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Memoirs from the Frontline: Meet the Neighbors (1).

May 12, 2006

If you have never carried 22 live chickens in a Toyota Corolla, I highly recommend not doing it. Ever. 

 

Even when you initially put them in boxes, for some reason they insist in coming out and periodically they succeed.  Driving on I-5 between Hubbard, from whence the flock of chickens was purchase, and Yamhill, to which you intend to bring your new flock, while so many chickens are frantically flying around and in front of you is neither comfortable, nor safe. 

 

Also do not haul a fully grown pregnant angus in the back of your Ford Ranger. 

 

The cow is almost as heavy as your vehicle and when it inevitably gets scared by the passing by cars and starts squirming around, you will realize that at times the front wheels are not in full contact with the pavement and consequently you have zero steering capability.

 

Believe it or not, this is how we started our farming adventure -- the day _before_ we closed on the sale of our property.  For the following 12 years, we have been a continuous and immense source of entertainment for our neighbors who by and large are experienced farmers.  They periodically and involuntarily assumed the custody of our animals until we managed to put good fences in place and remembered to close the gates.  We imagined them sitting on the porch with their friends, sipping beer, sharing a binocular or two between them watching the new yahoos from town trying to milk an angus cow.  The neighbors are not necessarily nice (in its town sense), but definitely very kind. 

 

We have a decent property in the heart of the wine country and on the wine route. You might think its convenient location or lovely view of the coast range is its best feature, but we know better: by far this property's best feature is our 70-some-year-old rancher/neighbor Ken

 

 

who is always ready to help ... particularly when we don’t know we need it. 

 

One of the realities of life to adjust to, when you move from a good size town to rural areas is the peculiar manner in which rural folks interact with each other.  You don’t see much of the pleasantries of the suburban developments, and walking into the feed store you should be prepared to receive some sharp-tongued comments on all the goofs you have committed since the April of last year.  And unless you start participating in this dance and offer your own wise cracks regarding the neighbors (and yourself), it will be a good 15 years before you are considered one of “da-boys” (and that is only after you have demonstrated that you know what you are doing). 

 

The strong sense of community in the rural areas doesn’t come from the superficial expressions of it, but from the active fact that you are genuinely always there for the neighbor or some acquaintance of the neighbor to raise a barn, or stretch a fence, or cover their winter feed when a sudden storm arrives and they are not there to do it.  It becomes acceptable to see neighbors waking across your field because in all likelihood they are rescuing an animal caught in the wires, or bringing some surplus harvest and trimmings to offer as feed for your cattle. 

 

The hardship of this life and to survive it, has evolved past the artificial expressions of niceties into this genuine sense of co-responsibility which is not limited to the neighbors rather permeates through the community.  One morning, we had a passerby on the highway who didn’t know us call one of her neighbors who didn’t have our phone number to call our neighbor to call us that our foster children should not wait for the school bus and  go back in because the school was out that day.

 

A week or so after we had arrived in our new home and farm and had settled a bit, our neighbor climbed the gate between our properties and came over.  Introduced himself and asked us what we were up to. With what I now am sure was somewhat of a naive smile, we proudly announced that we want to start a small diversified farm.  There was a slight pause, perhaps several flashes of judgment or his own memoirs from the frontlines of the 1970s going through his mind (none of them positive), then he commented that we have a very nice angus.  “What are your plans for it” he asked.  Again, we proudly announced that we were going to milk it.  This must have very quickly narrowed those initial judgements to a single realization that for the safety of ourselves and the neighborhood these folks should be committed.  "Milking an angus," he whispered, “I would like to see that”. 

 

He offered any help we may need, and while leaving commented again that “this is a very nice angus”.  And added that “she seems to be due in a month or so.  Keep it and the calf for as long as you enjoy them and after that, let me know, I may be able to help you with it.”  He didn’t think we had the grit to raise an angus ... and at least then he was right. 

 

Some 6 months later, when the cow and the calf, driven mad with desire as they watched our egg-laying flock feasting on chicken feed (which is basically Cheerios) smashed our flimsy eletric wire fence and raided a chicken house and terrorized a couple of hundred chickens, looking for delicious chicken food, and after they challenged me when I wanted to remove them from the house, I called Ken on the phone and asked him how many cows he had in his herd.  He said 12 at which point I said “no, you have 14.” 

 

He said “I understand, let me finish my breakfast and then I will come over”. 

 

We never milked the angus, never touched the angus, and never were able to get closer than 10 feet to the angus.  But still, I think we built the confidence that we really could raise angus beef if we wanted to.  There is a strong belief in some quarters that being successful in an endeavor requires know how.  In our case, it was 100% wanting to know how, 100% sheer will, and 100% ignorance of our limitations.  Think of the 5 most successful companies with a clear entrepreneurial leadership and then think about how many of them had the know how prior to starting their project.  What is a must for success is a group of like-minded friends who are there to support you and provide you with honest feedback.  In rural areas, neighbors shoulder that task every day.

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