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I need to be honest with you about this: according to the description I've given of this trip, the one where I say I'm going to visit a bunch of intentional communities, I'm cheating.
The Little Farm is not an intentional community, not in the formal sense of the phrase. It's a tiny permaculture/organic homestead, about three years old, run by Maya and Ray with help from family, friends, and WWOOFers (organic farming interns). I first heard about it over a year ago, when Maya sent a message to a WWOOF e-mail list calling for volunteer helpers, and I've been daydreaming about it ever since. The place is an intriguing mix of idealism and practicality, of old ways and new: hand tools and wifi, a composting outhouse and a high-tech weather station. But it is not the kind of place I said I was going to be visiting.
But see, the other purpose of this trip, the less-frequently-stated one, is to visit places that sound cool, just because, y'know, I can. And I've always wanted to try WWOOFing. So here I am: sitting in a yurt, netbook on my knee, listening to the multitudinous grunting of a mama pig feeding 8 babies just the other side of the screened wall.
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AS dusk falls on that first day, Maya and Ray take me to meet the cows. The current milk supplier, a doe-eyed Jersey, is ready to be milked, and while Maya sets to the task, I ask a million questions. Lucky for me, she and Ray are natural teachers and storytellers, and only too happy to answer.
Milking one cow takes Maya about 40 minutes, I learn, and Beau, who has less experience, can get it done in about 90. My half-hearted interest in learning to milk begins to wane; that's an awfully long time for a hand workout. Maya learned to milk on a goat farm, and agrees it's easier to start with a smaller udder. There are two more cows here, a heifer and a young steer. The latter, the first cow birthed here, is affectionately referred to as Burger Buddy [not a pseudonym, ha!].
Maya and Ray only began acquiring livestock just last summer, and the learning curve has been bumpy. They've read books, taken classes, and hung out on livestock-specific internet message boards, soaking up as much info as they could before (and after) taking the plunge. Even with all their research, they've made mistakes: unethical cow sellers have sold them defective animals, and at one point they almost lost a cow to malnutrition. Some of the non-mistakes have been challenging, too; Ray describes artificially inseminating Mama Cow as easy but extremely unpleasant, and removing Burger Buddy's horns, in gory detail, as "by far the worst part of animal husbandry so far."
Why go to all this trouble, then? The unasked question is answered when we return to the kitchen and drink tall glasses of fresh milk. It's rich, sweet and incredibly satisfying. I've always been a milk fan, but this is a whole other realm of deliciousness. Unlike me, Ray and Maya were not milk drinkers before they had a cow, but this has become a daily treat for them. Ray says his teeth used to be extremely sensitive at the gumline, but that's cleared up completely since he began drinking raw milk. I'm sold; sign me up!
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OTHER parts of this lifestyle may take more getting used to. That composting outhouse, for example: no seat, just a hole in the floor. Erg. I'm a city kid and haven't had much squatting practice, but it looks like I'll be getting some now. My bed is one of several mattress/box spring pairs in the open loft of the barn building, accessed by an aluminum ladder leaning casually up against the loft edge. The flooring has been extended forward, but the job is unfinished, and at the top of the ladder I pause to eye the gaps before stepping gingerly across them to the main (completed) area of the floor. Good thing I'm not a sleepwalker.
As with any night in a new place, I spend more of it awake than I would like. You'd think it would be quiet out here in the middle of nowhere, but there are so many new sounds to keep me alert: cows moving around, a boar hronking, dogs bark-bark-barking, and long before dawn, ducks quacking and a rooster crowing. I find myself hoping, for the first time but not the last, that we eat that rooster.