We recently made a trek back to Wisconsin. My Grandmother, Jane, who passed away earlier this year – was born in Wisconsin to Irish parents. Her family for the majority, still lives in that area and almost all of them have family dairy farms. So traveling to Wisconsin is getting in touch with our roots in more ways than one. There is the family and there is the getting back to food in it’s raw form, so literal roots.
You are at a good age for this kind of experience. I want you to be a child that recognizes food as the raw vegetables, fruits that grow from the dirt and feed themselves through photosynthesis (that miracle of life) and animals that forage and graze.In other words, I don’t want you to think that food comes from a plastic bag or from the grocery store where it magically just appears. You might think this is silly now knowing what you know already, but how would you know any different? If your only exposure to food was the bag of chips you grabbed to munch on or the #2 in the paper bag that you got from a fast food drive thru, food may be a bit of an "unknown" to you and food is too important to be ignorant of.So – off we went to Wisconsin!We visited three different dairy farms owned by family and they were incredibly gracious and waited for our arrival to go about their daily morning tasks of milking.On the dairy farms, the cows are always either pregnant or nursing from a recent calf which is kept outside of the pen away from it’s mother and bottle fed. Thus the cow continues to produce milk, but the milk goes to us and the calf suckles on bottles of the milk that is not going to be consumed by humans. My understanding of this is that some of the milk has to be released from cows that they aren’t going to collect for human consumption whether that is because a cow is older, or it’s body temperature is past a certain point or one of a million reasons. Milk always must be released but under very specific circumstances that dairy farmers are vigilant about.The calf pens are filled with mooing little calves that cry out for their mothers and wag their butts back and forth excitedly when you come over to greet them. One of their favorite things is to suckle on your fingers or your entire hand. It’s calming like a pacifier is to a child and you get to pet their necks and heads while they pacify themselves this way. I found the experience to be very sweet and tender.You weren’t as taken with the calves as I would have thought you would be, but you were fascinated by the barn cats. Barn cats are abundant on the dairy farms. Reasons are obvious – the farmers grow corn feed for the livestock in their fields along with hay, etc, and therefore, there are mice. The cats help control the rodent population and the grateful farmers provide bowls of runnover milk – those not being consumed by the calves - to the eager and swarming barn cats.The barn cats also procreate with abandon. Therefore there are swarms of litters of kittens – these wild and tumbling balls of fluff - that follow their mothers around the barns and outside, but not wandering too far. You reminded me of Ace Ventura wandering around with a kitten in your arms and talking to it “don’t worry – I gonna take you to see baby cows. See? See baby cows? Don’t worry – see your momma? See? I gonna take you to tractor….” And so on. You were so caring and cute and the babies would struggle and finally just give in because your will was much stronger than theirs and they would eventually surrender to you as their new momma.As much as you loved the kittens, you hated the flies just as intensely and there are an abundance of flies on diary farms. With all that animal and manure everywhere, it is fly heaven. You were horrified by this to say the least and spent most of your time exclaiming for me to “look mommy! There fly on you! FLY ON ME, MOMMY! SAVE ME!”My incredibly generous and kind relatives that we were visiting were so incredibly nice that they didn’t even show any sign of surprise or shock that a child would be this afraid of a fly-something that is an everyday reality to them. And you couldn't seem to focus on much else but keeping track of the flies that were around and vocalizing everytime they landed on someone in our group seeing as the rest of us didn't have enough sense to be as vigilant as yourself.I just smiled at them and said “city folk.”
What are you gonna do. Can’t live with us, can’t kill us for cattle fodder. :)
My cousin Jerry was good enough to take you for a ride on an enormous tractor up and down the driveway and you were thrilled. He even let you steer! And, with gas prices what they are and the enormous amount of gas this baby must take to operate, that right there shows how generous my kin are!Also, he let me actually milk a cow. Yeah, that’s right. I milked a cow. I did it first by hand and cleared the udders and then by machine. I’m so impressed with myself right now – I hope you are, too!
The end of the visit culminated with a big family reunion at a nearby park. As it happens, I had my camera for the reunion, but had forgotten it for every other part of the visit up until that point. I was having that much fun that I totally forgot to take pictures!
I wish we could move there and be dairy farmers! I’m telling you, it’s so incredibly beautiful and calming on the farm which probably shows you just how much being a visitor differs from the life of a farmer because it's a lot of work.
I am so grateful that we have family willing to open their farms and homes up to us so we all could have that experience. I think we’ll be better people for it!