Sunday, March 6, 2011

Farmer Pirates and Dancing Cowboys

Apples without pesticides or fungicides,
 take longer to mature
and ripen. Good things are always worth the wait.

A night to remember.  Last night at Station 220 in Bloomington Illinois miraculous things occurred. The first annual meeting of The Central Illinois Sustainable Farmers Network (CISFN) took place. More than double the expected number of farmers showed up to meet old friends, greet new friends and eat a meal that was out of this world. The meal evolved through the efforts of many local farmers sharing their produce and meat, all raised with hard work and a dedication to growing food with massive taste benefits and minimal harm to the land. A meal put together through the sweat and worry of  chef  Ken Myszka of Epiphany Farms, who jumped in at the last moment when desperately needed. A meal that combined tastes of  paper thin radish peels and pieces of pork belly, maple syrup with carrot cake and honey crisps. The kind of meal where you are dreadfully sad when the last plate is served as you know you could easily eat one, five, ten more of any of the courses.

And now a word about the servers and cooks we did not see. Men and women who did not get the fame of the microphone but whom without their services a meal like last nights would never had made it out from the farmers truck, into the kitchen and onto our plates complete with the flowing circle of Aronia berry juice perfectly framing our dessert.

So many people coming together to focus on one thing, the small family farm.

The evening was already perfect but then an introduction was made. While listening to his resume being shared at the podium, our guest speaker hung his head. His well worn hat tipped low, he wrung his hands ever so slightly around his note cards. It was obvious to this other small farmer that our man of the hour was not so comfortable in the recitation of his life medals. The introduction went on for some time, appropriate since our guest had in his very young middle aged life, already accomplished some amazing things. They are discussed here:

When Mr Miller spoke everyone listened. He is the rare  individual who walks the long, often muddy, usually heavy but then again often rewarding walk of the small farmer. He started HIS speech by pushing the attention in another direction. Pointing to the Sugar Shack King, Will Travis of Spence Farm in Fairbury Illinois, he said "The future of everything we care about in this room is right there in that young man. " He went on to talk of many OTHER farmers stories from across the country. "Small"  farmers who were making HUGE differences in their own neighborhoods ways of looking  at and utilizing food grown sustainably by "their" farmer.

He reminded us about the rest of the planet where every four seconds a child dies of hunger. The elegantly served goat meat and pasta in my own belly rolled over in guilt and I thought of the many opportunities that had passed by to share our  wealth of food in our own community.  Something to put at the top of our "To-do " list which contained far less important things like updating our assets sheets for our tax man

And he chastised us for not knowing our neighbors across the fence. " We need to allow our farms to be part and parcel of those who live around us."  And he encouraged us and made us smile when he said " Living the life of something you love is the sexiest life you can live."  12 hours later I am still giggling about that one. Wondering how to incorporate it into our farm slogan. South Pork Ranch where raising the Red Wattle hog is sexy !  That should generate some community interest.

He told us of the Japan's Ministry of Agriculture who visited his own farm in Oregon and his pure laugh out loud joy at seeing Lynn working with real horse power. The kind with a tail and a mane. He downplayed the importance of such a visit and the passing of the real food baton reminding us that,  "The answer is scale." More specifically , "The farm should be no bigger than what you can get your arms bigger than your embrace."  I looked down at my own short arms suddenly realizing why I was so tired lately. At that exact moment my husband , sitting behind me, reached up and placed his hand on my shoulder. Strong words I won't soon forget, as long as I write them down on some post-its and stick them up all over the house and the barn and in my notebooks and on my blog. Nope. I won't forget them.

He filled his time with real stories about real people and a few stories of questionable nature like the snake who knocked on the side of his boat looking for another drop or two of Jack Daniels. Anyone with half a brain knows snakes prefer Jamison. Ever since driven out of Ireland they've missed it terribly.

After the meeting I stood in line to get our worn copy of Farmer Pirates & Dancing Cows signed. When I reached out to shake Lynn's hand he grabbed it, pulled it towards him and KISSED IT !  He then thanked me for all the hard work we were doing on our farm. Just the day before Keith and I were talking about all we do, why we do it, should we do it, can we stay solvent doing it, without killing ourselves while doing it and then someone comes along and out of the blue thanks you for doing it.

And you are able to get up the next day and do it again.

THANK YOU Mr Lynn R Miller. Thanks a million.


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