Monday, September 17, 2012

midwest cultural tours - farms and backroads

No tour de cheese would be complete without a visit to a dairy farm. Jim and Rebecca Goodman graciously endured our questions during a visit to their organic dairy farm, Northwood Farm, one evening. They ran the farm with Jim's brother for many years; now the brother's half has been sold and Jim and Rebecca look forward to selling their half of the operation. Any illusions that farming is like Green Acres were quickly dispelled as Jon, Mike and I strolled with Jim through the operation.

Yes, small farms are part of the 99%.

Dairy Tour

We started in the barn where we found Jim and Rebecca in a small office-like room next to the milkhouse (which is also a room in the barn). We checked out the calves, then toured the equipment, with Jim explaining the job each machine performed in the fields. Now, I grew up just down the road from my aunt, Anna Mae and Uncle Hugh. They ran a dairy farm and I think I knew what each piece of equipment did. Either I've forgotten, or, more likely, better equipment has been developed in the nearly 30 years since they stopped farming and joined the Peace Corps. There was lots of equipment.

I think it helps make hay.
Jim Goodman, farmer and outspoken farm advocate.
Wish we'd had more time to chat, but a farmer's work is never done.

After the equipment tour, Jim showed Jon the hay mow and pointed out the differences between hay and straw. One is feed; one is bedding. One is made of alfalfa; the other of grain stalks. If you were a farm kid, you'll know which is which. Finally, it was time to bring in the cows. They have just over 40 milking cows and milk them twice a day every day. While Jim got the milking equipment ready, Mike, Jon, Rebecca and I, along with a dog named Bob, headed out to the pasture which was across the road from the barn. We walked to the far end of the fenced-in area to herd the black and white Holstein cows to a staging area; then Rebecca herded them through a culvert under the road.

Co' boss! Bob the dog helps bring in the cows.
[On a side note, while touring Taliesin, the guide said that Frank Lloyd Wright kept cows on the property, black and white cows just like these. But the third Mrs Wright, Olgivanna, thought they looked like newspapers blowing around on the field. She'd also thought the white chickens looked like tissues in the field and demanded they get rid of the white chickens in favor of brown ones. Likewise, they switched to brown cows and they were much more pleasing to her. Aesthetics!]

Look out, kitty! Bringing in the cows.

Things I take for granted were surprises for Jon: like the fact that each cow (mostly) knew which stall she should be in. As the creatures entered the barn, we watched as some turned left, some right, some uncertain. Jim and a young neighbor boy began the work on one end of the barn. When he'd skip a cow, we'd wonder why. One had not yet had her first calf, but he was integrating her into a milking stall so she'd be familiar with it when she'd given birth. Makes sense.

Rose, the cow. I met her last time!

The Goodmans' milk goes to Cedar Grove, where it's make into delicious no-rBGH cheese. Maybe their milk is in some of the cheese we bought a few days earlier. Thus it goes full circle and I'm reminded of the great appreciation I have for farmers who toil each day to produce our food, whether they are the dairy farmers of my home state or the dairy and produce farmers in the Matanuska Valley, here in my adopted state. Though the Goodmans have been talking retirement, Jim also mentioned that their new farming partners are interested in adding laying hens to the farm. Sounds like a perfect addition.

Outside the barn.

Speaking of chickens

Earlier in the day, Jon and I had driven to Elroy (pop. 1,442) to visit with my sister Joanne. Then we all headed out to "the farm," which is how many of my siblings refer to the 10-acre place where we were raised and where my brother Bob and his wife Mary live. They keep chickens, providing fresh eggs to anyone in the family who wants them, and also have a garden and fruit trees.

Here chicken, chicken! At the farm.

Jon feeds a hen that Mrs Wright would have liked.

I hadn't been to the farm in a while so we had Bob show us some of the changes they've made, including the hen house and enclosed area. We fed the hens some chicken feed and a few of the grapes that grow next to the garage. Eventually, it started to sprinkle and Jon and I were ready to head out. Bob gave us some homemade grape jelly to take home. Pretty nice.

We had the Atlas & Gazetteer with us in the car, so we navigated our way along some backroads that I used to drive or travel while riding the school bus. The big change is that now all those backroads have been paved. I caught myself many times imagining biking along the long wooded ridges, past farm fields, barns and homes. Considered the steep hills to climb or descend. In Wisconsin, good roads are necessary to get milk to the dairies quickly; a farmer can only store so much milk in the bulk tank. But when I was growing up most of these old township roads were still gravel - including Brown Road, where the farm is. I imagine a bike tour from cheese factory to tavern would make for quite a fun trip.

I guess this is part of my continued shoulder recovery and my increased desire to be ready for a long ride. I see a perfect (or even not-so-perfect) road and want to feel wind in my face that is not coming from the air conditioner. I see uphills as a cyclist would, imagining the gear and power I'd need to get to the top. Maybe next time we go to Wisconsin we'll take bikes along. It would make the backroad tours that much more fun.

1 comment:

Katey Schultz said...

Enjoying the posts and pics, Rose. Tell Jon the horse rumps in a row is my fave pic! Sorry you can't get your bike rides in. You'll appreciate the freedom that much more once you're back in the seat.