Thursday, October 11, 2012
Farm Life Lessons Learned the Hard Way
Farm life lessons learned the hard way LAS CRUCES — I was a state fair virgin until I moved to New Mexico. None of my friends or relatives had farms. I didn’t belong to 4-H or date a single member of Future Farmers of America when I was growing up. We had a little building in our suburban yard that had once been a chicken coop, but we used it for a playhouse. We three kids grew up with dogs, bunnies and mallard ducks, but they were considered family members. Our differently-specied brothers and sisters spent as much time in the house as we did, and you could expect to find a dog curled up on the couch or in your bed, hogging the pillows, and a half-dozen newly hatched Mallard ducklings snuggling on a heating pad on dad’s otherwise sacrosanct recliner. It seemed like an idyllic suburban childhood, but it was not untouched by agricultural realities, my childhood neighbor Linda recently reminded me. In the 1990s, after decades out of touch, in one of those New Mexico synchonicity milagros, Linda and I discovered we were living within a block of each other in the Las Alturas neighborhood. We’d grown up as K-12 next door neighbors in suburban Muskegon, Mich. There was still a patch of forest down the street in our ’hood, and both our backyards bordered a last little stretch of fenced land — I guess you could call it a pasture — where our friend Joni and her family decided to get what we all thought was a pet calf. The neighborhood kids and our ducky, doggy and rabbit siblings all seemed to enjoy getting to know the friendly little calf — known as Nicky, if I remember right. And Nicky liked us, too, coming up to the fence to greet us, and agreeably, if not enthusiastically, joining in our cowgirl and cowboy backyard adventures. Nicky got bigger and bigger, and finally went missing one day. No one prepared us for the horror that came next. I guess I can’t blame my tender-hearted parents, who stopped just short of demanding character references and a signed vegetarian oath before allowing the “adoption” of a single one of their Mallard duckling “grandchildren.” We’d just finished a round of “Clue” one day at Joni’s house. I was feeling pretty good about solving the Col. Mustard candlestick homicide when everyone else searching the mansion had zeroed in on Miss Scarlet and the pistol. Joni graciously invited us to stay for a bowl of yummy beef stew. You guessed it. After we’d chowed down, we learned that Nicky was not, and never had been, a brother, as far as Joni’s parents were concerned, nor even a pet. Nicky was lunch. Our lunch. That very lunch, in fact. And we were horrified. It was Twilight Zone’s “To Serve Man” episode and “Soylent Green” full-force shock and horror. Nicky was LUNCH! Never mind that we were the generation that consumed McDonald’s first billion burgers and enjoyed charcoal grilled steaks at least weekly. We didn’t make the connection. We didn’t know those burgers personally. I’ve become a state fair fan since moving here, and I’ve gotten to know a lot of adults and kids who work hard to raise everything from chiles and pecans to exotic chickens, sheep, goats, pigs and cows. I’ve covered 4-H competitions and watched kids carefully groom and prepare their critters for show, judging and sale. They’re nurturing, conscientious kids who are far more grounded in reality that I was. But I’ve heard some tales, and seen tears threaten when they talk about critters lost and, I think, loved. Agriculture takes a special kind of courage, whether you’re saying good-bye to a prize pig who’s become a pal, or fighting drought, economic pressures and encroaching subdivisions to bring in a crop and keep a farm in the family for another generation. Enjoy the carnival and funnel cakes at the fair this week, but save some time to tour the barns and exhibits and ponder what it takes to feed a nation. S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at email@example.com; (575) 541-5450. To share comments, go to www.lcsun-news.com and click on Blogzone and Las Cruces Style. Follow her on Twitter @DerricksonMoore.