Of Farms and Fables combines the efforts of professional and non-professional artists by engaging artists in farm work and farm workers in storytelling and acting. The result will be an original performance in October of 2011 which will engage performers and audience in dialogue about local agriculture, farming, and the future of small family farms in Maine.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Cow butts, golden mists and the art of field maintenance (Keith)

Have you ever known a cat or dog that nudges your hand with it's head when it wants some extra attention from you? Perhaps your petting wasn't as invested as your pet would have liked, or perhaps you stopped petting well before Scruff or Whiskers was satisfied with the job you had done. So, to let you know what they want, they use body language. They give your hand or arm a little nudge to let you know they'd like a little more attention, please and thank you.

Really, the cows on Kay Ben are more like dogs and cats. Albeit, they earn their keep, whereas my dog is fairly useless. But he's cute. Perhaps someday he'll redeem himself by saving me from a fire or alerting me that little Jimmy has fallen down the well. But the cows all have names, personalities and most importantly, they are LOVED by the folks who care for them. It's that love thing that I want to write about. Particularly, the love of a cow named Elsa.

Now, I had known Elsa for very long. I had rubbed down her udders a few times, and maybe milked her once. But aside from that, we hadn't spent much social time together. Mostly business. Elsa happens to be stalled at the end of a row next to the herdsman's office. So, as we stand there and shoot the breeze about life on a dairy farm, Elsa gets pet. She is nice, so I pet her. She took it to the next level last week when she started in with the licking. She likes my pants. So, she licks my pants. I am OK with this. I am open minded. We're all good. Little did I know how needy Elsa was. Always a good rule of thumb to know how needy a girl is before you let her lick your pants. Let a girl lick your pants, the next thing you know, they might need to be pet. . . a lot. Sure. I can reciprocate. I'm open minded and giving. I'm a giver. But I was not prepared for the response I got when I stopped petting Elsa for a moment.

You know that thing I mentioned dogs and cats do when they want more attention? Well, Elsa does it too. Difference is, Elsa weighs 700 pounds. It only took one swift head butt to the ribcage to know that apparently, I was Elsa's boy toy and she wasn't afraid to play rough to get her man. Ouch. Several bruised ribs later, Elsa finally had her fill of me and went back to chewing cud. Thank goodness. Try explaining that one to your girlfriend. . .

Here's another little pointer I learned the hard way on the dairy farm during my time there. Placement and timing are everything. For example, if someone throws a bail of hay at your head, your knee or your tender spots, it's a good thing if you are in a place to catch it and your timing is on. Poor Chad will never play the flute, kick a field goal or procreate because he did not follow this simple rule while loading hay into the barn. Sorry Chad. I'm sure it was an accident. . . all three times. . . but still. Ouch.

Cows are hot animals. They are big. They have active metabolisms. They produce 15 gallons of milk per day. So, their bodies are working machines. To keep cows cool (which makes them happy, and happy cows means cud chewing, and cud chewing means more milk), Kay-Ben uses three or four of these giant 4 foot turbo powered box fans to keep a nice air flow through the milking barn. On hot night like this, I sure wish I could borrow one for my bedroom. That is, if they weren't covered in cow poo.

Let me set this up for you. Picture this. I was scraping manure into the manure trough the other day. I was about 6 feet away from one of these massive box fans. There were about 4 cow butts between me and the fan. So here's what happened. One of the cows (out of respect I will refrain from using her name), lets loose this mighty stream of pee. Guess what? I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I wouldn't call it a golden shower, exactly. More like a golden spritzer. Or a golden mist. It wasn't nearly as refreshing as it sounds. Claire walked away and pretended not to notice. What a nice girl. She works in food service where it is good policy not to notice lots of things.

Moving on. . .

I started my first rotation at Jordan's Farm in Cape Elizabeth. There are lots of vegetables growing there. There are also lots of weeds growing there. I learned a wonderful term on my first day. It's "field maintenance". This too sounds deceptively delightful. I pictured tractors, roto-tillers, irrigation, and some fantastic machine which probably spread love to all the plants in the form of catchy musical jingles to promote healthy growth.

I discovered soon after that "field maintenance" means "weeding". Straight up. Hands and knees, bent over, crouching, squat thrusting, sitting, crawling, fingers ground in with the stained demise of thousands and thousands of weeds. So much for evolution. I don't care if the romaine lettuce wasn't meant to be here. It's here now, and it's staying.

I am a weed ninja. Check out my subtitles. I am a double fisted weed Robocop. I'm not handing out parking tickets. I'm TOWING your sorry weed butts to the curb, suckas! I am a weed zombie and I only feed on weed brains. Stiff armed, stiff legged, I shuffle down the endless rows of lettuce, devouring weeds with a delicate and careful malice that a precision skyscraper demolition team would be envious of. I am a weed destroying Chuck Norris. See me with my right hand full of weed? See me with my left hand full of weed? BAM! You DID NOT expect my beard to bust out and annihilate a whole row of weed. But it did, bro. It sure as hell did. If I were a weed, I would stay clear of Jordan's. You may have had your way with farmers in the past, but you HAVE NOT messed with an artistic team. We will get medieval on your pathetic, energy sucking stems. Then you'll know what pain feels like. Field maintenance never looked so good. Word.