that at our house, I did not care to know the color of his underwear and was that his head crooked, or the hat? As we got the fashion statement nailed down to our acceptability, with his pants raised to a less precarious perch, I proceeded to return to my task at hand outside, burying one of our geriatric goats that had passed away. 

The day had turned into dusk and Nick and my daughter were inside watching television.    His reputation preceded him as the make-out king on the MySpace circuit. From my backyard vantage point, I noticed the light go out I had turned on when I passed through.  Several times I made the trip inside to turn that light back on.  And a few minutes later it would be extinguished.

The time to say goodbye to our beloved Flirty was at hand.  I had dug a grave roughly 4′ deep, big enough for a 150 pound goat.  I was dirty, smelly, really tired and grumpier than a hungry grizzly awaken early from his hibernation.   When the light went out again, I furiously returned inside and told Nick to come help me with something.  The poor city boy was mortified when I had him help me load a dead goat into the wheelbarrow for her last trip across the pasture to her final resting place.  We arrived at the grave to discover that I had left the shovel back at the barn.  Sending daughter to retrieve the shovel I had my words of prayer with Nick.  Some small talk about respectability, husband’s sharpshooter accomplishments and just before daughter showed up I inferred how he could join poor Flirty at the bottom of that hole should he turn the light out again. 

Nick never did come back for any more after school television.  I wonder why? 

Moms rule!

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The Corporate Refugee Transformation

The Corporate Refugee Transformation

It was 1995 and my biggest concern was the next suit sale at Dillards and choosing the socially acceptable, suitable for bragging, day care for my little ones.  My nails were covered in fire engine red acrylics and at last count, there were over 72 pair of shoes in the closet.  I knew that because the closet was overflowing and new shoe shelving had to be purchased.  We had purchased our “estate” on acreage and were busy supervising contractors and tradesmen to renovate it to an adobe worthy of a spread in Country Living.  Ah, life was good – or so I thought. 

For years I teetered on medium height heels between business meetings, playing the corporate politic game and day care pickups.  I kept my overnighter packed and in the office corner for those unexpected rushes for a corporate crisis intervention in the other part of the state.   Our weekends were busy consuming all things Disney and the idea of my husband performing even a small repair was banished in favor of calling a professional.  Definitely faster and with less damage. 

When I first left corporate America in favor of being my own boss, I would go back for a weekly ladies’ lunch and stay in tune with all the office gossip.  The lunches became less frequent as I found my comfort zone in having my own business and getting down and dirty with the land – and finding that the latest gossip didn’t matter in my corner of the world.  It was a gradual transition.  First came the horses in 1998, then the goats came to win our hearts and add in a smattering of chickens and a few rabbits and the hobby farm was born.  We were all horrified by 9/11 and in the fallout, lives were changed of people who weren’t anywhere near New York City, nor that knew any of the victims, including us.  After my husband was laid off and my right of way business was running out of work, unconsciously I found myself stocking the farm until the revelation of “we’re going to be farmers” hit us like a hitter swinging a bat with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth. 

Not one of those $300 suits fit today but a few of the favorites are still hanging in the closet “just in case”.  My body has changed and what breast feeding kids didn’t ruin, gravity finished and being president of the “clean your plate club” made sure it came in ample supply.  Today I look down at dirty feet, ragged finger nails and get that hint of eau de buck that comes about every fall drifting in through the window closest to the buck pen.  Ah, so comforting! I attend every blood drive just to get that new t-shirt and I get great thrills in scoring that new (to me) pair of jeans or dehydrator at the Wednesday 50% off Seniors Day at the Salvation Army thrift store.  Somehow over those years I became a senior, imagine that?    

My shoe wardrobe now consists of two good pair of knee high boots, a few pair of rubber clogs (you can bleach the cooties out when they start to smell), one pair of lace up dress shoes – no heels, I would never be able to balance – and the obligatory pair of sneakers.  I prefer new hoses, filters and inflations for the milking machine in favor of any shopping spree at Saks (price wise it is about the same) and sometimes I catch the folks in line behind me at the grocery store sniffing that eau de buck on my clothes and gasping for air.  I can tear down the tractor or build a chicken pen that would make any craftsman proud.  And about those corporate power lunches, I would rather sit with a peanut butter and jelly and share it with any of my four leggers and be adored by the ones who really matter! 

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Spring on the Farm

Nothing beats spring on the farm.  The smell of sunshine, the change of time – well I can do without that springing forward stuff – new kids and birds building nests.  Each year I buy the left over birdhouses from the local high school to benefit the FFA.  They come in all colors and shapes and one year they must have bought a new hole cutter so most of the houses had multiple entrances – even skylights.  I like to paint them in my spare time which is too little these days and make cute decorative houses.  Recently I got the idea to add more around the property.  We have one in the front of the bunkhouse that has housed a family of woodpeckers for well over 10 years.  It was put there in an effort to save the front of the building as the woodpeckers were trying to make a hole in the hardiboard and claim the eaves for their abode.  They have returned year after year and I am sure we have seen generations pass in front of our eyes.

This year a little yellow birdhouse was calling my name.  I like yellow with it’s sunny bright feeling and put it where I could see it through the window from my desk.  It wasn’t there two weeks when I noticed there was activity.  A pair of bluebirds have been busy building a nest and bringing lots of bedding for the house.  It looks like spring has sprung and not only goatie babies, but I will be looking at birdie babies in a few weeks.

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Bus to Anghiari and Valle di Mezzo

The bus continued enroute to Anghiari and the now infamous (in my eyes) Bar Cocomero.  Darkness fell soon after leaving Arezzo and it was hard to see anything on the side of the road.  We made numerous stops in what seemed like the middle of nowhere but at each stop one or two of the riders left for destinations unknown.  It was obvious I was on the commuter run as every five minutes we stopped to drop off someone at either a driveway marking someone’s house with a mailbox along the side of the pavement or to a waiting car ready to take them back to their cozy homes after a hard day of work.  We went in and out of small villages for almost an hour.  Each would be dotted with a few businesses, usually a bar (bars in Italy are coffee bars) and a few visible homes loaded with the charisma of the Tuscan country with lights in the window beckoning you to enter to the quaintness.  The bus continued the winding road until in one small village the driver sent back word that this was the location of Bar Cocomero.  I unloaded my luggage from the first seat where I had been instructed to stow it and off I was headed on my new adventure.

There was a public phone right where the bus driver had deposited me and the streets were fairly populated with people milling about in the early evening hours.  Bar Cocomero was right there with folks standing and chatting at the outside entrance and several tables with patrons on the sidewalk.  I decided to test for another skill set and headed to the public phone.  With my trusty flashlight in hand I read through the directions which some were loosely, and I mean very loosely, translated into English.  It never said how much the fee was for making a call and as a well dressed gentleman passed, I inquired to him how much it cost to use a phone (in my butchered Ital-Spang-Lish).  He laughed at my attempts and understood the question despite the vagueness of words and told me 1 Euro (equal to about $1.40 at the current exchange rate) and proceeded to show me how to use the foreign apparatus.  My Euro jammed in the phone and he made elaborate gestures to wait.  He ran across the road to his car and I see him returning with his cell phone in hand and a broad smile on his face.  I handed him the sheet with the number and told him I was headed to Priello, Valle di Mezzo, capras (goats) and Brent Zimmerman, dropping as many names as I could in hopes that one would be familiar.  I guess Brent Zimmerman rang a bell as his face lit up and he exclaimed “Brent”.  He started to dial the number on his cell when Brent came walking up the sidewalk and the elaborate handshaking began.  Apparently of all people to stop on the street, this gentleman was purchasing a buck from Valle di Mezzo and they were well acquainted.

There are just those times in a person’s life the stars are in the right order, the universe is at peace and some things are fate to happen.  This trip has been one of those times.  Never in my lifetime would I have imagined such a great adventure.  Brent made introductions and we headed to his car.  The ride to the farm, Valle de Mezzo (translated as Valley in the Middle), was about 10 minutes and arriving under the darkness it was difficult to see my surroundings.  The road was winding up and down hills and last I saw a small sign directing those off the main road to “formaggio” and Valle di Mezzo.  We turned up the road and a few minutes later we emerged to a driveway with stone buildings.   I was escorted to the most quaint guest house with exposed hand hewn wood rafters with a center beam across that was a solid 12 x 12 and at least 30′ long.  The guest house had a small living area, galley type kitchen, bath and bedroom down and another one with a splendid view with bath upstairs.  These folks don’t believe in excessive heat as the Americans and it took a few days to get used to really bundling up as the temps were dropping.  It reminded me of my home in West Virginia in autumn with the turning leaves and moderate days but frigid nights.  As the sun would drop over the adjoining mountain each evening, so would the temperature.  I thanked my lucky stars more than once that I had purchased that heavy wool coat at the thrift store prior to departure.

Excitedly I went to the barn early that first morning to take a look around before I saw my host.  The goats were actively eating what looked to be a grass/alfalfa mix hay that had been torn from a large round bale sitting in the middle of the barn.  The barn was roughly 100 feet long and spanned about 50 feet wide.  Well over half of the barn was devoted to the pen for the goats and one end was storage for many of those same round bales stacked some five deep and four high.  It was fed in large half cylinders on the outside of the pen where the goats could easily access and there was room for every goat to belly up to the buffet and then room to spare.  Mentally I am storing away ideas for my barn as I explore the European way of farming.  The lambars (communal milk buckets used to feed baby goats) were stacked in the corner and were made from a double sided bucket that would fit on a fence rail rather than mine which are made from round buckets.  Two stalls were off to the side which I surmised were for the kids or kidding pens.  The entire penning area was a u-shaped congregate facility with an area down the center for feeding and two bucks were intermingled with the ladies.  They have just stopped milking and working on impregnating those who still may remain open (not pregnant).  Their kidding season in February will be busy as there are at least 50 does in the pen.  The penning area opens to an outside paddock and the goats freely walk to both areas.  Many of the goats wore bells as they take them almost daily to different pastoral settings to allow them to eat and get some exercise.  I came to expect the constant dinging in the barn as a comforting noise knowing they were chewing their cud and enjoying being goats.  On the second day I saw Valerio, the Romanian farm helper, herding the goats down the road with Boner the Great Pyrenees guard dog skirting the perimeter on duty for any lurking predators.  I can’t imagine my goats staying together in one tight herd as these goats did but I guess it is training and repetition of daily jaunts in the countryside.  Later I learned that even though Valle di Mezzo is a 75 acre farm, the goats have run of the local area as neighbors enjoy the goats trimming the dense undergrowth of their properties.  Valerio carried a shepherd’s walking stick and would hastily bark commands to any who strayed from the pack.  A car coming up the hill stopped and allowed the caprine parade to pass.  You could hear the bells as the herd proceeded off out of sight down the winding road.    (Note to self – my ladies need bells!).

Brent Zimmerman, a disillusioned banker who went from Manhattan to Kuwait, opted to relocate to Italy almost twenty years ago and change his profession to official farmer.  He learned to make cheese back in the States but honed his skills learning from the elderly ladies in the area of their first home, Priello.  Priello is now a tourist home and hosts various groups in the summers and the occasional long term renter.  Originally from Michigan and from a family farming background of cattle, but not goats, his talents as an organized farmer show in the home they call Valle di Mezzo.    His partner, Alessandro, an Italian native is the half who makes things happen for the farm, from having a small car converted to a refrigerated subcompact for hauling cheese, to juggling paperwork, documents and the various pushing of paper that falls on one individual of a relationship.  The road for Brent has been hard with having to learn a new language, being accepted as an Italian cheese maker when American blood runs through the veins and adapting to a new life, new friends and new customs.  Now he speaks fluent Italian, is quite the host and runs the farm while Alessandro works in Milan, coming home for weekends.    Alessandro is an accomplished cook providing a gorgeous tasty frittata the first morning he arrived back at the farm for his weekend as well as tasty pasta and sauce through the weekend.

The first day involved delivering a buck to a farm with a magnificent view, stopping for groceries and a trip to the hardware store to purchase stainless steel containers for the olive oil.  It gave Brent, my host, and I an opportunity to get to know each other as we spent time driving in the car and making the obligatory stops.  The first day involved delivering a buck to a farm with a magnificent view, stopping for groceries and a trip to the hardware store to purchase stainless steel containers for the olive oil.  In Italy you don’t just load up the animal and head on over to the new home, I soon found out.  Due to the constraints after the European Mad Cow outbreak almost a decade prior, there is a ton of paperwork at the ministry of agriculture that has to be handled prior to even readying the buck for transport.  We arrived early to the agriculture office and were shuttled from one office to the other getting the appropriate permissions.  If you didn’t speak the language I think it would have been dismal results.  Brent carried on, even getting permission to transport the buck himself.  They even have regulations in Italy that prevent you from hauling your own animals unless it is a minor haul less than 60 km.   It reminded me of the fear of National Animal Identification Systems (NAIS) that has been in the forefront of US livestock industry the last few years and how restrictive farm life would be if it passed.   Finally after papers were signed, eternal gratitude was extended, the obligatory “ciaos” were exchanged, and we were off with the precious pink documentation papers in hand which gave permission for the buck to begin his new life at a neighboring farm.  The trip to the hardware store was like any in the US with a plethora of doorknobs, screws, paint, plumbing pieces with the exception that our US stores don’t often carry olive oil containers, olive nets and various regional pieces.  You don’t just get “helped” but you take a number and have to self serve yourself until your number is called.  The little old ladies drift in with their scant height and bent backs to cut the line like ten year olds coming in from recess to the water fountain.  The unwritten rule is to never say a word and peace remains in the hardware store.

Boner, the Great Pyrenees guard dog for the farm had been suffering a skin condition.  On Friday we loaded him into his best friend, the Ford 150 truck, and took him into town to see the local vet.  The dog loves to bask in the sun in the truck and is quite reluctant to leave the bed he has claimed for his own.  After he was examined and blood drawn, we paced the waiting room while blood tests were run to access the extent of his condition.  Apparently his guarding also has exposed him to the blood parasites carried by the cinghiali (pronounced chin – ghee – alley and means wild pig) and they are present in his blood.  Only time will tell how rooted they have become in his system.  One more stop at the other local hardware store, which included a visit downstairs in the cavernous storeroom while Brent and the store clerk chatted about olives, farm life and vague other subjects I can only imagine one would speak about in a hardware warehouse, and we returned to Valle di Mezzo with a new olive net in hand.  Back at the farm, I spent the afternoon soaking under the Tuscan sun (I always wanted to use that in a blog) with the old nets spread on the ground as I mended holes from previous years.  The surreal view of surrounding mountains, five hundred year old homes and the turning leaves of autumn was enriching to the soul.

While the milking was over for the year, Brent was good to answer all questions I may have had in regards to making cheese.  Sometimes picking a brain with the “what ifs” is just as valuable as hands on experience.  The following day we spent the day picking olives instead of the cheese room but it was a welcome experience.  How many Americans can boost of participating in the Tuscan olive harvest?   The day was beautiful and sunny and the view while picking was spectacular.  Homes here are easily hundreds of years old – the guest house I was staying in was 500 years old – and if your house was build in the last two centuries it is considered new by their standards.

Sunday brought the rain and the cheese room was on the agenda.  We cleaned molds, I inspected equipment and probably ran him crazy taking notes, asked questions and patiently digested the answers.  After a few hours we took off for the day of rest and I took the opportunity to grab an afternoon catnap.  Late that evening a couple ladies from England who were traveling Europe in a conversion van arrived as scheduled to assist with the olive harvest that week.   A former museum curator and police department employee, they had rented their “flat” back in England and hit the roads in search of adventure and seeing the world, one farm at a time.  Laura was a slight lady, with wire rimmed glasses who had the most adorable accent.  Her partner Alex was a delightful lady who enjoyed automotive work as a hobby and was kind to answer my questions about their travels.  As they settled in the second bedroom of the guest house, I fixed a simple dinner and enjoyed hearing about their travels while we dined.

Monday was rainy again and to my joy, we went to the cheese room.  The final molds were cleaned and I spent hours washing rounds of cheese.  It felt so earthy to have the big rounds in my arms and allow the aromas of aging cheese to permeate my nostrils.  The smell was heavenly and I could only caress the rounds like small babies waiting to erupt on many plates bringing joy to needy mouths.  For hours I inspected cheeses and tasted nibbles of some cheese he cut for samples.  One that had been infused with a blue cheese mold was so creamy and white and the taste was very smooth.  There was a slight aftertaste of the mold that wasn’t undesirable but made you want to experience the flavor again.  I have to say that was my favorite but it were too fresh for me to bring any home.  It is only permitted to bring cheeses aged over 60 days to the US and the last thing I need is to be busted for cheese smuggling!  Oh my, would the Florida Department of Agriculture have a hay day with that one.  Another college aged girl arrived that afternoon from Australia and the evening was spent enjoying the international company and stories of their different experiences as they traveled about in the work/travel network..   We ate heartily a wonderful spicy pasta for lunch that Brent’s partner, Alessandro prepared.  The spices and tastes of pasta here is about as varied as one can imagine.

The farm sources any additional help through an online network called HelpX.  It pairs helpers with farms or people who need help in exchange for room and board.  Some pay a small stipend plus room and board for a full day of work or others work just a part day in exchange for the accommodations and board.  The girls shared stories of their best and their worst “employers” along the way.  Some activities ranged from rehabbing homes, building strawbale hottubs to babysitting for busy parents.   I packed that evening as it was the last night of my adventure at the goat farm.  Last pictures were made and I slipped to the barn and said my goodbyes to Valentina, the herd queen who had decided I wasn’t the bad American the second day and allowed me to scratch her ears, and the rest of the caprines I had enjoyed as my surrogate herd in Italy.

Next to follow –  Anghiari to Arezzo – my last days in Italy

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Solo on the road to Anghiari

With a smile on my face and a ton of laughs at hand I have found you can get anywhere in the world.  I have left Gail today in Firenza (that’s Italian speak for Florence) with her off to the Milan airport and me on my goating adventure in Caprese Michealangelo.  I rode the train solo from Firence to Arezzo – getting on the wrong train.  Actually it wasn’t really a wrong train but the train that stopped at every little town instead of the express I had planned.  The countryside was gorgeous but unfortunately there was a very nice gentleman that was slightly (well extremely) enebriated.  He wanted to practice his English and whle I pretended to be asleep with one eye open watching the gorgeous landscape, he continued to interrupt my peace and quiet.  I really preferred soaking in the ambience of the countryside to conversing about how beeeee-u-ti-ful his country was or how he felt life should be slooooow.  I know it was a snotty attitude but I just never wanted to draw my eyes off the mountains in the distance.

These people really take gardening seriously.  If there is a 3 x6 (and I don’t mean 3 x 6 acre, but feet) piece of land it is growing something.  Along the rails, which undoubtedly must be rail owned property there are small gardens everywhere.  I even saw some boar goats on the ride, only three but it is only the second time I have encountered goats along the way.  I saw vineyards, orchards and field after field plowed under after the summer crops.  This is truly a beeeee-u-ti-ful country and is rich in architecture and vibrance of life.
Upon arriving in Arezzo I had to find the bus ticket office and purchase my ticket to Anghiari.  The ticket agent was very helpful and the bus only left 15 minutes after the scheduled time.  I don’t believe anything leaves on time here.  I have a satchel full of food brought for the road but I am not hungry and the excitement has taken over.   As I approached the bus I quieried the bus driver that I was on the right bus and if he know my destination of Bar Cocomero.  After lengthy debate with several other drivers and friends on the street I am vaguely assured that he knows where I am traveling and will get me to the right address.
Tonight I will be arriving at Priello where I will be volunteering on a goat farm that is a commercial cheese dairy.  They are well known for the Valle del Mezzo brand which is sold at markets in Firenze.  My host advised me they were finished with milking for the season but I am hoping I can learn a few things about cheesemaking while I am there.

As we wound through the town of Arezzo, it is evident that this is a city bustling with commerce.  Our hour of departure is evidently in the middle of rush hour as the cars are backed up and the horns work well.  I have not seen one accident since arriving here and the drivers make you hold your mouth just right when you see them weaving in and out of the traffice.  It has also been noticed that parking is a grab it when you can situation and even though there are numerous yellow lines, white line and designated parking areas, they are only a frivolous suggestions since any open area you can squeeze one of these tiny cars is claimed as parking territory.  Smart cars are abundant here but surprisingly they don’t look as small as they do in the states.  The majority of the cars are sub sub compacts and must have five million hamsters under the hood as the speeds they can attain are incredible.  Bus drivers must be the best of the drivers as they can drive a bus through city streets within inches of the parked cars and making turns that no American in their right mind would ever attempt.

Part two coming soon as we continue with the bellissima (the beauty of it all).

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Terre Madre – We Are The World

Few times in my life can I say that I have been totally in awe.  The miracle of the birth of my two children when they were put in my arms would take precedence over anything but the last two days definitely fall into that category of life changing events.  From the vivid costumes to the languages heard around me, the revolution of food is alive and growing.  Friday at lunch we had a dining partner from Kosovo.  He spoke no English and we spoke no Albanish (the language I believe he said he spoke) but were were able to communicate through sound effects, hand gestures and crude drawings to the point we know he owned a restaurant at the base of a mountain where they conducted hiking, skiing and biking tours.  Pretty good for two parties that don’t speak each other’s language.  Such is the way at Terra Madre.  A smile opens the conversation and the dedication to clean, fair and nutritious food is a common denominator for all attending.
Most of the afternoon was spent walking the aisles of Salone de Gusto.  A giant trade show of sorts,  I tried samples of goat cheese, sheep cheese, buffalo cheese, smoked hog jowl, olive oils, and a ton of things I have no idea what they were and probably will be better off with only the enjoyment and not the  knowledge.
I sampled the cheeses, olives, fish, dried meats, cured meats but my favorite was a tsamarella, sun dried goat meat with salt and oregano.  Definitely something I want to try on the farm when the days comes for us to finally become the” real farmer”.  It originates in Cyprus and is almost a lost art, utilizing a breed of goat which came to almost extinction but is now back into a production breed.  Another stand was putting samples of smoked lard on a piece of bread and it was surprisingly good.

When we meet for the individual sessions it deals with not only our local productions, laws or even cultural acceptance but issues on a global basis.  I sat on Saturday morning in a session on small producer policies and found that not only milk is an issue, but various plants and produce are contested in other areas of the world.  From dealing with heritage meats, small producers getting lost in the system to future prospects, it is all a world wide issue that needs to be addressed or small producers may never come forth.  Through dialogue food policies will become more fair and to benefit the small farmers.
There are native productions from the showing of wares of the country to the musical performances that are continuous in front of the oval.  Soon you will see the opening ceremonies, the closing part of those ceremonies, on YouTube where I recorded it.  During these ceremonies I felt like I was watching Discovery Channel, History Channel and Green Planet all rolled into one.  Ciao for now!

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I get by with a little help from my friends!

About this time next week I will be in the Tampa airport waiting on my plane.  For those who don’t know, I have been selected as part of a local food delegation to represent the USA at Terra Madre.  Terra Madre is the world conference of Slow Food!  I will join the manager of the Saturday Morning Market in St. Pete, Gail Eggeman, Chef Cathleen Ryan who is both Chef and Educator and Jim Kovaleski, a permaculture farmer extraordinare on this great adventure.

My dear friend, Carol Deller, is retired from Delta and has supplied me with a Buddy Pass so I can fly at roughly half price.  Of course, as Buddy Passes go, I will be flying standby so I am heading out two days prior to the conference to allow time to get “bumped” and flying on a one way pass.  Who knows what airport I will fly out of after this trip so it does no good to go ahead and book ahead of time.  Carol has been so gracious to allow me to use her Buddy Passes for years and I have learn that to fly this way you need to fill your bucket with patience and take plenty of smiles.  Sitting in the airport with a scowl on your face waiting to get on a plane can be miserable.  Meeting new people while you sit smiling and striking up conversations can be very interesting.  Since I have camped out in the Atlanta airport a few times, I have found that the latter is much more pleasant way to spend the time.

In addition to my friend Carol I need to acknowledge the help of my sponsors.  I am making t-shirts (which should be ready by mid-November) and all of my sponsor’s names will be included as my gratitude and they will receive t-shirts and other goodies as my thanks.  Had it not been for the sponsors, I would never have been able to make this trip!

In no special order,  I thank Ella Crandall (Safety Harbor Community Garden), Cindy Corkmire (long time customer and good friend), Lana Labonto (Actress and Model), Mary Hoestra (a good friend who is immigrating to Israel at the same time I will be in Italy), Barb Garrett (my longtime goat friend in California), DeEtte Collett (A very special educator and dog therapy lady), Olena and Tim Spridgeon (immigration attorney, long time customer and friend), Donna S (who didn’t want her name used but is a very special customer), Heather Meyer (a very special customer), Cathleen Ryan (who will be traveling with me and has become a special friend), Angie Colsantis (who set up for her cousins to allow me to bunk with them in Milan until the conference starts in the event I do get a straight flight), Carlos Perez (for his graphics for the t-shirt) and JoJo Milano (a graphic artist who will be helping with the t-shirt as well).  I am very blessed to have these friends.

Here is the itinerary.  Off on the 18th via Atlanta, Charles DeGaulle (Paris) and into Milan hopefully by the 19th.  I hope to do a walking tour of Milan for a couple days and then be deposited back to the Malpensa Milan Airport on Thursday the 21st early where I will join other arriving Slow Food folks and be transported to Turino.  We have found out that we will be staying at the accommodations where the Olympic athletes were housed during the recent winter Olympics.  Who knows?  I could be sleeping in a gold medal winners bed!!!  In addition to Terra Madre is Salon de Gusto which will be an epicureans’ delight!   After four days of meeting over 5000 representative from 150 countries, we will conclude the conference.  The Slow Food folks will deposit us back to Milan and from there Gail and I will take the train through Tuscany.  Since I will be taking the train to Agresso and then boarding a bus to Aghairi, we should be traveling through Parma, Masso, Carrera, Pisa (the leaning tower city <grin>) and Florence.  I hope to make the trip from Milan to Agresso in a couple days and stay at student hostels along the way.   By the 27th or 28th (my birthday) I should arrive at the goat farm if all goes right.

My ultimate destination is Priello – a goat farm to volunteer and learn their cheeses.  Go to to see the beauty.   Brent Zimmerman immigrated to Italy with his partner 20 years ago and is known for his cheeses and they own this beautiful mountain retreat.  This is great because there is no language barrier and I have the opportunity to learn without the struggle.  I hope to stay four or five days (maybe a few longer if I don’t wear out my welcome) absorbing the ambience and hopefully tagging along to a real European Farmer’s Market.  Is there something wrong with this picture?  I do this for a living here in the States and I am taking my vacation to do the same thing???

My eternal thanks to hubby and daughter who will be holding down the farm and going to the markets to allow me to take this sojourn for a little r&r and soul searching on where I want to be in ten years.   Of course I worry about how things will go but sometimes you just have to let go and follow your soul.   I hope I have trained them well and it will all go smooth.  Considering I haven’t been to Italy in over 38 years, was last out of the country over 20 years ago and will never get an opportunity like this again, I gotta go!  I don’t speak a word of Italian, well bella and ciao and vino are about it, but I am packing my sense of humor!

If you want to follow my antics for the next few weeks, feel free to befriend me on Facebook (Pam Lunn and The Dancing Goat) or continue to follow my blog on here that you have found.  I hope to find wifi often and add posting and pics along the way!  Stay tuned!  And Mother, I will be fine!  <grin>

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Does your doctor teach you to perform surgery?

I guess it isn’t a really fair comparison but I did get your attention, huh?  Most people who really know me – I mean really know me – know that I have dedicated most of the past 12 years to studying dairy goats, their health, milk procedures, parasites and everything goat!  A conversations with me can start about beans, politics or even the weather and somehow will end up on goats.  My education did not consist of picking up a book once a week or reading a couple articles on the internet, I mean I have really studied.  Honestly, I came out of college as a teacher and even worked for a while as a teacher but know far more about dairy goats than I ever knew about teaching and that cost thousands of dollars to learn in college!  I would wager I easily have tens of thousands of hours invested in this education – way more time than I ever had in college – and there are days I still think I don’t know squat!  From the heavy goat medical books from the veterinary world that I have sat with medical dictionary in hand deciphering the sentences that were so far over my head, to internet learning, to helping others and thus learning myself, to the school of hard knocks which I have been a top scholar, it wasn’t a quick process!  Each day I am looking up something, reading a new outlook or hunting through past notes to remind myself of knowledge that I need to retain.

And if you have spent just a little time with me, you know I have a couple of pet peeves.  Number one smoking – I can’t stand to smell it.  While I am not allergic, I just don’t like to smell stinky things – give me a manure pile any day to delight my nose instead of a cigarette!  Cigars sometimes are okay if they are good ones and short term exposure.    Most of my friends are very respectful and will either step out of “my bubble”, roll down the car window if we are riding together in their car (it ain’t gonna happen in my car) or not smoke at all around me and I appreciate their consideration – these efforts show their mama raised them right.  I won’t preach to you to quit (not too much) but I will mention how bad it is for you if I see you smoking.  That is my obligation as a friend to do so!

The second thing it doesn’t take long to learn is when I get an email or phone call saying “we just got a couple dairy goats and thought we would go into the dairy business” or some form of the previous that can go from we just retired and thought we would make extra money like you are doing to I am wanting to learn about goats to milk in my back yard and maybe start a dairy too.  When they call me saying they just got goats and don’t know a thing about them I really get upset.  Would you get a parrot, monkey or a cow without any research?

I don’t know what goes through people’s minds.  If you have been around me for any amount of time it is hard not to have a new understanding of goats, how I love my goats and a gain a vast knowledge of goat trivia.  I teach the FFA and 4H groups as those are the ones that will take over when I am ready to retire.  But are they competent to run a herd or dairy? No way.  It takes years of learning to be a competent goat herder and I don’t think I am even close to that as of yet.  I have my mentors, Trisha, Sue and a handful of others that were in diapers when they started raising goats (just kidding on that one but most have 30-50 years of experience) and they have been instrumental in keeping my losses down and my health standards optimum.  Did I call them and ask them to teach me about goats because I wanted to go into the industry or just wanted a couple for backyard production?  No, I didn’t.  I did my own homework, asked a lot of questions and developed a mutual respect so they understood that I was willing to put in the effort and they were there when I needed a guiding hand.    I never asked them to do my work for me, but asked them questions when I was puzzled along the way.  I have fostered friendships with those in the industry, befriended veterinarians that were able to acknowledge that some lay people can actually grasp a fair amount of knowledge without getting frequent visitor awards with weekly visits to the practice, and pestered manufacturers and testing laboratories to explain their products and procedures which I might not totally understand, but one day might be the building block to an eureka moment.

One of the biggest learning tools was from my son and daughter being science fair exhibitors all relating to internal parasites in goats.  How about this for a title? “The 11 Internal Parasites Prevalent in Florida Goats”   As a goat owner, one of the biggies that can affect milk production, herd health and your sanity is parasites.  Had it not been for my son’s project in one of our first years of goating, I don’t think I would ever had received the early basic understanding that I have on parasites or still had goats standing today.  That gave me one of those building blocks to competence and I was aided by a kind vet professor that reviewed all of son’s information for the project.  Can I teach that to you?  Maybe in a couple years, but not in an afternoon.

Do I want to share my knowledge for free so you can be my competition that I spent all that time learning? I don’t think so.  If you have a sick goat and call me at 3am to help, I am not going to hang up on you and will hang in there with you until there is improvement but I am not going to teach you my profession so you can go it the easy way.  I get well intentioned folks calling that want to “volunteer” to learn.  Most don’t think it through and understand the liability issues which relate to a barn.  If you are volunteering at my farm and accidentally poke your foot with the pitchfork, it gets infected, the foot ends up being amputated due to gangrene, what happens?  My biggest fear is that I end up in court with a lawsuit for the next ten years trying to save my homestead from become sale fodder to pay medical bills and disability claims for the rest of your life because Cantankerous and Cantankerous think it was my fault for being nice and I need to pay.   I have volunteers from time to time but it is generally folks I already know, know how they approach life and can trust to have good judgment in this instance.  I have to take calculated risks!  The childrens’ godparents are both personal injury attorneys so I guess I have been lectured to the ends of the Earth and they have made it a point to scare the beejeebers out of me!  I have to ask myself, will a volunteer(s) cost me time or actually save me time and effort with their skills and attitude.  I have never had anyone here that wasn’t well intentioned, but I have had many that just scared me with their lack of common sense!

Early on in this business I would gladly allow folks to follow me for the day, asking questions, teaching them how to milk (and sometimes their four kids they hauled along) and it would backfire.  I wanted the world to be able to share the joy I had for my goats.   Next thing I knew, they had purchased a couple dairy goats (usually from someone that had them for sale cheaper or the .<dread> sale barn – but it was okay to get that free education from me) and were undercutting me on price and still calling me to hold their hand because they didn’t have time to do the research and now they have sick goats!  Folks like this come and go.  Usually a short lived endeavor, they realize it wasn’t easy money but really a time consuming hard labor occupation.  They would fade out to pasture but folks would still remember that cut rate milk price but not remember it may have been for a cut rate product quality.  It is for this reason I don’t encourage folks to get in the pet milk business.  If every Tom, Dick and Nancy starts milking in their backyard, then someone is going to die!  At the very least they will get sick – even thought in Florida we are only allowed to sell for pet consumption only – and it will look bad for everyone in the business.  Not everyone has the same standards.  One person’s idea of sanitary can be drastically different from another person.  That difference in the interpretation of conditions optimum for producing, preserving and distributing milk can be very wide.  For that reason some farmer’s markets will not allow dairy products to be brought to the market, for pet or human consumption, unless it is by the farmer themselves.  They feel that the farmer knows the product, knows how to transport and maintain the product and will take the pride in something they produce to make sure it is superior!

Please, before you pick up the phone and call me saying you wanted to get a couple dairy goats and thought you would come look over my operations, think if you would ask this of your doctor, hair dresser or even car repair center?  How do you think I feel when you have reduced my efforts to something you can absorb in an afternoon?

Part two to follow later.

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Election time is just around the corner

There are two things I love about elections.  First the entertaining commercials you see as each candidate tries to discredit the other candidates.  I kinda look at it as the fact that he who slings the most mud has the biggest mudhole to hide!  I rarely vote based on what a candidate says about themselves, but more how the criticss that I respect evaluate them, or my personal experience.

A few years back there was a candidate for governor that I remembered from personal experience.  Over 25 years ago I was working a serving line for a catering company (one of my many extra jobs)  and this person came through the line.  Most folks would look up, meet your eyes and either smile or say a hasty thank you showing that their mamas raised them right and they have a glimmer of manners.  This one person, he was a small time politico at the time, came through the line and continued to smooze the big wheels with never a thank you to any of the servers as he passed through.  Since he was one of the few that showed a lack of graciousness to those peons below him, I continued to notice through the night as I refilled tea glasses and  bussed tables.  He smiled and laughed with those who mattered.  Never did any of the servers or workers for the food service company ever get the slightest thank you.  As I see written today, people don’t remember what you said but how you made them feel.  I never forgot how he made me feel and when he ran for governor, he didn’t get my vote, nor did he win.  Karma does come back – ten fold!

Now the second thing I love about elections are the signs.  Reading them?  No!  I love to recycle the signs around the farm.  I try to contact the candidates with the large 4 x 4 and 4 x 6 signs along the road and offer to gather them or pick them up at their location after the election.  We recycle them into temporary roofs, chicken pooper shields (you would have to see that one) and many other uses around the farm.  This year we will be making recycling bins from them in addition to our many other uses.  We even take recycled styrofoam panels from a spa cover company, use them for insulation and then place the campaign signs over it to make a nice white ceiling in the barn.  Recycle, reuse, repurpose – the buzz words for frugality at our house.

Running for office?  Show your spirit and let me recycle your plastic signs!

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