Today’s post comes to you from Alex of A Moderate Life. She lives near Amish country and wanted to share her recent farm trip with us. So here we go!
I would like to thank Modern Alternative Mama for allowing me to write this guest post for her blog!
We are blessed to be able to purchase raw milk from a buying club that is supported by CARE, which is a coalition of Amish and other biodynamic farmers who supply various dairy, meat and hand crafted items to buying clubs. The products are of excellent quality and I feel such tremendous gratitude to these earth-friendly and animal-friendly farmers for supplying us with what we need and giving back to the earth by using traditional practices.
We got an invitation to Farm Day about a month ago and from the minute I received it, I had been excited to go! I had a strange desire to see the cows that produced our milk and understand their lives, care, feeding and home. I also wanted to shake the hand of the farmer!
Well, after getting lost and having to call for directions, which was very funny because I got the farmer’s wife Anna on the phone, which was located outside their home, and she laughed at me because she didn’t know the roads! We finally got directions from one of Ben, the farmer’s, sons and rolled on in to see a large group of folks sheltered under a large spreading oak in the shadow of the main house.
We came in to registration and were greeted warmly and given some lovely iced cold mint tea sweetened with stevia. Four of the family’s nine children, dressed in traditional Amish summer clothes and bare feet, were there to direct us, and we decided to go and see the barn before lunchtime.
The calves were in large straw covered pens inside the very cool barn. Even though it was over 90 degrees outside, the ancient barn was cool and a slight breeze blew through it. The calves were allowed to snuggle and many were grooming each other and curled up sleeping. Ben gives them access to their mothers each day when they come in for milking at 5am and 5pm. I love that they can see their moms until they are weaned. He says that the moms produce plenty of milk for a baby and the club and it is so much more healthy for the baby to be with its mom and receive the love and also the probiotics she produces in her milk. A strong bond with the mother makes a strong cow in the future.
We were able to visit with the work horses that were impeccably kept. They have Standard bred trotters for the family carriages, that stood well over 18 hands high and Shires for the wagon work and hauling, whose heads were almost as long as my daughter is tall!
All the animals were tame and gentle and we had fun petting them! They also had a large litter of piglets who were still nursing and a litter of 10 puppies who were 4 weeks old and so cuddly and soft!
We then went into the milking room, which contained two spotless rows of stalls. As a child I had been in a traditional milking room many times while visiting a friend who was a dairy farmer. The big difference here was that his animals stayed in during the winter and overnight so there was a conveyor belt to remove waste. Ben’s cows only come in to the milking room at 5am and 5pm during their milking season. If they are not in season, they are outside with access to grass or hay and clean spring water.
Each cow is milked with a canister milker and is prepped individually and checked for any issues before milking. The milk is then placed into a cooling and stirring tank immediately and then bottled and put into another refrigerator, or used to make traditional cheeses, yogurt and butter. The milk processing room was also immaculate, with all equipment washed and drying on wall racks.
Besides milking, Ben says the biggest job every day is hauling water out for the cows. He has 67 acres of grass and hay fields and a 10 acre woodlot that he would like to let his hogs root through in the future. Because Ben runs an Amish farm, only a few pieces of equipment can be mechanized. Daily, he and his sons haul thousands of gallons of spring water up to the highest point on the farm using the horses, and connect the tanker wagons to feeder lines so the cows in the lower areas can have fresh water. They collect any rain water off the barn roof in a large cistern to water the gardens. The spring also supplies water for the house and barn.
We drifted down to the house after visiting the barn and the family was preparing a huge feast for us! We had sausage sandwiches with Pennsylvania Dutch (who are really Deutsch which is German) potato rolls, a mixed salad filled with egg and cheese and creamy cultured butter milk dressing, raw cheeses, butter, delicious potato, carrot and ground beef soup and lemonade. Anna provided us with copies of all the recipes and I will certainly be making them all in the future, they were so exquisite! Everyone gave a love offering donation for the food if they were able, but the farmer did not ask for it, a jar was simply set out and people gave what they could. After a short prayer, everyone dug in and had seconds because the meal was so delicious!
Ben then introduced all the folks who helped to make the milk club and his farm successful. He spoke of how important the connection to his buyers was for him and his family and that without our support, he would not be able to continue to farm the way he wanted to and have a consistent market for his products. He introduced his driver, the website manager, and his kids who help on the farm, process and pack the products and run his on farm store. His parents were also there and they work on making the Kombucha and Ginger ale which were both absolutely amazing.
We then learned that because Ben is a grass farmer as well as a dairy man, and because his farm is only 67 acres that he must obtain many of the products the club wants from other farmers who are set up differently. The grass-fed beef and pastured poultry and eggs come from other Amish farmers who are set up to run those types of operations efficiently. We did see the chickens that supply the family with pastured eggs and they all seemed happy scratching away in the chicken yard.
The family has two garden plots filled with herbs, vegetables, strawberries, raspberries, a few fruit trees and a few acres of corn, which is fed to the chickens and hogs. Each row was perfectly hoed and not a single weed was in sight! We know that these cows are not being fed grain or silage because their silo is completely empty! We were able to look inside and it seemed kind of spooky!
After lunch, everyone cleaned up and Ben hitched up a team of horses to a long wagon and we were treated to a ride around the farm. The cows were out grazing in the fields and separated into two groups; those that had been freshened and were currently giving milk and those who were dry. Since the cows are all very well trained and will try and walk to the barn when it is milking time, it’s easier to keep the two groups separated so he only gets the milkers in the barn when he needs them!
The majority of the herd is Jersey cows with a few cross breeds of Brown Swiss and Aireshires. All are heritage breeds that give very high butterfat milk and do well on grass, water and hay.
We then passed the hogs that were given a pasture of their own and a wallow. Once the piglets are weaned they go out in the pasture with the adult pigs and wander around rooting for bugs and laying in the mud wallow during the summer heat. Ben spoke of how intelligent and clean pigs are and how they cover themselves in mud to prevent sunburn not to be messy!
It has been a dry season and so Ben spoke of the need for more rain. Since the farm is not mechanized there is little in the way of irrigation except hand pumps for the family vegetable gardens. Since cows are used to fresh grass or hay, if they have enough spring water, the milk will not suffer, but it is always better for the pastures to have more water.
Ben uses a small solar powered cell to run moveable electric fences. This way he can pen the animals into a certain field and move them when they have eaten the grass down to a certain level. He can also separate out animals that may be ill from the herd, but he hardly ever has to do that. Because his farm is so compact, using the electric moveable fences gives him more flexibility which is key to good farm management.
Finally, we had a lovely dessert of molasses cake with fresh sweet cultured whipped cream and home canned strawberry preserves, along with homemade ice cream. It was simply divine! The entire family helped and all seemed healthy, happy and peaceful at their work. I was not surprised, but I am sure some people would be regarding their slim fit bodies even though they consistently ate saturated fats, heavy meals and natural sugars. Anna spoke about using fresh honey and maple syrup harvested from their own land but not commercially available, and Ben spoke of having to be a good steward to his land and animals and not try to do too much with the farm. It was very interesting to hear him discuss the balance between what the land can handle and the bounty that can be produced.
They discussed getting up at 4am and how the little ones got to sleep in until 5:30am! How they all got to rest most days after lunch to escape the heat and that during the summer months, they didn’t get as much sleep as they wanted because it was light out so late and there was always something to do! You could see there was an easy rhythm to their days, filled with family and faith and on Sunday there was prayer and visiting relatives for large meals and fellowship.
As the heat of the day came upon us, we were all loathe to leave, because the vibe was so wonderful! We thanked Ben and his wife Anna and their children very much for their hospitality, made some purchases at the farm store and went on our merry way, winding through other Amish farms to the main road and back to civilization. The difference of course is jarring and shocking. While I know working on an Amish farm would entail a level of labor that I am sure would be far more intense than expected, I am so in love with working the land that for a moment I would love to try it. I am glad that I can share in their world even briefly and the idea that they are willing to share a glimpse of their lives with me and appreciate me is heartwarming. That I can balance living in the modern world with obtaining healthful traditional products is simply the best, and now that I know how they do it, it feels even better to me! We will certainly be visiting again next year, but this time, we will know the way to go.
Please visit me at http://amoderatelife.com for more balanced healthy lifestyle information so you can join me living life, in the middle of the road! Thanks again to Kate for sharing you, her beloved readers with me!