Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Struggle Is Real...

Ah, the quaint vision of the farm.  The serene pastures with happily grazing cattle.  White-woolen sheep in small groups bah-hing for their frolicking lambs to come in to the huddle.  The soft cluck, cluck, cluck of the glossy feathered hens pecking through the yard looking for tasty snacks.  The contented pig wallowing in the mud.  The jolly barnyard, right?  All is calm, all is...

Not really this way!  I've seen paintings of these farms.  I've seen pictures of them in books.  I've seen them depicted on television.  Smiling farmers and their wives carrying buckets of feed to contented critters and toting filled-to-the-brim buckets of eggs and fresh veggies back to the cute little farm house with the checkered table cloth.  Oh, how I wish it was all so glorious.  But the struggle is real, my friends.

Sleeping in?  Nope.  Well, you might get to sleep in, but you will always pay.  I can't count the number of times when the early morning knock on the door pops us into consciousness with the panicked question of "What's out now?"  The 6:00 a.m. phone calls from our neighbors telling us the cows are in their yard.  The late night barking of the dog alerting us to the cattle who are now nibbling the grass in our orchard.  These moments have given us opportunity to bond with our neighbors and make some great friendships.  Early morning walks with the folks up the road bringing the herd home provide quality moments that will last a lifetime.  It even gave our dog and their dog a chance for a "play date".

My favorite (I say half jokingly), was the Saturday when the cows went on quite the expedition.  My parents had to come stay with the kids while we went after our cattle who had gone over a half mile away and joined another pasture of another neighbor's cattle.  It ended up being a several hour and multiple neighbor process of getting them home.  As we were working on sorting our herd from theirs, the other farmer commented on being glad it was someone else's cattle this time instead of his! My feet were blistered as I left in such a hurry I didn't put on socks with my boots.  I needed my coffee.  We ALL needed coffee.  We had just gotten the cattle back in their pen and I looked at our neighbor's t-shirt which read, "Let Me Drop Everything I'm Doing and Solve Your Problem".  I cracked up.  I love a good irony and that definitely qualified!  Thankfully he was willing to do that for us.

Enjoying a late dinner out?  Nope.  Things need to be fed and if I could pinpoint the testiest of the farm animals it would be the pig.  You'd think those things could read a clock.  Their snouts might be the strongest thing in nature and they aren't afraid to use them for evil.  They lift panels with a single motion and are on the run, their babies trailing happily after.  We even have one sow who has learned to make the grain bin a self-serve feeding option.  You've gotta be there and you've gotta be there on time or there is payback coming.

This is Mary, the very independent pig, getting her own breakfast.  
I even think she might be laughing at us.

I love seeing the sheep on grass, until I realize it's actually my backyard and not the pasture they're eating.  Luckily sheep are easy to put back.  God was not necessarily kind when He referred to us as sheep in the Bible.  They will gladly trail any bucket - whether filled with rocks or corn.

Vacations?  Ha.  Once every three years, if we're lucky.  But that's a post for another day.

Add into this equation 10:30 p.m. dinners, missed family reunions at wheat harvest (although this might have been calculated), postponing gift opening on Christmas Eve due to frozen cattle waterers, spending snowy nights pulling people from ditches and missed church services and meetings due to ewes in need of aid, rampant livestock escapees and who knows what other surprises.

But it's funny on the farm because there is the frenzy of fur and feathers when the feeding begins.  Everyone gets excited and the farm becomes a noisy place.  Then there's the calm after the storm.  Swishing tails, hens nestled back into their nesting holes, moms nuzzling babies, babies calmly nursing.  That's what you see in pictures.  What you don't see, is the insanity that ensues just before that picture-perfect moment.  But it's our insanity and we kind of love it, in our own way.

As I sit here typing this, I note the farm silence.  All is fed.  All is well.  For a few hours.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

What is Prairie Center anyway?

My husband and I came to the realization a couple of years ago that we are old souls.  We like old things - music, furniture, books, history, people.  We seem to fit better with that group and enjoy learning about the past.  Even as a teen I enjoyed sitting in my grandparents' garage going through an old trunk and hearing stories of life long ago.  One example of these tales is the legend of Prairie Center, Kansas.

Growing up, I often heard my grandma talk about their life at Prairie Center.  If you take Edgerton Road north until you can go no further and look straight ahead you will see its remains.  The grass-covered prairie dotted with small, evenly space buildings is all that marks that location.  Where cows now graze, once was the land of a farming community called Prairie Center, Kansas.

My great x 3 grandparents Jonathan and Irena Gordon were early residents of this community which was founded in 1860.  It was made mostly of farmers and had a population that ranged between 35 and 50, according to some sources. It had many farms and a few businesses including a cider mill, creamery and a school.  There were two churches - a Quaker church and a Methodist church.  For Jonathan and Irena, it was the start of a new life after leaving their home in North Carolina.  For my grandparents, it was where they met and fell in love as a pastor's daughter and a handsome farmer.  It was where their first two children were born.  After passing farmland from one generation of Gordon to the next, this part of the family story came to abrupt halt in 1942.

Uncle Carl outside on the farm
at Prairie Center
In May of 1942, a judge ordered that the town of Prairie Center be purchased by the government and made into an ammunition plant, the Sunflower Ordnance Works, to help with the efforts of World War II.  These families were rapidly displaced into other communities, the churches were moved, livestock was sold and a flurry of activity changed the landscape of this area forever.  I remember my family telling about how they had 30 days to find a new place and move.  For my grandparents, it led to a new exciting chapter in their life where they were able to buy their own farm land and move into their own home, separate from my great grandparents.  Not that this wasn't a difficult time.  They told of milking at Prairie Center in the morning and milking at the new farm at night.  I'm sure it was a wild and stressful time and most likely filled with sadness as an entire community dispersed.  It's difficult to even imagine a town falling off the map that way.  To think of finding a new place for your family in such a short span of time, especially for farmers.

My grandma's father was the pastor at the Friends Church in Prairie Center.  As things began changing in the community, the church was moved to the corner of 143rd and Edgerton Road and then eventually into Gardner.  A portion of the Gardner Friends Church is the original structure from Prairie Center.  My Gordon great-grandparents purchased the land where the church now sits at the west edge of Gardner.  They lived in the house on that property until their death in the 1950's.

Creating our Prairie Center Meats company is a nod to those who used to inhabit this community, to our family heritage.  While the folks moved on, many of those relationships continued, friendships remained.  And some of those changes led to other life changes that have impacted others for generations - including a young Lefmann boy who met a little Gordon girl at a function at that same church that had traveled so many miles from its beginnings.  Deep roots, my friends.  Deep roots make us able to endure the winds of change.  Prairie Center is my deep roots and these deep roots will keep us here for many years to come.