Monday, December 29, 2014

O'Shaughnessy Kid Pyramid


Yes, that's me smack dab in the middle of things as usual; I am the dark haired child with glasses bottom center, holding up my whole world. I was the oldest of six and in my opinion in charge of all things. Still, I lean in that direction. From the top down is youngest sister Teresa, then brother Tom and sister Peg, then next to me in white is my sister Mary. The other girl with the impish grin is family friend Patty Dawson who ironically was about the same age as my sibling Bernie Jo who could not be in the picture as she was busy being institutionalized.

Bernie Jo had been born with a couple of  birth defects and then at just a few weeks old was accidently dropped down the stairs by a neighbor boy and suffered serious head trauma. My parents tried to care for her at home but it proved too much for them as back in the early 60's there was virtually no support for parents with that burden. She managed to survive for 11 years after that finally succumbing to pneumonia while living in Dixon State Home in Dixon, Illinois.

I still feel her loss as being the oldest I was often the one who accompanied my parents most when they visited her. I was 15 when she died. All of us O'Shaughnessy kids were approximately two years apart, Bernie Jo came after Mary and before Tom. So after she passed there was this four year gap between Mary and Tom, thus forever after my parents referred to Mary and I as the older kids and Tom, Peg and Teri as the younger kids.

There does not exist a single picture of all 6 of us kids together and as far as I know this picture above is the only one with the five of us healthy kids all in one spot. Film was expensive then, as least for my lower middle class parents, and generally pictures were only taken at Christmas. I was gifted this particular photo a few months ago for my 55th birthday by my friend Gene Ruet who I grew up with in Chicago.

Gene's mother, Doris (who was living in Arizona) had died last winter and after going through some of her things he found this photo. It seems at some point my mother must have sent his mother this shot and his mother had held onto it through several moves of their own, for over 45 years. Then, when it was rediscovered Gene took the time and trouble to return it to me. Such a thoughtful gift. I love how we all look in this photo taken in the living room of our first home on Ray Street in Warrenville, Illinois circa 1971.

We were happy.

We had no idea how little money we had, how our parents struggled to feed and clothe us, how their burden of their other sick child weighed on their hearts. We knew little of world troubles like the Vietnam War. All we knew was that we had been given permission to act like some tumbling team and it made us happy.

Friday, December 26, 2014

A Year in Review

County Road 750 that runs in front of our farm in Livingston County, Illinois.
Well, it has indeed been a long road this past year and yet, we're still here, upright and taking nourishment. Looking back though it is amazing we are in one piece, the changes have been dramatic; and although the events were not the ones we had planned, I believe they all served a purpose. So class...lets review.

RAW MILK:  We are still in the raw milk business; with a herd of 12 crossbred cows, despite the antics of IDPH. We've had good success rallying the troops and in a public hearing in Springfield, back in November, IDPH had to face many angry raw milk producers and consumers. The proposed rules have had many setbacks (yeah!) and will eventually make their way to JCAR (Joint Commission on Administrative Rules) It is expected they will balk at the nonsensical approach IDPH has taken to create a problem where none exists and throw them back at IDPH for revision if they don't refuse them completely.


In the meantime we continue to sell raw milk to amazing customers who drive long distances to be able to purchase and consume a healthy product from healthy cows, all done WITHOUT the public health department's unnecessary interference.

THE POOR FARM: Purchased in September 2012 our 7 acre spread waits for us as our current farm, up for sale since June 2011, continues to support us. We visit the Poor Farm often, we don't want the outhouse to feel lonely, and we continue to plan for "one day" when we will indeed live there making our lives on a smaller farm with less animals, a lesser house, less income and far less stress. Yes, our new American Dream calls for less. Just call us backwards, you wouldn't be the first. We've shown South Pork Ranch to several couples but sadly financing continues to be an issue for all prospective buyers. In January we will list the house and 10 acres separately and then if that sells we will sell stock and inventory piece by piece. It is pathetically sad that is the US massive amounts of funding exists for new and used  farmers who will follow the corn and soybean standards while virtually no assistance exists for the  independently thinking entrepreneur.

Pasture raised, organically fed but not certified organic Chicken
produced by Ryan Steffen and Bailey Beyers of Two Mile Farm, Fairbury, Il
THE FARM STORE: We were recently inspected with no deficiencies. Still selling eggs and chicken from other farmers there plus our own beef and pork and soap; it is the  source of income for us.  All raw milk is sold direct from the tank, customers serve themselves. (I just put that in there for our officials who like to read my blog. Makes it easier if I put everything in order then they don't have to use the "search" button on my blog. I'm all about efficiency for those we pay with our hard earned tax money.)
We have an amazing group of customers, about 100 each month coming and going and serving themselves. The most honest group of folk we have ever known. We are open everyday except Sunday. Farm store income is the number one source of revenue on our farm,  followed by: raw milk sales then pork carcasses, beef carcasses, Red wattle feeders, Red wattle breeders in that order. We are part of the 1% of all US farmers who mange their farm without any other outside non-farm related income but without our committed customers, it would not be possible.
ORGANIC CERTIFICATION: Two weeks ago we had our fifth organic inspection. Again no deficiencies which I take seriously because it is hard work to remain certified organic. This past year was especially hard due to my being so busy with school so I must give the majority of credit to my husband who kept up with the paperwork required by NOP (national Organic Program) while I gallivanted around with other co-eds. The NOP has gotten some very bad press lately about huge farms that were certified organic while not meeting the standards but I will address that in a future post. For us, and our small farm,we take the standards seriously.

THE RED WATTLES: Are alive and well on South Pork Ranch, even though we did say goodbye ( and good eating) to our boar Mad Max. He was one cool pig, friendly and easy going and a joy to be around but when he failed this past summer to get our RW girls pregnant we knew it was time to cull him.  Large amounts of meat now available for our dogs and if the taint smell is not too strong...for us as well.
His progeny will continue on, as over the years we have sold several of his offspring as breeding stock continuing the trend of "The Gentle Giant" in Red Wattle circles.  In his place our boar Wally will carry on with the 7 sows we have. Due to the great taste of this raw milk fed, pasture raised meat all our feeder pigs are sold up until April 2015. I'll be taking orders for that pork after Jan 2. Email us at if interested.
SCHOOL: I completed my first semester at UIUC (the University of Illinois, Champaign) without falling down any of the English Building stairs. As the oldest undergraduate on campus I consider this a great accomplishment. I certainly struggled to keep up with the technology requirements and discovered a few of my writing implements to be outdated.
I honestly had a riot hanging out with so many, brilliant students who tolerated all my "in my day" stories. I taught them about wall phones, 8 track players and black and white TV's while they showed me how to put a Pusheen Sticker on my text messages and make movies on my PC.
I completed one poetry class, one narrative writing class, one course in American Novels prior to 1914 and one writing analysis course. All I did for hours and hours each week was read and write and read and write. I rediscovered my love of poetry, to read it, to write it, to eat it for dinner. I also spent a large amount of time on the road, 2.5 hours commuting each day. Lets hear it for Audio Books!! All in all the semester was intensely satisfying and exhausting and I can not wait to start classes again Jan 20.
Three more semesters to go for my BA in Creative Writing and just a few more years after that for my MFA. Oh well, going to be old and dead one day anyway; might as well be old, dead, and well read.


view up our barn alley

So, we have no idea where 2015 will lead us but we are sure of absolutely one thing...we will never, ever be bored.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Outhouse Out Takes

Life is funny isn't it? One minute you're minding your own business (literally we own our own business and it takes a fair amount of minding) and the next minute the department of public health is threatening you with a $1000 fine.

Nope. It has nothing to do with raw milk, sales are going great and still no ridiculous rules passed,YEAH!, this piece of paper was related  to a gift we received last Christmas from our oldest son. Some of you might recall this awesome outhouse...

Built by hand- a real work of art; he even wrapped it in Christmas paper. A stunning gift and we were thrilled. Perfect for our new simpler life we are still striving towards. Then this past May all three of my strong sons and my hubby dug a nice deep hole for it. I was so proud. So proud that I, you guessed it, blogged about it. You can see that original post HERE. Silly me thinking Freedom of Speech was alive and well in the US.

What I did not know though, although I had suspected it; our government officials, rather than doing the self important work in their job descriptions, were spending a good amount of their paid-by-our-taxes-salaried time, reading my blog. Since they still have no basis to give us any trouble regarding raw milk sales, they instead went after a defenseless rectangular box.

Their claim? We didn't follow section 905.130  surrounding the building of a simple, single seater outhouse; excuse me, I mean "Private Sewage Disposal System." Attached to this letter was a five page permit application, requiring a $100 Permit Fee and three pages of "Administrative Code" regarding human waste disposal which had to be met. You might be thinking, big deal, pay the $100 and use your outhouse. Sadly, not so simple.

One of the requirements states that's the bottom of the privy hole must be at least four feet above the water level. One of the ISCA Certified Professional Soil Classifiers we contacted said that is virtually impossible to do in our county as our water level is very high and thus the only way we could meet the standards would be to purchase a septic tank, pay to have it properly installed and then place the outhouse over THAT!

Now here's where it gets funny. Wasn't that the whole reason for installing an outhouse? In order to avoid all that? So faced with the choices of spending thousands of dollars to continue "simplifying" our lives for the privilege of using our outhouse on our property say 3-4 times a month (since we still don't live there) or leaving it as is, paying the $1000 fine and probably many more fines to come, we decided to fill in the stupid hole because God knows how our little bit of "sewage" would certainly threaten an entire counties water supply. Never mind the tons of chemicals being dumped on the fields that surround this property on four sides, the massive amounts of runoff with each rain into the ditches and onto our non-contaminated farm, the drift of hazardous chemicals that float and drop down from above us by planes spraying additional herbicides and fungicides, because that you legal.

So IDPH, here you go. Proof  that our outhouse is no longer a dangerous threat to our friends, neighbors and families of Livingston County, Illinois: a filled-in hole.

Previous outhouse hole to right of outhouse.

View through outhouse seat onto grass, no hole.

And no, we will not be inviting you on our property to "prove" the hole is filled in. Since you managed to cite us for non-compliance by merely reading my blog you can certainly un-cite us using your same in-depth investigative methods.