At some point in a marriage, gifts between spouses can turn, um, practical. Practical gift giving can be a risky strategy, particularly when the gift is going in the husband-to-wife direction. For example, giving your wife a new vacuum or other cleaning equipment for her birthday, from what I hear, not based on experience mind you, can make for a disastrous upcoming year or decade. There is probably a Chinese proverb about bad luck, wives' birthdays, cleaning equipment as gifts, and maybe elephants, and never forgetting. I don't know for sure.
On the other hand, cooking equipment, carefully selected, can be a very well-received practical gift to the wife who is culinarily minded (yes, culinarily is a word). A set of high-quality copper pots may even be considered romantic and heart warming in some cases. Vintage, or even new cast iron cookware, for Kira in particular, might warm her soul and be appropriate. The husband has to be very, very careful, but there are times when practical can be appropriate in the husband-to-wife gift-giving realm.
At Helios Farms, we are wrapping up the fall hog harvest this week. We are using, for the first time, Kira's practical birthday gift, which is a new 3,456 cu. ft. side-by-side refrigerator/freezer. We got the refrigerator side (behind the large unfinished door on the right in the picture below) running on her birthday (November 2nd), and the freezer side (behind the metal door in the left of the picture) running last week. This is the ultimate practical gift for the farmer's wife who is also a butcher and an all-around meat enthusiast. In this case, the practical gift was very well received.
The term "side-by-side" even has an air of romance associated with it, particularly when you consider the sometimes grueling 7-year, side-by-side journey Kira and I have been on to arrive at this "gift exchange" opportunity. When a husband and wife hold hands, they are usually standing side-by-side. As the farm has been unfolding its original vision, getting to a scale of prosperity, Kira and I even get a little time to hold hands now and then.
The outer walls of the new side-by-side are yet to be finished, but the insides work and that's already making our butchery much more efficient. We harvested 5 hogs and 2 lambs this last week, including a large gilt that never farrowed. We haven't even been able to consider that kind of harvest pace up until now, and we haven't really tapped into the full capacity of the new butchery. Beef harvest will start this week or next. We have several hamburger cows that will be harvested, so signing up for a hamburger share now will get you 100lbs of high quality hamburger pretty quickly.
I'm telling everyone that I gave my wife a side-by-side refrigerator for her birthday, but in actuality, when you look at all the people involved in creating a 3,456 cu. ft. side-by-side, my personal role in the gift exchange is somewhat diminished. And when you think about it, Kira is not the only recipient of this gift, as everyone on the farm benefits, and everyone in our farm share community will benefit when they come here to harvest their livestock. With our 3,456 cu. ft. side-by-side right next to the harvest area, we no longer have to ask farm-share-owner strong guys to carry their 150lb half-hog on their shoulder to the chest freezer out on the farmhouse porch. It was a fun tradition, made for some good FB posts, nice while it lasted (for 7 years gulp!), but pushing that side of pork into the giant wind-tunnel-like meat cooler with one finger is a benefit that guys, even strong guys, and even gals, can appreciate.
And calling it her birthday gift is a bit of a stretch, because Kira is the actually the main reason that we have the side-by-side in the first place. It was Kira that found Henry who was selling his entire meat company in Goldendale Washington for $10,000. She put together the crew, for an heroic-and-next-to-impossible, three-day-plus-all-night-driving, meat company deconstruction adventure that secured all the rails, pulleys, winches, meat hooks, saws, grinders, tables, knives, freezer panels, and cool butchery stuff that we could imagine. Everything we needed really to get our Yoncalla farm's butchery functional, to realize the vision.
Actually, come to think of it, there may be another main reason we have the side-by-side in the first place: A crowd of people on the crowd-funding site called kiva.org raised a $10,000, zero-interest loan for our farm in September 2017 to finish our butchery. Around the time that we were just imagining all the butchery stuff, the $10,000 flowed into the farm. In the tussle of farm finance, with all the inflows, fuel, feed, contributions, and support that makes this farm share community work, it might be a stretch to track a $10,000 crowd-funded loan to a specific $10,000 expense almost a year later. But the fact is, we were able to buy a whole meat company, all the equipment we needed and more, for the exact same amount kiva.org raised for our butchery. So it certainly is easy to imagine that $10,000 kiva.org loan going directly to Henry ten months later when we purchased his meat company.
Following the plan
About 9 years ago, when I had no money to purchase a badly-needed large milk cooler for our fledgling farm on an acre in Corvallis, I responded anyway to a Craigslist ad selling what I wanted: A commercial cooler with a sliding glass door. I was invited to a storage unit out in the country to take a look. The storage unit was packed and stacked to the ceiling with commercial refrigerators, produce coolers mostly, a couple large coolers like you see in convenience stores, and the cooler I wanted. "You have to take it all" said the seller, "Make me an offer." Well, I said, I can give you $90 a month for a year. "Sold!" I had to clear out the entire unit by the end of the week.
In a giant U-Haul truck, heading to the storage unit, the buddy I had conned into helping me empty the storage unit asked me "so what is the plan?" My response was, "I don't really know the plan, but I'm doing my best to follow it." It was a scary response for my reasoning brain to blurt out, but it put a stop to further questioning all through that insanely sweaty day, two guys loading equipment that was too big for two guys to load. But we did it.
There is no question to Kira and I that this farm community is driven by miracles. There is an imperative in the air. The imperative is clear when you read Joel Salatin's book Fields of Farmers. If you're willing and/or crazy, like we apparently are, you jump in and volunteer to throw everything you've got into reversing century-old trends in our environment and food system that are weakening and sickening children, adults, animals, and land. Humans are waking up. We have to re-learn lost wisdom, regenerate lost nutrients and fertility in the land, reject just about every angle of the status quo mass media driven reality, re-balance our soil microbiome, rehabilitate our gut health, restore our immune system function, repair our DNA, and re-shape our mental and moral framework. We have to stop the damage being inflicted on our children by toxins in the environment. We have to stop it now.
Following the plan, for me at least, is pretty clear when it is happening. When we get milk straight from a cow's udder, into the jar, into the cooler, and off to our farm share owners, we are following the plan. No tank trucks, fractionizers, pasteurizers, homogenizers, or any other demonizers are involved in the process. Udder, to jar, to table. Simply follow the plan.
When we hand a farm share owner their pork chops to vacuum seal, right off the hog that they harvested the day before, we are following the plan. When we have families with kids show up to see the farm for the first time, to cuddle their cows, to touch the scary but cuddly Berkshire boar that makes all the pork, to pick up a laying hen and carry it around, everyone is following the plan. Show your children where their food comes from, your local farm where God creates abundance, and you are following the plan.
When we all sit down and say grace for dinner with our farm share owners at the farmhouse table, we are building and reinforcing and strengthening the long-term community that will regenerate the right way. That's the plan.
Miracles are part of the plan, and sometimes that means that the path ahead, beyond the first step or two, is very uncertain. Faith is important, because the best plan is the one where the steps are only evident one day at a time, and each step may seem impossible, but look again and find that each step is always doable...and everything is already provided to complete it.
A few months after I purchased that storage unit full of coolers, I listed them on Craigslist, everything except the one cooler that I had originally wanted to purchase. After a couple weeks with no calls, I got a single call about them. It was the founder of Know Thy Food in Portland, which a year or two later would become our first Portland drop site. I sold all the equipment to them, and we got to know each other so that, as our farm grew, we could serve Portland doing our mutual parts of the food system imperative. The one cooler that I wanted from that storage unit is still cooling your milk, at least until our new dairy facility is up and running by next spring. There's a picture of it. It is still cooling your milk...
It's easy to imagine miracles, and it's a gift to recognize miracles when they happen. And sometimes a miracle unfolding can take a LOT of work.
Abundance and Gratitude
The first word, and first sentence, in the introduction to Joel Salatin's book "Fields of Farmers" is "Abundance." It is a great book, I haven't gotten through it yet, but I already recommend that every farm share owner and investor read it. On this Thanksgiving week, it's appropriate to notice that the other side of the "Abundance" coin is "Gratitude. It is a cycle on a well-run regenerative farm. Farms with teams of people that can push the mass-media programming aside and accelerate the inherent abundance/gratitude cycle of the land and animals will be the ones implementing the imperative plan for our future food system.
When tourists and farm share owners visit our farm, I see that most leave with some sense of the full possibilities of regenerative agriculture. Abundance and gratitude ooze from the land here. The healing foods they can sample here provide the full taste of the abundance/gratitude cycle. I've had first-time raw milk drinkers turn into the double-rainbow guy on youtube, exclaiming their wonder, almost in tears, with each sip of the milk. Abundance and gratitude.
I'm particularly grateful for: The team of young people that are taking the plunge into the regenerative revolution taking place on our farm. Interns and apprentices are here to learn what we have learned and prepare themselves to take the helm. I'm thankful for farm share owners who take a taste, and then sign up to participate financially, patiently, culinarily, in the revolution. For farm share owners who have hung in with us for years, literally like 8 years of annual hog harvests, showing their long-term commitment to the revolution. For people who trade their amazing skills and contributions for food, because they want the food. For our investors who put their treasure on the line and have hung in there patiently waiting for the farm to grow to profitable scale and for the Helios Farms vision to fully unfold.
I'm especially grateful for Kira. I truly understand, and everyone participating in the farm eventually understands, that we would not be here if it wasn't for Kira. Joel Salatin calls himself a "lunatic farmer," and on our farm, Kira is the top lunatic, no question. I may rival her at times, I may aspire to her level of lunatic greatness, I've even seen others aspiring, but Kira always prevails. And the main thing I'm grateful for is being able to claim, justifiably or not, that I gave her a side-by-side refrigerator for her birthday, that I turned on the electric wire that created a cool space for her vocation, a space worthy of the skills she brings to our on-farm butchery. Kira is my practically-gifted double rainbow, and the top driving force in the imperative revolution. (Ignore the piano in the background...she has new digs now).
Every day, every moment, for a regenerative farmer is filled with the abundance/gratitude cycle native to our garden. Sometimes it's hard to notice it through the mud, the microbiome, on your boots and hands, but it is still there.
Special thanks to Jim Smith, Robert Peck and crew, and Jim Bergeron and his crew at Roseburg Refrigeration for being the main reason for the new side-by-side gift.
Here's a link to kiva.org so you can explore more about giving microloans to worthwhile businesses.
And, as a reminder, here's a link to the double-rainbow guy.