This is the last day of our acquaintance

27 04 2009

The whole world ending is only an abstractly-sad prospect. A particular person’s world collapsing is acutely so.

Jon Katz at Bedlam Farm has been chronicling the last days of a dairy farm, noting that he had been hoping to persuade the farmer, Jon Clark, to allow himself to be photographed.

Go, look at the photo of Jon Clark, posted at 9:02pm, April 26, and the other shots of the barn and the cows and the emptiness which follows after a man’s life has been tugged away from him.

I grew up in a small town in a dairy farming area. When I was a little girl I wanted so much to live on a farm. I loved animals and the whole idea of haylofts and horses and running through rows of corn.  Then I got older, and my loves shifted to theatre and partying and, oh yes, sleep. Still, when my high school friend K. asked if I wanted to help her with the evening milking at her family’s farm, I said sure. Hey, it’s all automated now, isn’t it?

Ha. Yes, there are milking machines, but each one has to be hooked up to each cow, and each teat has to washed before or after (or maybe both—I don’t remember) to prevent mastistis. Anyway, once you’ve managed to slip the suction cones over each teat, you have to plug the tube running from the cones into the overhead pipe, where the milk is sent streaming down the length of the barn to the milk-collection room. Given my vertical disadvantage, this was a challenge.

Hell, given my clumsiness, the whole operation was a challenge. K.’s family had, I don’t know, a hundred? a few hundred? cows, and the twice-a-day milkings each took a couple of hours (even when they weren’t, um, helped by the likes of me). Then, of course, there was the moving of the cows out of the barn and into the pasture and back again. And checking the chickens and feeding the horses. And the mucking out of the stalls, and the hauling of the piss-and-shit-layered hay out of the barn and into I cannot remember where.

Wheelbarrows: They seem like such a simple technology. Really, what could be harder to push around? Well, add a hundred or so pounds of whatever, and you keep it on the straight and narrow. At one point I had K. in the barrow, and I managed to steer so well she ended up in the shit trough. (Yes, she got me back.)

Farming is incredibly hard work, and family farmers especially always have to be concerned with prices and credit and commodities markets. For those of us who like both to eat and to take care of the animals (or whose products) we consume, paying attention to where our food comes from is not just paying attention to the animals, but to the men and women, boys and girls, who tend to them.

Men like Jon Clark, who loaded his favorite cow Sable into a truck and sent her away.