James Rebanks from “The Shepherd’s Life’
I came across this book just recently and am beginning to reread it and will again read it out loud to Kristy over winter in the evenings while we sit in front of the fire after all our daily chores are done. It is a beautiful book in which, I have to admit, the story of the shepherds tending their flocks is quite different from ours. In a landscape harder and less forgiving than I can imagine raising and tending to my own flock. That being said, there are enough similarities. Enough of the same challenges, struggles and heartbreak. Enough of the same joy, connection to the land and the animals to make me feel akin to the Mr. Rebanks and the other shepherds lives told through the book.
When pondering how Kristy and I ended up here, from Baltimore, Maryland to San Diego, to now, raising sheep and goats on a small farm in Paso Robles, it would be easy to think and say that our lives ARE entirely our own creation. But if I am honest, our lives in Paso Robles began because my mother’s family farm in Maine was sold.
As a child and young adult my family would visit that farm up on the border of Canada in summers where they raised Holstein cows for milk and grew their own hay crops and potatoes. After my Uncle retired, my Cousin found that keeping and maintaining the farm let alone making a profit or living was not possible. Industrial large scale farming changed the economics for the family farm to the point that it had changed from seasonal farming and dairy, to feedlot farming of beef cattle just to try to survive.
My childhood memories centered around jumping in the pond, cutting through the fencing at the edge of the farm into the woods of Canada and fishing the deep areas dammed by beavers, running around the fields with the neighboring farm kids, climbing into the hay loft trying to catch the feral barn cats, racing the moped down the dirt paths between fields with the farm dog chasing and the occasional farm chore. Some years I helped when the hay needed to be picked up in the field, stacked and put away. I spent time in the dairy parlor as the cows came in to be milked, when the trucks came to load that milk to take to the bottling plant, I rounded up the cows from the distant pasture to bring them home (poorly ... if it weren’t for the sheepdog they would have either ignored me completely, or gotten fed up with my efforts and trampled me to death) It was idyllic. It was the childhood of the farm kid, with very few of the responsibilities. But it got under my skin in a way I wouldn’t understand for years to come.
When I found out that the farm had been sold, there was a void in my heart that I didn’t know I would feel. I hadn’t been to the farm in over 20 years at that point, just knowing it was there was enough for me, but now it was gone.
I started having dreams of visiting the farm and wake up knowing I never could again. When Kristy and I started talking about retirement plans, mentioning having a small farm of our own was something I thought could fill that emptiness. Soon, that changed from a retirement plan to a life plan. Within two years, we had moved from San Diego and purchased our farm in Paso Robles. The farm had a house, some lean-to shelters and the main pasture was fenced. Our retirement dream had changed to a life working towards building a sheep and goat dairy and starting a bed and breakfast.
My hope and goal was to share, and show that it is still possible to create something from a small holding. To carry on the farming traditions of my mother’s and father’s families before me. To create value added products from our farm; cheese, wool, meat and produce and to help guests connect with the animals and the people that produce the food and farm products that they enjoy.
We are still working on so much and have so far to go, but each day that we wake up here. Each morning and evening when I feed the animals I realize how fortunate I am and how amazing a life it is that we are creating.
When I climb up the hill above our farm and look down onto what we are now doing I realize, my life is not entirely my own creation. It is climbing up the backs of my uncle, his father, his father’s father, my father and his parents before them and all the generations of farmers that led me to where I am now.