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Farm To Farm

A week of unseasonably cool weather reminiscent of summer days on the Mendo coast blasted through southern Indiana at twenty miles an hour out of the north, with Canada geese in their V-formations. The prevailing winds in these parts are from the southwest, and the rusted, dangling sheets of corrugated metal on our barn roof flapped violently, like they were confused, while I planted lettuce.

Another sheet blew off the roof of the picturesque barn. This barn is at least twenty-five percent of the reason I returned to Indiana, because the entire decade I farmed in Boonville and gradually got into milking cows, I felt silly trying to raise funds to construct a new barn with the milking room on the side, knowing that our country is dotted with beautiful, sensible barns that were framed a hundred years ago by folks who really knew what they were doing. The one on the farm we purchased comes with a concrete block, milking parlor that is fitted with two elevated stalls built in compliance with the USDA guidelines of the 1950's. It is perfect for the type of cow share program that we were doing in Boonville at what will hitherto be known in my writing as the “Local Foodie Farm.”

It turns out that the cow share program we did in Boonville WAS illegal, after all—or at least the California Department of Food and Ag contends so. Earlier this summer, as has already been reported by Bruce McEwen, a goat milk share program in Willits, Green Uprising Farm, was served “Cease and Desist” orders at the Willits Farmers' Market. Last I heard, they were still dumping milk out in the grass and teaming up with attorneys to fight for the rights of individuals to decide whether or not they want to drink raw milk from a tiny, unlicensed dairy where all the cows or goats have names. The stakes are rising in California now with regard to the legality of milk share programs, and several weeks ago a buying cooperative, “Rawsome Foods,” in Venice beach was raided by a SWAT team. The owner was handcuffed and taken away, charged with something like conspiracy to deliver raw milk, and the goat farmer was also handcuffed and detained.

The same cow share programs are absolutely legal in Indiana, and dozens of farms advertise on-line.

So last week, as I washed dishes at the kitchen sink and gazed through the windows at the picturesque barn with the white-painted, concrete milking room on the side, the corrugated metal flapping like the wings of buzzards attempting take-off, I cringed. My dad had paid for 20 sheets of the corrugated metal to be delivered to the farm, but I didn't have the cordless drill to apply them to the roof for weeks on end while I twiddled my thumbs. I'd entrusted all my tools with friends in Anderson Valley last January, and was now too broke anyway to go purchase an inferior animal. Day after day I looked at the stack of brand new corrugated roofing, at the rusted pieces blowing in the north breeze, and stewed. I had no driver's license, no vehicle, no job except tossing watermelons a few hours a day for some distant MacQuayde relative, and was chomping at the bit to do some work, hoeing weeds out of my lettuce even though drizzle was falling and the weeds weren't even dying. I was literally rearranging weeds in the sand like a Buddhist monk on the damned beach.

So on Friday I couldn't take it anymore, called my son's grandpa up in the hills of Brown County to see if he would take the boy for a few days. I had to get up to Indianapolis. I telephoned one of my numerous unemployed high school buddies who are living on their parents' sofas after divorces and two decades of working in factories or construction jobs that have dried up.

“What's up, Spec?”

“I need a ride to Nashville.”

“Sure, man,” he said. “Just get me some whiskey.”

Highway 135 from my place to Nashville is similar to 128 through Anderson Valley, and you even pass houses in the hills with big signs out front declaring that “THC CURES CANCER” or just, “LEGALIZE IT.” My buddy used to do motocross semi-professionally, and has literally scared the living shit out of more than one passenger over the years, though he's only totalled two trucks. “They didn't amount to five thousand in value, though, so if you think about it, that's barely even one truck. Know what I mean?” His folks started taking him to the local speedway every summer Saturday night when he was a baby, and he grew up around the racing scene, partying in the pits. We met my son's Grandpa at the Nashville Inn, had a beer around the table outside where minors are legal, talked about frying snapping turtles and the superior quality of wild mink pelts compared to the stuff raised on “mink farms.” My plan had been to hitch north from Nashville to Indy, because it was a toss-up whether it was more dangerous to have my hell-raising, hillbilly friend sip whiskey as we joined the growing stream of traffic turning to sub-urbs, or to hitch.

“Son, I can't let you hitch. I'd couldn't be a-goin home, thinkin you was standin there with your thumb out. Know what I mean?”

He liked the adventure, anyway. Dropped me off at a bar on the the south side of Indy where my attorney who will hitherto be known as “Lu Anne,” met us. Can't really remember what all I did the first day or so up here, but on Sunday afternoon an old friend from college showed up at Lu Anne's place, a sanctuary literally in the middle of Indy that was built in the fifties with double-paned glass for walls looking out on five acres of forest, with a creek running by.

“Duncan Alney,” the guy's name is. He agreed to let me use his real name. He grew up in Calcutta, India, and came to Indiana in about 1990 to be a cowboy, originally, though he ended up getting a business degree from Hanover College on the banks of the Ohio. Now he runs his own advertising agency, mostly internet-based. “So for a cow share program, combined with the vegetable CSA, you'd want how many members ideally? Fifty or a hundred?” was his first question when we finally got down to business.

“I need at least fifty up here in the city to make the deliveries worthwhile.”

“No problem. You need a hundred, though, my Negro.” Duncan has dark skin and a magnificantly sick sense of humor, combined with the cultivated Indian accent that has been seasoned by two decades in Indiananapolis. He reached out and grabbed my earlobe, pretending to eat something that had been dangling on it, as is his trademark gesture.

Today I'm getting a ride home with my attorney's husband, who instructed me on Kant and Nietzsche back in college, and he's sending me with a cordless drill and all the tools necessary to repair the barn roof. I'm a little daunted by the challenge, having never worked on such a steep, elevated, slick surface with the rope and harness before, but it's a rite of passage if you want to be a farmer in my neck of the woods.

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