Young cowgirls and boys waited patiently in line for a ride on one of our shaggy Scottish Highlanders. Curious Bleu, a red Highlander steer, was kept busy during the annual Miles Smith Farm Day on Oct. 6. The sky may have been overcast, but the mood was sunny as little future farmers rode a steer, took a hayride, fed carrots to cattle, or snuggled with the goats, the sheep, and a donkey.
The parking lot was full as more than 1,000 people (little and big) hiked around the farm to visit with the animals and eat grass-fed hot dogs and hamburgers. Few of our visitors live on farms, but many of them cherish some connection to farming. One man told me about helping bale hay on his grandfather's farm. Another talked about feeding chickens while being menaced by a rooster. A woman praised her grandmother's cooking which included fresh ham, raised and cured right there on her farm. One teenager told me she'd been coming to our farm for years and remembered riding Curious Bleu when she was 8 years old; a lifetime ago for one that young one.
Farming is part of our DNA. Unless you subsist by hunting and gathering, you depend on agriculture. “No farms, no food” is true enough, but “no farms” also means no beer, no whiskey, no leather, and no cotton. Humans have a strong connection to agriculture; one we try to remind our visitors of every year during Farm Day.
But even some of our farm-connected visitors forgot that farming can be messy! Clothing, especially footwear, takes a licking when the rains come and mud prevails. Ours is a working farm, and when it rains, all that good earth turns to mud. And beyond the barnyard, the ground is rough, and there's manure everywhere. We clean up between chores, but ours is not a “showcase” farm. With 100 chores and only time to do 50 of them, prioritization can leave some “housekeeping” for later.
We try to warn folks of the muddy and rough footing, but some visitors still wore sparkling white sneakers or skimpy sandals. Baby strollers tended to get mired. Yet no one complained. (Thanks!)
Besides cow-riding, the oxen demonstration was popular. My team of black Highlanders, Topper and Stash, dragged delighted little riders around the yard on a stone boat (a flat sled traditionally used to transport rocks.) Our mini-donkey, Eleanor, and her sheep and goat companions made lots of new friends.
New and old customers (bless them) dropped into our farm store and purchased grass-fed beef as well as pastured pork and lamb. Some ordered a locally-raised turkey for their Thanksgiving feasts. Others enjoyed free grilled beef hot dogs and hamburgers cooked by the Highlander Rider 4H Club. This good time was made possible with help from volunteers and sponsorship from local businesses.
We rejoice when visitors embrace the human connection to farming. Especially when they can see past the mud and manure to appreciate a wholesome, humane, small-scale operation like ours. We like to think of Miles Smith Farm as a living link between a time dominated by impersonal corporate agribusiness and the small family farms that built America. If that notion appeals to you, and you like the idea of eating food raised thoughtfully by folks who will look you in the eye, keep on buying locally-raised food. You also might want to buy a good pair of rubber boots – the next Farm Day will be here before you know it!
Carole Soule is co-owner of Miles Smith Farm, in Loudon, N.H., where she raises and sells beef, pork, lamb, eggs and other local products. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org