By Rosanna Bauman
Well, we actually did it. For the first time ever in our entire family history we went on a real, live, week-long vacation. There is a very good reason you don’t hear of farmers taking vacations much. It’s because there’s almost as much stress in going as there is in staying. Our family acknowledges the benefits of “breaks”. We really don’t work all the time! In the winter when there’s less livestock and reduced chores, we’ll attend farm conferences and visit family out-of state. These are usually no longer than a weekend so it’s not as hard to find someone to do the chores for a day or two. In the summer, when things are so busy and stressful and our nerves start to fray, we’ll take a one-day Break. It might only be a picnic, a day-trip, or a camp-out, but just one day of intentional relaxing helps a lot in the busy season. We have found that whenever you feel like you are so busy you can’t spare an hour for pleasure; that is when you really need the break the most.
Although we sometimes act like workaholics.around here, that is not the reason we haven’t taken a “real” family vacation before now. It’s our absence from the farm that concerns us. On most farms, and Cedar Valley Farms in particular, the daily chores are not simple matters. It often involves animals with attitudes or illnesses and cantankerous machinery or delicate tasks. You can’t train a substitute in a matter of hours to do the same task that you have spent ten years perfecting. Farms are disasters waiting to happen if one little thing gets done wrong. There are a lot of things that we check and verify as we go about our routine that are sub-conscious acts. As I walk down the brooder alley, my eye notes the position of the chick’s water hydrant. As I set down a watering fountain, I mentally check if I have it sitting level or not. There are many little actions that a new chore boy couldn’t do, and should one little thing decide to slip out of place, trouble will blossom. whenever we leave for a short trip, trouble Is always bound to happen. Thus, we don’t get real excited about taking long trips.
In January, my Aunt Judy (dad’s sister) invited our family to join their family for a week in Arkansas in exchange for skilled labor. We had the opportunity to act like tourists in the antique shops, sportsmen learning how to trout fish and hillbillies that scrambled through brush and ate trail mix with fish-scented hands. I got a good chuckle upon observing, the very first evening, all four of the boys were sprawled out and pouring over John Deer vintage tractor books. Vacations don’t mean that you leave your farm at home; you just get to select what part of the farm you take with you. For Dad and I that meant trying to visit the chickens of Arkansas. We thought it would be very entertaining and educational to visit a chicken hatchery and processing plant, There aren’t any big chicken producers or slaughter plants in Kansas, so we thought it would be intriguing to see exactly how the big guys do it. We expected to be disgusted at some of their “advancements” and impressed by others. Unfortunately, the off- season for us is also the off season for them. We found the big guys willing to give us a tour, but they weren’t in operation at the moment.
The three months of January, February, and March are my travel months since the processing plant closes down in cold weather. If I want to visit an out-of-state friend or attend a farming conference, I try to do it during this time frame. Trips are exciting for me because I always know I’ll learn something new; I just never know what it will be. Not only do I learn something new about the world; I also learn something new about myself. I can always guarantee that my short break from routine will result in me returning home freshly energized, with my head fuller and my soul stronger.
In March, I was able to take five days for a road trip to Ohio, with a brief stop in Illinois. I was able to spend a couple of hours visiting a poultry processing facility in Arthur, Illinois. Perhaps the best thing about that small poultry plant was visiting with the manager. The owner was sick, but the person in charge of seeing that all twenty five employees were steadily processing eleven birds per minute was a girl near my own age! It is rare to see young people in the meat processing industry, let alone a female. lt was so much fun to talk of HACCPs and microbial control and SOPs with a girl who actually knew what I was talking about!
Once in Ohio, I finally got the chance to meet Kevin Williams and his wife, Rachel, It sounds a little odd, but we did begin our little writing arrangement sight unseen. The good news is, meeting each other didn’t dissolve anything! I am looking forward to working with this friendly couple. The most fascinating activity I did in Ohio was tour a friend’s small maple-syrup operation. This was an aspect of agriculture I was fairly ignorant about. I had no clue how the sap was collected from trees other than those old- fashioned tin buckets. How wrong I was… There were no buckets, but a giant spider web of blue tubing that wound from tree to tree. And the sap no longer drips out of the tree, they vacuum it out! Who knew? Of course, the sweetest bit of information I gained was that nothing tastes so indescribably light and sweet as hot maple syrup freshly evaporated! Wow! There’s no other word for it.
And now, it is April, the official end of travel season and the beginning of spring on the farm. But I am squeezing in one last quick trip. I had hoped to make it to Wisconsin in February to see my friends and relatives there who had new babies, but it was deferred until April on account of the price of the plane ticket. I am planning on filling my seven days up there not only seeing little tots and gabbing with friends, but I suspect I’ll learn more about Wisconsin small dairy farms, greenhouse tomatoes and who knows what else. Perhaps there will be a chicken farm nearby…