About a year or two ago I began researching my family history quite heavily. I stayed up late many nights because the more I found, the possibilities of what could be found grew. One of those things I discovered about my family line is that every one of my traceable eastern North Carolina ancestors was from the Greene/Lenoir area and every one was a farmer or lived with a farmer at one point or another. Every single one grew things from the earth and/or raised livestock of some kind. Then, with my generation, it suddenly stops. I know many whose fathers or grandfathers farmed the land, but I know almost none that continued on that path. Many of us are far removed from that lifestyle today, though it was only a generation or two before us that depended on it for a living.
I admired that life from afar as a child, during my regular visits out to the country. I fed turkeys and walked down a long dirt path to see a big hog, only to walk back up the path a few moments later. I sat on a fencepost and watched a bull grazing in a field. I walked through and, let’s be honest, played in the cow patty and muddy mixture of a nearby creek (the same creek which, interestingly enough, a tornado tore through on this exact day four years ago, I was just reminded by the news). I hung out amongst the goats and the rabbits and deeply inhaled the smell of the chicken houses as I stepped out of the car into my grandma’s yard. Somehow I love that smell. But never truly lived that smell. I want to live that smell, and I deeply want my children to, as our culture transforms more and more into something I don’t recognize and don’t connect with.
Therefore, when Greene County 4-H, whom cannot be given enough praise for their level of commitment to the community and children, offer up something “farmy” we can do, I’m all in. I signed up for the Down East Dairy Project as soon as they opened registration. The children, alongside their parents, would meet at a farm once per week, learn all about dairy cows and actually handle calves, learning how to walk them, present them before a judge, clip them, etc. At the end of our couple of months at the farm, the children would be judged on showmanship and on their calf’s presentation at the Pitt County Fairgrounds.
We don’t even live in Greene County, or Lenoir or Pitt, the surrounding counties included in the project. But Greene County has my heart and if we had to drive the hour and a half out there once a week from Carteret County, I had no problem with it.
Simply Natural Creamery of Ayden, NC leases space on the beautiful, fourth generation farm of Sammy and Connie Bunn for their dairy cows. Calves and heifers (female cows who haven’t yet had babies) are often kept at the Bunn Farm before being moved over to the dairy. Amazingly, it was the creamery who approached Greene County 4-H with the idea of letting children in the community “borrow” calves for a show. More amazingly, the children took the task seriously, showing up in their muck boots ready to take control of an animal several times their size, whether it was 70 degrees and sunny or 40 degrees and wet.
When I sent our registration info over to the 4-H girls it crossed my mind for a moment that this was one of those things that would either be completely amazing or way out of our league. New it was, for sure. Chewing the cud is an actual thing, not just an old hick phrase as I had thought. Jersey cow milk is higher in fat and protein than the more common Holstein milk. Calves are, essentially, babies and will flop themselves on the ground or dig their little hooves in and refuse to budge. Particularly for a six-year-old, 46 pound child. They have withers and hooks and several stomachs and hocks. We knew none of this before, and we certainly didn’t know how to present a calf in a ring in front of a crowd. Despite this, it was amazing and my children who, by now, are probably accustomed to my most random activities for them, did a great job. They never grumbled or complained as they do everyday with math and spelling. They connected with another creature and knew that, on some level, it needed them. Mom wasn’t doing all the caretaking anymore. Now, they were needed to do the caring. Even my husband got involved and truly appreciated the people, the cows, the experience. We all did. The calves were shown this past Saturday, and as we left the fairgrounds with ribbons and chocolate milk, my heart was full knowing that the work of so many generations before us in this beautiful farm country is being held onto tightly by willing little hands.
*This project enabled us to highlight two more counties on our North Carolina map! Obviously, we have been to both Lenoir and Pitt Counties before, but we wanted to see it with fresh eyes and only count it when it really meant something to us and represented something special and appropriate for that county. You can read up on our county goal at http://journeyforpurelife.com/?p=469. For more information about Simply Natural Creamery visit their website at www.simplynaturalcreamery.com and for more info on Greene County, NC 4-H visit their website at http://greene.ces.ncsu.edu/greene-county-4-h-clubs-and-groups/.