Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The John Kasich who I Know

During my life, I have been fortunate to have many opportunities to work with politicians and participate in policy development related to agriculture.  I have greatly enjoyed doing this, and I like engaging with political leaders to discuss issues that affect the farm community.  I have also had the unique opportunity of working many events that were attended by local political leaders.  No matter what kind of event it might be, I have learned that if you are wearing an apron, some people view you as merely service staff -- and they will say nearly anything in your presence because you are just staff.  At weddings, this meant that I got to witness brides having meltdowns and guests behaving badly.  But at political events, this meant I was privy to discussions that I would not have heard otherwise.  During the years that I was doing a lot of catering work, I was also starting to do a great deal of policy work.  Many of the leaders with whom I would meet to discuss farm issues, were the same individuals to whom I would be serving a drink while catering a political fundraiser.  My standard for judging these politicians came down to how they treated me when I wore an apron: it was easy to recognize Katherine Harrison in her cowboy hat during a farm visit or in a dress & turquoise jewelry while lobbying at the Statehouse . . . But if they still knew me when I was wearing my black server's uniform, and they still took time to speak to me as a person, then I discerned they were a good human being.  Whenever I release the political endorsements of Harrison Farm, you can trust that the politicians I support (no matter their party) are the people who have earned my respect as good human beings.

I recognize that I am in a unique position to share information on a particular candidate during the presidential primaries, and I am writing this post to provide more detail on my interactions with a politician who definitely earned my respect: Governor John Kasich.  Right after John Kasich was elected governor in 2010, he visited the Ohio Farm Bureau's Annual Meeting.  I had the good fortune of serving on Farm Bureau's policy development committee that year, and thus was seated right next to the podium while he gave his address to the delegates.  I was very impressed by his energy & charisma, yet had no idea I would soon get to spend much more time around the Governor & his family.  My initial good impression grew into strong personal respect.

The reality of being a farmer is that it is a job that is hard work, in tough conditions, with little pay.  Farmers do not farm to get rich, they farm because they love what they do.  To keep my own livestock farm going, I have to work off the farm to provide income -- so I can have things like health insurance, a cell phone, and my subscription to the Wall Street Journal.  I began working as a server for a local catering company to bring in extra income.  I ended up finding an amazing work family at a catering company that wholeheartedly supports local farms & local foods.  My organization skills were a good fit to oversee events, and thus I began doing a lot of event supervision.  This is how I began to supervise events at the Governor's Mansion in Bexley, Ohio.  I was never employed by Governor Kasich, thus my observations of him were merely from my role as a supervisor & server for the company that catered several events at the Governor's Mansion.

From the time I first worked an event for Governor Kasich, he was always polite.  I suspect that an energetic leader like Kasich must get used to a constant flow of people around him.  So I was not surprised that our early interactions were short, but pleasant.  The more I worked at the Governor's Mansion (and the more that Governor Kasich became used to me being there), I felt that I was able to establish a certain level of trust with him.  Because he was always kind to me, I wanted to make sure that in my limited role I was able to assist him to the best of my ability.  Admittedly, this meant small things like remembering he liked a cup of coffee after dinner, he appreciated a bottle of water for the road if he had to head out to a meeting, and he liked all the food on his plate to be warm (not a mix of temperatures).  I learned that if Governor Kasich was at the end of his business day, he enjoyed a nice glass of red wine -- but never if he still had more work yet to do.  Attending to even these small things allowed me to feel that in my own way I was helping our state's leader, and he truly repaid me with courtesy & kindness.

I believe that Governor Kasich appreciated that I paid attention to how I could be of help in my role.  With this, I was given the rare opportunity to get to see the political leader of our state in completely relaxed situations.  I saw Governor Kasich interact with his staff and his friends, just being himself -- and seeing the warm & professional people with whom he surrounded himself increased my opinion of him.  I heard him on business calls, I saw him help his daughters with homework & piano practice, and I listened to the prayers he offered before I would serve dinner.  First Lady Karen Kasich earned my deep respect as a lovely, accomplished woman.  I found her to be a caring person, and one who was willing to pitch in to get event work accomplished successfully.  Seeing the partnership between the Kasichs (particularly the way that the Governor supported his wife), cemented my support for the Governor.

John Kasich always treated me with respect & appreciation.  He consistently offered thanks for my service, and encouraged his staff to welcome me in my role.  But more than that, the Governor himself made me feel valued.  In our interactions, I truly felt he cared when he would ask how I was and what was new in my world.  Governor Kasich would tease me about my trait of always being calm, no matter what drama might be swirling around me -- and I liked that he got to know me as a human being, not just as a person in an apron.  I treasure my memories of working events that he & his wife hosted.  I know that I was afforded a rare opportunity to see in action someone who is now a presidential candidate.  

As I have spent more time in the policy arena, I have come to realize that I would rather work with a politician who is a gentleman (even if we disagree on certain issues), than a politician who is not a gentleman (even if I may agree with their ideas).  In this time of bombastic & juvenile behavior that passes for political discourse, I felt it important to share my memories of working for a politician who is a gentleman.  As my friends around this great country consider their primary votes, I wanted to share more about my personal interactions with this candidate.  When I support a politician, it is not because I am issuing a rallying cry for a certain cause or a certain party -- it is because I believe in the human being.  Governor Kasich treated me with respect when I was in professional dress as a farmer delegate to Ohio Farm Bureau's Annual Meeting the first time I met him, and he continued to show professional & personal courtesy when I was the server routinely bringing him coffee.  On behalf of all my farm animals and in memory of the noted political prognosticator Doody the Goat, I am very happy to offer Harrison Farm's endorsement of Governor John Kasich for President!

Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas 2015

Christmas 2015

Greetings from Harrison Farm!  I sincerely hope that your family has enjoyed a blessed and wonderful year.  As I began reflecting on this past year, it has truly been the most difficult of my life -- and I do not say that lightly.  With the passing of my grandmother this fall, I have been very reflective on the chapter of my life that has closed now that my parents and grandparents have all passed onward.  During the struggles I have encountered, I have found myself often turning to those things that my family instilled in me.

I was fortunate during my childhood that my grandparents were such an active part of raising me.  My grandfather Virgil taught me to drive a tractor, to deliver lambs, to provide medical care for livestock, and to understand the circle of life on a farm.  My grandmother Ina Marie taught me to bake cookies, to sew & mend, to garden, and to understand how to nourish a family.  The happiest times of my childhood were spent with my grandparents: the weekly Friday night that I got to stay at their house, the wonderful road trips that we took in the motor home, the time we spent sitting together in their kitchen talking.  I spent hours at the kitchen table with my grandfather (as my grandmother brought us chocolate chip cookies, sweet tea, and popcorn), where we would discuss history, politics, economics, religion, and culture.  I was fortunate that my grandfather never tried to guide me to simply be the best woman I could be -- but rather instilled in me the desire to be the best individual that I could possibly be.  With a strong-willed wife and three dynamic daughters, I am sure that by the time I arrived there was no doubt in my grandfather's mind that a woman could achieve whatever she put her mind to doing.

I can recall distinctly as a child that my grandfather tried to prepare me that at some point my world would fall apart.  It could be from something dramatic like war or famine or plague -- or it could be something intensely personal like divorce or cancer or job loss.  While this was an unusual lesson for a child, he tried to instill in me the realization that this happened to everyone at some point . . . And it would happen to me.  And when it did, I would only be left with what I had in my head and what I could do with my hands.  Of late, I have often thought on those words.

My grandfather did not have an easy life, but he was a hard worker who loved people and always wore a dynamic smile no matter the situation.  I suspect much of his attitude on life came from watching his own parents.  My great-grandfather Frank was crippled, with one leg approximately six inches shorter than the other.  He wore a specially designed metal lift attached to his shoe.  One of these shoes has survived through the decades, and I still have it at the farm.  It weighs a good ten pounds, and it amazes me to think that my great-grandfather overcame what had to be a profound physical struggle to find success as a farmer & a butcher.  That resilience of spirit was matched by his wife Monnie.  My great-grandmother was an educated woman, who spent the first years of her marriage living in a sheep wagon in Wyoming.  I am continually amazed by the fortitude it took for her to give up what was a civilized life in Columbus to travel to the open country of Wyoming and live in a wagon the size of a truck camper with her husband, their dog, and hundreds of sheep.  After my great-grandparents returned to Ohio, they originally lived at a farm outside of Fredonia.  One day while my great-grandmother was home alone, the house caught on fire.  She saved a pillow that she had hand embroidered (which my grandfather gave to me on my 16th birthday), and she saved her piano.  I cannot imagine the surge of adrenaline that fueled the strength to save that piano from a fire, but I am in endless admiration of a woman that shows that kind of courage in the face of danger. 

I know my mother Rebecca was fascinated by her grandparents, and in my youth she shared with me the stories they had told her.  My mother was tough on me -- very tough at times -- but I doubt I would have survived this long in life if she had not expected discipline and endurance from me.  When I was nine years old, I was riding Abraham the Mule after school one day, when he bucked me off.  As Abe headed for the barn, he managed to step painfully on my ankle.  My mother caught Abe, brought him to me, and told me to get back on.  I recall distinctly crying and telling her I did not want to do so, yet she kept telling me I had to get back on.  And so I did.  My mother got bucked off a lot during her life -- both literally and figuratively -- but she never gave up.  As I have matured, I have come to realize that one of my mother's best traits was that she was not afraid to make mistakes, and she always tried to learn from them.  She baked beautiful wedding cakes, she loved making baskets, she got her pilot's license at age sixteen, and she was extraordinarily gifted at healing the maladies of little lambs.  Watching my mother as she went through her journey with cancer inspired in me proud respect for a woman who could face the end of her time on earth with such courage & graciousness & laughter.

As I have faced the struggles that have arisen in my life this year, I have thought greatly of how my grandfather cautioned me that this time would come.  With age, I have gained more perspective on his life and the challenges he faced, and I recognize that he was demonstrating clearly to me that one could live with dignity no matter the challenge.  Life is not easy.  One of my favorite songs has the line "if you're going through hell, keep on going".  There have been many days that I have pulled myself exhausted from bed this year despite my physical challenges to keep my work commitments.  There have been many times that I have felt nearly broken while nursing an animal late at night in the barn, knowing it was probably going to die any way.  And I have spent a lot of time with my arms around the neck of my dog or my horse as I nursed a melancholy heart.  But the legacy that my family passed to me has strengthened me through this time.

If I am tough at all, it is because my mother demanded it of me.  If I have any wisdom, it is because my grandfather spent his live demonstrating it to me.  As I live my life in the same home where my mother, and my grandmother, and my great-grandmother resided, I am continually reminded of the legacy they left me.  You may recall that line that Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did -- but backwards & in high heels.  My great-grandfather's boot is a tangible reminder that he did everything I do today, but with a ten pound metal lift on his left foot.  Every time I see my great-grandmother's piano, I am reminded that we have deep reserves of strength within each of us that we do not even know we have until we must call upon them for survival.  Above & beyond all this, I know I am alive today because my grandmother took the time to make sure I had a good meal, a delicious cookie, and a warm hug whenever I needed them during my childhood.

We all possess the ability to inspire others through determination, dignity, and love.  I am extraordinarily blessed to have such remarkable friends in my world, and I am truly grateful for that support that has been given to me.  I hope that you have received such inspiration & support in your life -- and I hope that you have found ways to offer it to others.  I wish for you a blessed and joyful 2016!  May it be a wonderful year for all of us!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Ninja

One of my grandmother's habits was to label everything with her name.  A good portion of the Tupperware containers at the homeplace are labelled Ina Marie Harrison in black sharpie.  As I have sorted through her clothes, I have seen many sweaters with her name written by the tag at the back.  Photographs -- thankfully -- were given notations of the date, the location, and who was pictured.  The Jackalope my friend Angie bought in Wyoming for Grandmother is properly labelled with information on the date it was given and the the name of the giver.  

Toward the end of the time that Grandmother was living at home, this habit did morph to extremes.  She would write her name on her shoes, on bags of sugar, and even on gallons of milk.  Probably the greatest moment was when she likewise wrote INA on her toilet paper.  The first time my Emma came to stay at the farm, she saw "INA" written on so many items around the farmhouse.  Not yet having met Grandmother, she inquired what I N A represented . . . Maybe the International Ninja Association?  Thereafter, Grandmother picked up the nickname of The Ninja.

This story came to mind as I marveled about what occurred as I was leaving the cemetery following the memorial gathering that we had for Grandmother on Sunday.  Several of my friends joined me for brunch at Bob Evans -- a fitting tribute to The Grandmother -- and I departed the cemetery first to lead the caravan.  As I sat at a traffic light, ready to turn into the Bob Evans parking lot, I looked up at the car in front of me.  Reading the license plate, I hastily grabbed my iPad in a poor attempt to record it with a picture.  As my friends arrived at the restaurant, I pulled out my iPad to show them the photo of the car that was in front of me on the short drive from the cemetery . . . With the custom license plate of "INA".  It was starting to get dark, and you can just barely see the license in this picture of the car turning right. I am still completely amazed.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

In Memory of The Grandmother

When I was a teenager and I was competing in public speaking competitions, my grandmother would always advise me to "speak from the heart".  That counsel served me well then, and has continued to do so in my life.  It has been a month now since The Grandmother passed onward, and today several of my friends joined me to honor her with stories & prayers.  When my grandfather passed away, I gave a eulogy for him.  Likewise, when my mother passed, I also gave her eulogy.  My grandmother had always said that she wanted me to offer her eulogy as well.  Since my aunts opted to proceed with different plans when Grandmother was laid to rest, the opportunity for this eulogy did not arise previously.  Thus, on this sunny afternoon, I joined with my closest friends to have coffee & Bailey's Irish Cream in a toast to my grandmother at her grave.  I did my best to "speak from the heart" as I shared stories about and memories of my grandmother.

Inah Marie Rostorfer was born 31 May 1917, two days after John Fitzgerald Kennedy was born.  World War I was raging in Europe and Woodrow Wilson was in the White House, when Lawrence Rostorfer and Mabel Watts Rostorfer had their oldest child.  Lawrence & Mabel farmed in Pickerington OH, and they were both barely 20 when Grandmother was born.  Their house had no electricity and no indoor plumbing, and they farmed with a team of horses.  As a child, I loved to hear Grandmother's stories about her childhood.  I knew she disliked the "h" on her first name, and dropped it during her youth.  I knew she adored her parents -- but got used to being an only child for her first five years of life, and never forgave her baby sister Lucille for breaking her toys.  I knew the Depression was a huge struggle for their family, as for many farm families.  Grandmother would often tell how her younger brother Grant wanted the family to go to the movies (the "picture show"), but tickets were ten cents each and Laurence could not allocate a whole fifty cents to take his family out for entertainment.  As a child, it amazed me to marvel at how the world had changed since my own grandma was a little girl.

Grandmother loved poetry, and could still recite in her 90s many of the poems she memorized in her youth.  She was skilled at sewing & cooking, as well as decorative arts like cross-stitch.  Grandmother was one of the first girls to take shop class at Pickerington High School, and she always enjoyed woodworking.  Grandmother shared with me that after she graduated from high school in 1935, she wanted to go to New York and study interior design.  The father that she adored, though, needed her on the farm, and so she started a market route in the city of Columbus.  Ina Marie Rostorfer was a hard-working business woman who delivered fresh eggs and dressed chickens to households on her market route.  (For non-farmers, dressed = butchered, there were not -- alas -- chickens in adorable ensembles that Grandmother sewed.)  I often wonder what Grandmother's life might have been like had she followed her dreams.  I suspect it instead resulted in her counseling each of her three daughters and her granddaughter how important it was for a woman to go to college.

As a young woman, Grandmother participated in Community Club.  This was a social organization for young people in the area.  A gentleman who had been pursuing Grandmother invited her to attend Community Club, and while she was there she met Virgil Harrison.  This led to another of Grandmother's favorite sayings: "If he's a nice boy, go with him -- you might meet someone you like better."  Virgil Harrison was younger than Ina Marie, but he was a determined & hard-working young man.  Their first date came about as the result of Grandfather losing to Grandmother a bet on the 1940 presidential election.  When Lawrence Rostorfer met Virgil Harrison, he told his daughter "I like that farmer" . . . And the rest was history.  

Virgil & Ina Marie courted for four years.  They married 3 September 1944 at a small ceremony at Lawrence & Mabel's farm.  Grandmother was ill that day with the flu, but weddings cannot be rescheduled.  She got out of bed to get married, and her friend Fanny fixed her hair for her because Grandmother was too weak to do so.  Virgil & Ina Marie spent their wedding night at Shaw's Inn in Lamcaster, and then started a two week honeymoon on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  My grandfather had saved up gas ration stamps for their trip, and they drove as far as half of their ration stamps could buy fuel -- and then turned around to head home.  To please his new bride, Virgil installed indoor plumbing at the homeplace at Harrison Farm. 

My grandparents were very different people, yet they were excellent partners.  They balanced each other.  Grandfather was a unique blend of a cerebral individual who loved to read, but was extremely skilled at working with his hands.  He always had a good time at social gatherings once Grandmother finally convinced him to go, yet he was happiest reading history in his study.  Grandmother was a skilled homemaker who worked hard alongside her husband.  She was very social, and adored having people around.  One of my favorite memories of them is from my childhood.  I do not recall my grandparents dancing anywhere else, but it was incurably romantic to me when Grandfather would come in from the barn at night, turn on the radio, and dance slowly with Grandmother in the kitchen.

On the last night of Grandmother's earthly life, as I sat with her through much of the night, some of the staff members of her retirement community came in to see her and say their farewells.  One of the staff members shared with me that it was only a few days before that she had been in Grandmother's bedroom for the first time.  She saw my grandparents wedding picture there, and inquired of Grandmother about it.  The staff member shared with me that Grandmother had smiled and said "I had a wonderful husband." And she truly did.  They were good partners.  They balanced each other in a very unique way.  They raised three daughters, lost two to miscarriage along the way, nursed & buried both their fathers and then both their mothers, grew their farm successfully -- and then took on the effort of helping to rear their granddaughter.  

As a child, I was very fortunate to have their love & support during a time when the adults around me made my world unstable.  I adore the memories of both of my grandparents from my childhood, when they were still strong and wise and had each other.  During my youth, my grandmother taught me to cook, to sew, to garden, to bake, to iron, to cross-stitch.  My grandfather taught me to read, to drive, to dock & castrate lambs, to provide nutrition & health care for livestock, and to debate politics & history.  I knew my grandmother expected me to go to college, and I knew my grandfather expected me to achieve anything I put my mind to doing.  They were an amazing team.

So many of my stories about one of my grandparents naturally involved the other.  I was a junior in high school when I took my first trip with Grandfather that Grandmother was not there.  He accompanied me when I represented Ohio in the Eastern Region Extemporaneous Speaking Competition for FFA (a contest which he was the first Ohioan to win in 1936).  We drove to Springfield, Massachusetts for the contest.  On our first morning there, we went for breakfast.  Every morning at home, I saw my grandmother pour a glass of cranberry juice for my grandfather to drink.  As we sat in the hotel restaurant, I pointed out to my grandfather that there was cranberry juice on the menu.  He looked at me with his big, glorious smile, and said in his always deliberate way of speaking: "I hate cranberry juice."  As a teenager, this was a terribly funny story.  As an adult, I realize how profound their love was that he understood she provided meals for him out of devotion to him -- so he ate heartily to show his appreciation of her efforts, no matter what the menu might be.

My grandmother's decline began after she lost the love of her life.  They were so good together -- so balanced -- that it should have been expected that she could not be the same woman without him.  I lived with my grandmother at the homeplace for a decade after college, doing what I could to be of assistance.  We looked after each other until her decline progressed to the point that she moved to the retirement community.  I wish that I could have had more time with the woman she had been when I was a child.  Despite any instability in my world during my youth, I always knew I could turn to Grandmother for a good meal, a comforting hug, and the world's best cookies.  

My grandmother always adored my friends, and so it was lovely to gather together today and share stories about her.  Her cookies, her lifelong ability to flirt, her love of Bailey's Irish Cream.  Ina Marie Rostorfer Harrison was blessed with a very good life.  She had 98 years, she had a wonderful husband, and she enjoyed good health for much of her life.  I am grateful that she is at peace.  Life truly is a journey, and my grandmother had a remarkable one.  I am also profoundly grateful to have such amazing friends that they would spend time with me today to honor her.  Grief is also a journey, and I have come to recognize how much our social conventions help with mourning.  I think Grandmother would have been pleased that we gathered today in her memory.  I suspect she would have liked that we brought coffee & Bailey's.  And I hope she would be pleased with the eulogy I gave for her, as it truly came from the heart.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Doody the Goat says Get Out & Vote!

As Election Day approaches, the animals of Harrison Farm have joined together to honor the legacy of Doody the Goat by issuing their political endorsements.  This is the first Election Day since the passage of noted political prognosticator Doody the Goat.  He did go out at his peak: correctly selecting candidates in each of the races he called in November 2014.  In his honor, Harrison Farm offers these thoughts . . .

On the state issues on the ballot, Harrison Farm encourages a YES, YES, NO vote.  The animals were very pleased that Katherine participated in a press conference at the Statehouse on State Issue #1.  Much as the sheep support fair allocation of grain apportionment during feeding time, so Harrison Farm supports fair, bi-partisan, and transparent apportionment in designing legislative districts.

Harrison Farm supports a YES vote on Issue #2 and a NO vote on Issue #3.  While recognizing potential market opportunities for growing marijuana if it was legal, Harrison Farm remains firmly opposed to monopolies in our state.  Just as we do not believe there should only be ten goat farmers in the state or ten chicken farmers, we do not believe there should be only ten marijuana farmers if it is legal.  (Per the commercials that say Issue 3 is not a monopoly because it allows for additional growers, it is true that it does -- one more for a total of eleven!) Beyond this, the discussion needs to be resolved at the federal level first.  It would be unreasonable to enshrine a monopoly in our state constitution that is at odds with federal law.

Harrison Farm supports a YES vote on Issue #15 to support the Columbus Zoo.  This is NOT a tax increase; it is a re-authorization of funds from Franklin County residents to support the Columbus Zoo.  The zoo offers a great deal to our community, and is a significant asset in educating people on animals.  Different types of animals need different types of care, and the Columbus Zoo provides perspective on how wild animals are different than companion animals or livestock.  The Franklin County Farm Bureau board has offered its support to Issue #15, and Harrison Farm also stands in favor of this issue.

Finally, the animals of Harrison Farm are delighted to carry on the support that Doody the Goat offered Michael Stinziano by endorsing him for Columbus City Council.  As a member of the General Assembly, Representative Stinziano has been a strong advocate for agriculture -- even while representing an urban district.  Representative Stinziano works to educate himself on agricultural issues, and he recognizes the importance of farms in our urban community to provide food security for our metropolitan area.  Columbus would benefit greatly by having Michael Stinziano on city council.

Honor Doody by voting this Election Day!

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Circle of Life

I was recently interviewed for a local non-farm magazine, and one of the questions that I was asked is one that I often hear: how do you find peace with the slaughter process when it is obvious you love your animals?  I am very comfortable raising animals for meat, I work hard to raise my livestock well, and I am proud that I have the skills to personally butcher my own meat.  To be able to say that, though, has been a journey for me.

When I was a child, my grandfather was raising hundreds of sheep at Harrison Farm.  I loved to spend time with him on the farm, and he was quite appreciative of a willing helper.  I learned quickly as a child how to drive a tractor, castrate a lamb, stack hay in the barn, and trim hooves on sheep.  I knew that my grandfather's father had earned extra income as a butcher, but my only connection to meat processing as a child was simply the knowledge that the sheep were raised for meat.  It was on my 21st birthday that I actually ate lamb for the first time!  As an adult, however, it became very important to me to better understand the products that I raised.  Thus, I eventually followed in my great-grandfather's footsteps and began processing my own meat.

When I began raising my own herd of goats as an adult, I started with a small group.  There is nothing cuter in the world than a baby goat, and I became attached to all the babies born that first year -- even the three boys.  I initially hated the thought of selling them for meat.  Nature, though, seems to prepare us for every task.  All these years later, I still learn the lesson every season that the adorable baby boys grow into aggressive beasts that head butt me leaving painful bruises, knock over buckets of grain wasting valuable feed for the herd, and relentlessly bother the adult females as soon as testosterone kicks in.  These traits become nature's way of telling me that it is time for the boys to fulfill their destiny.


When I began to work at the slaughterhouse, I initially thought I would just do paperwork.  Then I thought I would package the meat, but not cut it.  That evolved into doing basically every task except those on the kill floor.  Eventually, though, I realized that a responsibility of managing a business is understanding every task that you ask of your employees.  Thus, I began working the kill floor and doing everything from bleeding to skinning to eviscerating.  When you work on a kill floor, it forces you to examine your feelings about life & death.  I knew how hard I worked to raise my own animals.  As I began to buy animals from other farmers for the slaughterhouse, I realized that my experience was not unique -- livestock farmers are a remarkably dedicated group that will forego their own personal wishes to ensure that their animals are well.  If it a holiday, animals must be fed.  Whether the farmer is healthy or sick, the animals still need care.  Even if a farmer wants to take a vacation, animals must have attention.  

Along with the recognition that farmers work incredibly hard to raise their animals well, I also gained the understanding that humane slaughter is a quick & respectful end.  I openly use the term "love" when I speak of my sheep & goats.  I care for the mothers on a daily basis and know their individual nuances. I look after the babies from their birth, and spend long days -- and late nights -- ensuring their health.  It is important to me that they receive prudent care during their life and that they are shown respect in death.  The humane standards under which American slaughterhouses operate are dedicated to ensuring that death is quick & respectful for the animals that offer their life to provide nourishment for humans.  Working on a kill floor permitted me to completely understand the role that animals play in the circle of life, it forced me to contemplate my own role, and it allowed me to gain skills to be able process meat -- thus feeding my family & my community.  I work hard to earn money to buy quality feed & hay for my goats, and in my "free time" I labor in my barn to provide good care for my animals.  Eventually I know that I will die, and the worms will eat me, and their efforts will improve the grasses, that will ultimately feed more animals.  It is truly a circle of life.

This week I sold five goats & a lamb.  They were healthy & hearty creatures.  I am extremely proud of the hard work that I put into raising them, and I am grateful that they grew into fine creatures.  I miss how adorable they were as babies -- but I still have a massive bruise on my arm that reminds me of their aggressiveness as adults.  They will nourish people in my community, and their sale allows funds to support the rest of my herds.  I am grateful that my grandfather taught me the importance of investing hard work into raising animals.  I am fortunate to have had opportunities that allowed me to discern my own feelings about the value of life & the experience of death.  My only regret as I sent those boys down the road to the auction this past week was that I did not get to eat them myself.  It is gratifying as a farmer to see successful results from hard work!

Friday, July 10, 2015

The Confederate Battle Flag

Full disclosure: my favorite book since the age of 8 has been Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell.  I fell deeply in love with the story as a child, and as an adult I am still fascinated by the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.  My enthusiasm for the story extends to the movie as well, and I value it as the story of a deeply flawed character who refuses to give up despite the challenges placed in her way.  I have a (nearly) life size poster of Rhett Butler in my office, I have numerous books about the movie, and I posses an endless array of Scarlett & Rhett items (even a Christmas tree ornament of a teddy bear named Rhett Beartler).  When my mother was alive, we usually watched the movie together over Christmas break.  One of the most powerful scenes in the film is when Scarlett tries to find Dr. Meade to assist with Melanie's terrible childbirth as the City of Atlanta is under siege.  She races to the train depot, where she finds complete chaos and endless rows of dead and dying men.  The camera focuses on Scarlett's complete dismay and total fear as she observes the death around her, and then -- using a specially developed camera for a memorable long shot -- it pulls back to show the hundreds of bodies piled up at the train depot.  As that long shot concludes, a tattered Confederate battle flag is shown flying above the scene of death below.  

For the historian in me, that scene from a fictional movie captures the existence of the Confederate Battle Flag during the time that the Confederate States of America existed.  The people who flew it were humans -- humans who experienced joy and pain and folly, just as we do today.  My direct ancestors fought for the Union, but their cousins still in Virginia fought for the Confederacy.  It truly was a war that divided families, ruined lives, and set our country back developmentally.  I am not offended when I see the Confederate Battle Flag depicted in a historical manner: example given, at the Alamo there is a collection of the seven flags that have flown over Texas, including the flag of the Confederacy.  I do, however, applaud the state of South Carolina for removing the flag from being flown under state auspices at their capital.  The reality is that this flag is the emblem of a defeated nation; it should not fly in an official capacity.

During the time I spent as a McCloy Fellow in Germany, I was intrigued by the efforts of the German people to learn from their country's actions that led to World War II.  The German people have worked to renounce the atrocities, learn from them, and move forward.  The historic sites which we visited were very straight forward in explanations of historic fact.  The German people of today seem to own the past in order to learn from it, and then move forward away from it.  The old axiom is true that those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.  

I thought of my time in Germany this morning, and my observations on that country's efforts to learn from its own divisive history.  The Wall Street Journal carried articles today on the signing of the law to remove the Confederate Battle Flag from the South Carolina capital, as well as another article on efforts to remove other symbols from the Confederate era.  I wholeheartedly support removing the flag from a state capital: the insignia of another nation -- and one that tried to defeat our own -- should not fly in an official capacity.  Nor should it be used for political purposes that detract from our efforts as humans to promote a society of understanding, love, and respect.  The historian in me, however, is quite concerned to see further efforts to remove all Confederate symbols.  If we remove our history, we cannot learn from it, and we set up future generations to repeat it.  History must be a continual education for those of us in present times, that we might create a better future.  

When I read Gone with the Wind, it is clear how the author utilized older characters to try to tell the young how terrible war truly is.  The young men are full of fervor for battle, convinced that they know best -- and they ignore the older generation who is opposed to war having lived through the Mexican-American War and the Cherokee uprising.  As the book plays out, it becomes clear that those voices of experience who argued against war were the wise ones. This fictional interpretation illustrates the folly of ignoring history.  History happened.  Learn from it, and become a better person.  Be a part of building a better world for the future.  We must make wise decisions to improve our world -- even our own individual daily choices -- and unless we learn from our common history as humans, we can never move beyond the poor choices of previous generations.