the start of a day

Paul has made friends with the owner of a convenience store near the Nashville Farmers Market. Over the years of taking the children on walks in the adjacent Bicentennial Mall, he found this little refreshment stop. As their friendship unfolded, details of our life were shared and it came to pass that this man wanted some of our farm’s lamb. Not in the traditional cut and frozen kind of delivery. Nope, that would be easy. This man wanted a live lamb (or more) delivered to his shop to coincide with a high Islamic holiday.

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Now,  I am somewhat familiar with our world’s religions. Having traveled  extensively throughout Asia i have spent time surrounded by folks who make offerings to Ganesha the elephant God and pilgrims spinning prayer wheels high in the Himalayas.  I have heard Islam’s call to prayer from mosques surrounding me on all sides and was lucky in my twenties to have witnessed all types of amazing rituals. It was no surprise to me that this man wanted a live lamb. Paul and I lived in Indonesia in the 1990’s and could easily recall the holidays throughout this most populated Muslim nation as millions celebrated Eid Al Adha, the festival of sacrifice, making offerings in remembrance of Abraham’s willingness to offer his son to God.

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Back to the story of my husband and the man from the convenience store. As things unfold we realize quickly there were two issues. One:  this urban shop owner actually has limited access to a shepherd willing to deliver him a live ram. Two:  we castrated all of our ram lambs making them unsuitable for this man’s needs.  sheesh. I was done. but Paul was not.

What does Paul do? He arranges to purchase a pair of uncastrated male lambs from our neighbor and spends hours crafting a beautiful wooden transport crate to fit perfectly into our van (of course we would transport the lambs along with our family and CSA delivery to Nashville before dawn on a Saturday) Paul was un -stoppable, and while i know better than to attempt to stop him, i did point out the exercise seemed ridiculous. We are not very good at being the “middle man”. We exclusively sell our own product. For this effort, how this was arranged, we will receive, according to my calculations, NOTHING.

DSCN0897Saturday morning dawned, we awoke earlier than usual in order to load the lambs. I was full of doubt but enjoyed the success of heading off the farm with all we had hoped . Two hours later, when we pulled into the designated meeting point and I saw the man’s face light up the still dark sky, I understood why Paul did this. I felt such pride in my man. He wanted to help his acquaintance achieve the unachievable,  and he did. The personal, professional,  and cultural significance of this exchange was pure joy.

We drove our van to the usual spot in the farmers market to unload and start our weekly CSA delivery day, our friend, drove in the opposite direction to celebrate with his community and so our days began.

the one that got away

we are primarily a certified organic vegetable operation.  we do raise some meat here, both for our family’s table a limited amount for sale to our CSA members. with about 20 acres of grassland nestled amongst our primarily forested acreage, we manage a small flock of jacob’s sheep and rotate our milk cow through the pastures.

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i believe i speak for all of us raising meat for our own consumption or for sale on a small-scale, finding the appropriate processing facility to meet our needs can be a tricky part of the puzzle. the ins and outs of legality of on farm processing and sales are beyond the scope of this story, but  looking for a local slaughterhouse and forging a relationship with the folks running it can be tricky business that can leave you disappointed.

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we have been so thankful to have, less than 20 miles away, a family owned and operated USDA inspected facility that happily works with us if we bring in a handful of lambs or market sized heritage breed pigs along with a calf every other year. we have negotiated with the operators since the day they butchered our first pig over 10 years ago. it is only this past week that i truly realized how lucky we are and how vital this relationship is to our business. 

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last week, in the final days of wrapping up our season, we had 5 lambs to butcher, the last of the group from spring 2013. our appointment was scheduled for monday morning, the first business day after the opening  weekend of deer season here. we try not to bring animals to these folks during the busy weeks of the brief hunting season,  but somehow this year got ahead of us. they allowed us the appointment  and as we pulled into the familiar drive just past dawn on that day, the place was a bustle of activity. hunters in camo and safety gear with their annual catch and every member of the extended family working to keep up, fatigue and busy- ness were everywhere apparent. they greeted me with their usual cheer instructed and me unload as usual adding clearly more chaos to their monday morning.

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as i headed back to the van to assist unloading, i turned the corner to see a beautiful young ram lamb squirming out from the space between our vehicle and the chute into the holding pen.

yep, loose, running, gone.
it is hard to describe our frustration. albeit difficult on many levels, the moment of dropping off an animal for butcher is the end of a long period of care.  countless things can go amiss in those months, an unending list of worries to tend to. when you make it to butcher time, you are thankful and relieved. in the case of this animal who was “sold” our financial return for those hours was days away. and now, as the lamb slipped away the loss was awful.
we headed up and down that road after the lamb. we ran into pastures, snuck behind stranger’s homes, did everything we could to attempt to retrieve him. we spent an unknown amount of time trying, calling in paul’s deep voice and cheery “sheppen”  at one point, the devoted manager of this facility was hanging on to the bed of his ford f-150, with paul at the wheel, the lamb in sight, barely holding still for a second, he fired his scopeless rifle twice unsuccessfully to capture the errant traveller.

we finally left dejected. the folks there assured us the lamb would return, unhopeful i gave them again my number to call if so. each time the phone rang that day, we ran hoping, each time it was a different caller.the sun set and we settled in to a place of contentment. all is well, there are more lambs out there, more opportunity for the income, our freezers are overflowing, no complaints.

it was dark when the call came. the story told to me was unbelievable. just after our departure the owner headed home to fetch his ATV. he spent the entire rest of that day looking for our lamb. not just one spin around the neighborhood, no folks, a search that ended in success after dark. i still can not believe it. the truest example of the dedication of these people and the deepest reminder of the significance of professional relationships that i can offer.

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this is simply the story of one lamb, the shepherd that raised him and the butcher who slaughtered him.  it is a reminder of the countless face to face connections that sustain our lives and our farm. as i write this tale to share with you, i am again reminded of how lovely it is when we invest in others: the return is so often beyond our expectations.