Yesterday a man pulled into the driveway of my farm store. His car looked to be older than I am and his stature told of years of hard work. His name was Tony, he had read that I interned at Polyface Farm, and if I had time, he would like to see my chicken tractors to check out the design.
It soon became apparent that this man had seen much in his life as a farmer. He had seen dear friends work for other farms spraying Monsanto's glyphosate die of cancer. He told me that after watching two friends die one after the other, he warned one of his friends not to take the job spraying chemicals. His friend assured him that he was in a closed-cab tractor and completely safe. Less than five years later he was dead. Cancer.
He had seen his dairy operation slowly get squeezed dry from the big dairy outfits shipping out his milk. As the years passed and the milk checks became smaller, they added on fee after fee. Finally, he was forced to shut down his dairy and sell most of his herd at auction. When he called Agri-mark to get back the 10% deposit they had taken from his checks over the years, he was notified that they would be paid back at a percentage over fifteen years. He's almost eighty years old.
He told me stories that should have surprised me but didn't. That when Garelick Farm tank trucks are emptied into the giant holding tanks, they are sprayed out with hundreds of gallons of water and that water goes right into the milk tank and right into your milk bottle. That he knew a farmer who was getting ground leftovers of beef animals and pigs from a processor and adding it to his beef feed. And that most of his meat was going to Wholefoods.
This man has seen the worst of our industrial agriculture system. He's been beaten down and screwed over by government agencies and big ag companies. And yet, he's still out picking and selling blueberries from his patch of 48 blueberry bushes. He's still exploring better ways of farming, like rotating chickens. He's experimenting with his small beef herd, currently working on an angus/Texas longhorn/jersey cross. And he's still milking a few beloved Jersey cows.
As we chatted and chatted customers trickled in, pausing spellbound to listen to tid bits of Tony's stories. I could tell they were just as enchanted as I was. It's a rare and lucky thing to listen to an old time farmer that's still in love after so many years of hard ships.
Perhaps the most fated part of this story is that my boyfriend and I had just been talking about hoping to find a farmer we could learn to milk from this winter in anticipation of buying a milk cow in the spring. Just like magic, Tony showed up, and was delighted when I asked him if we could help him out this winter. I can already tell that this man is going to play an important part in my life and I'm so looking forward to more hours and more stories. We all have much to learn from Tony and I'll be sure to continue sharing his magic with you!