Sunday, January 23, 2011

National Western Stock Show

This was the last weekend for the National Western Stock Show. Chose this weekend mainly because it featured the Draft Horse and Mule performances. I continue to be inspired by these magnificent animals. As we watched the Feed Team race and the Ladies' Cart class, I couldn't help but envision a team of my own. Not just a team, but a whole farm -- a crew of children to take to the shows, who could stand on ladders to groom; an antique sulky cart restored to all of its former glory; three matched teams of Suffolks, or perhaps Shires with their soft feathered pasterns. Nothing short of heaven. We talked animatedly about possibilities for logging, wedding carriages, hay rides, and animal-powered plows. Somewhere in the middle of the dreaming it surfaced that neither of us had much experience in driving. Leave it to reality to come in and burst a bubble.

In all reality, though, what is now is just a shadow of what things can be as possibilities. The farm, at this moment, is but a small homestead with a few animals who are teaching us a great deal about caring for small stock, but not doing very much to earn their own keep. But the farm of the future can be anything we dream it, and each day brings us closer to making that dream a living, breathing, snorting reality. What should be the focus? Sure, we'll begin by clearing a little land, building a cabin or fixing up an old farm house, and putting a few chickens and goats out in the yard. But really, what should we raise? What will make us distinct, earn us our own keep, and fill us with joy into old age?

Finding something that interests us is quite easy. The difficult part is narrowing it down to something to which we we can fully dedicate ourselves. As we passed rows of Buckeye hens and tiny bantam roosters with proportionately sized crows, we really want all of them. Every new creature we pass is a form of inspiration. What about shaggy Scottish Highland cattle, like the youngster you see here catching a quick snooze? They're still rare, but popular enough to have plenty of folks with whom to commiserate. But does that mean too many competitors? Figuring out the business aspects of running a small farm that can adequately support itself might just be the most daunting of all.

I expected to spend a little bit of hard-earned cash at the show, but what we mostly saw was a lot of glitter and gold that didn't appeal to us in the least. Barrel racers might need buckles the size of a Number 5 shoe and pink sequined blouses with matching saddle blankets, but our simple tastes weren't served by many of the booths. Cattle barons from all over the country come here to do business you know. All types of business.

Across the back of the stadium where the sheepdog trials took place, CSA farmers from throughout Colorado spread their mid-winter offerings. We sampled the creamed honey and rubbed our fingers in the lotion testers, but our quest was specific: Apple Butter.

You see, earlier this year, we visited Connecticut to attend an old friend's wedding. (And to sleep in the park in New Haven... but that's a different story.) Part of the pre-nuptial festivities involved a visit to a local pick-your-own apple farm. My partner has quite the fancy for apple butter, which is as much a reminder of grandmother and home to him as it is an alien substance to me. We sorted through dozens of varieties to find the perfect Mason jar to bring home. But, as it turns out, apple butter has an evil side. Who knew that the Transportation Security Administration considered it a harborer of terrorism? It was confiscated at the airport as a dangerous substance. Colorado apple farms being conspicuously rare, we've had to go without.

Our pleas were answered when Grant Family Farms pulled us aside to offer us... apples. For free. And as it turns out, they're actually our very own local CSA. Who knew? What magical things serendipity can teach us.

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