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Wednesday, 14 September 2011 13:00

Farmers are almost always willing to lend a hand

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Tammara Talley, while gracious in her acknowledgments during the shower of verbal high-fives raining down upon her at Saturday’s farmers market, couldn’t help but beam proudly. No different, really, than any mother just delivered of perfect babies bearing precisely the correct number of eyes, hooves and tails.

“Congratulations on your new litter!” Penny O’Neill, a pediatrician in real life at Sylva Pediatric Associates when not farming, came up and told her as I stood nearby. Tammara had mentioned the litter to one, maybe two, fellow vendors. The information spread in a couple of hours across the market; everyone, it seemed, was rejoicing in this gift of new life.

One of Tammara and husband Darryl’s sows delivered the litter at their home in Whittier. Tammara works for the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service in Cherokee. Two or three years ago she and Darryl started Trillium Farms. The couple specializes in natural pork.

This column easily could be about pigs. That’s because I’m thinking about buying two of them, which is why I was at the market picking Tammara’s brains on the subject this past weekend. And if I dwell long enough mentally on how much I like pigs, how very exciting it’s going to be when I get them, and contemplate how I’m cleverly intending to put them in an area for a future vegetable garden, this column will indeed write itself in that direction.

But, that’s not my intention today, as feverish as I am at this moment for all-things pigs. I’ve been wanting to write something about the sorts of people who raise pigs. Or, rather, who raise virtually any kind of farm animal, who keep bees, or who till the good earth and raise vegetables.

I like people who farm. There are, of course, a few unlikable ones mixed in there. But as a rule, people who connect themselves to the land are humble, generous and fun to be around. Good folks who find plenty of joy in the lives they’ve built. And these are lives built on hard work and determination; lives that are very often short on dollars but long on authenticity.

That same spirit was on display Sunday, too, at the Mountain State Fair in Asheville. A friend and I headed an hour east to watch the goat shows and talk goats with a group of experts on the subject.

I’m fairly new to goats, and still struggle to grasp the nomenclature veteran goat owners’ use. I’m doing somewhat better these days than at my first goat show, when I struggled mightily to fathom what on earth the judges meant when they discussed such bewildering points as “good udder attachment” or “poor udder attachment.”

After attending a few shows I started grasping what they might be referring to, though I’m certainly no expert and remain baffled as to why certain goats emerge blue-ribbon winners. I have learned that biggest isn’t everything, though it’s part of the winning formula. The ideal dairy goat has a huge udder, yes, but that huge udder somehow looks exactly right on her body — good udder attachment.

Really, though, you don’t particularly have to grasp udder attachment to get a kick out of goat shows. The animals are beautiful and charming, and their owners are laid back, pleasant, helpful and eager to talk goats. They are some of the most unpretentious people I’ve ever had the pleasure of hanging around.

Want to understand milk-fat content? Just ask. Considering a certain breed? Ask and learn every conceivable virtue and fault associated with that particular breed of goat. Dying to understand the complexities of udder attachment? If I’d asked, trust me, I’m sure someone would have been eager to explain.

I’m not sure if farming brings out the best in people, or if the best people are attracted to farming. At the risk of sounding overly sentimental, I do know that living closely with the cycles of life — birth and death; spring, summer, fall and winter; planting, tending and harvesting — help gentle a person. It has me, anyway.

If there’s a larger message here, then I guess that it’s this: If you want to farm, whether for a living or as a hobby, reach out for help — you’ll find it waiting in the form of a bunch of really nice people. I believe you’ll find this true, too, whether you’re at a local farmers market or at a regional goat show. I sure have.

(Quintin Ellison can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

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