On Today’s Episode of American Pickers

More of the same here on the olive farm. Breakfast, pick olives, lunch, pick olives, dinner, bed by 8. That’s party time in Corinna-town. All that being said, picking olives isn’t exactly brain work, so Jen and I have been trying to find the best way to occupy our creative energy. We mostly do this by creating elaborate reality TV show style games for ourselves.

The rules of American Olive Pickers are quite complicated and are subject to immediate change, akin to Calvinball. Your score is based loosely around how many trees you harvest, how fast your bucket is filled, and of course, impressing the judges at home.

Today, Jen and I worked from 7:30 to 3:30. While we only completed two rows, one of those rows was the longest in the upper field, one bonus point. And we got nearly 10 full buckets, up an astonishing amount from yesterday’s 6 (4 points). We went over on our time to complete the row (minus 3 points), but played through the pain of a burst blood vessel. Overall score? 53.

But all this fun and games aside, I got to milk a goat. Milking a goat has been on my to-do list for quite some time.  I’m just knocking out life goals left and right on this trip.

The goats at the farm have a definite schedule that they like to keep. In fact, part of the reason why we get penalized on American Olive Pickers for going over time is that the goats start bleating precisely at 3 o’clock, which is dinner time. All the 7 of the goats and Dot the Sheep are waiting by the gate to their pasture. Jen brings in a slice of alfalfa hay and distributes it to the animals, which they all immediately begin consuming. Except Penelope. Penelope heads directly for milking stand. Today was a little hard on her, because I am not as familiar with her schedule, and was standing in her way. Once I was out of the way, she hopped right up on the platform, and patiently munched while Jen strapped her in, and showed me the ropes.

Embarrasingly my knowledge of milking technique comes from that Sex and the City episode where Samantha tries to seduce a shirtless farm boy. I have to tell you, there is nothing sexy about milking an animal. Once we were done with Penelope, Jen called for Pepper, who came trotting up and took her place at the stand. At this point all the other goats are gathered outside the milking pen, because the milk goats get oats. This is cause for jealousy and bottlenecking in the goat community.  When all was said in done, we got a little over a quart of milk from the two goats. Once the CSA the farm runs is up and running, the other 3 female goats will be old enough and will start being milked as an add-on share to the CSA.

It was a pretty memorable experience and totally foreign, even though I drink outlandish amounts of milk. It made me feel like I was accomplishing at least one of the goals of this trip, which is to become more connected to my food.

Which gets at a big point of view dilemma. For me, the connection comes in very practical ways. One of my biggest worries about coming on this trip and talking to sustainable farmers was that idealism would win out over practicality in a lot of places, that the conversation would be less about the ways and means of farming and more about a grand calling of the cosmos. In fact, many of the listings on the WWOOF network talk about reconnecting with spirituality and exploring the ephemeral aspect of nature and the earth. This is not something I take any issue with, but for my purposes, the spirituality and philosophy distracts from the overall point, and becomes less and less approachable. The overall point being to parse out what are the practical needs of reforming a destructive food system.

Because the fact of the matter is sustainability in agriculture is not a spiritual pursuit. More power to the people who find spiritual fulfillment in it, but this is a very tangible and pragmatic problem that needs to be addressed on concrete and accessible level because it affects everyone.

Jen and her family are warm, welcoming people, who believe in environmentalism and supporting their community while earning a living. All of which helps to make their agrarian efforts approachable and engaging on all levels. It makes me feel as though these practices are all things that could fit into my life, without having to fundamentally change my world view. And that, I think, is the crucial thing for people to realize. That even slight changes in consumer habits, or a moderate amount of awareness are possible and can affect positive change. And it doesn’t have to have one bit to do with your views on life, the universe and everything if you don’t want/need it to.

I can get why people need to feel a stronger connection to the earth and their animals to make some of these tasks seem more worthwhile, or create a philosophical ideal as motivation. The work is intense, sometimes boring, sometimes uncomfortable. But for me, it’s enough to realize that it’s something that needs to be done, and so, I will just enjoy the sun and warm breezes when I can, eat some healthy food, and occasionally squeeze some boobies.

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