I arrived to Polyface pretty much the perfect description of their ideal candidate: Bright eyed, bushy-tailed, self-starter, eager-beaver, situationally aware, go-get-‘em, teachable, positive, non-complaining, grateful, rejoicing, get’er done, dependable, faithful, perseverant, take-responsibility, clean-cut boy-girl appearance character.
The first few weeks were pure bliss. Coming from corporate America, I was moved to tears on a daily basis by the pure ecstasy of spending my days outdoors, working intimately with animals, and providing nourishing food to surrounding communities. Watching the cows flow into a new pasture, kicking up their heels in excitement as they went. Watching the sun rise over the mountains as I walked to work with my two sweet and joyful roommates. Moving broiler pens during soaking rainstorms and arriving home to breakfast a puddle. Singing “Unsteady” and laughing hysterically while trying to simultaneously stack a load of hay on a rocking and rolling hay wagon driven by my idol, Joel Salatin.
In those weeks I also became aware that I was living in a very conservative Christian community, a new and different experience for me. As I could best be described as a feminist, tree-hugging, liberal, I felt like a fish out of water. Add that to my insecurity about my farming abilities and feeling inferior about certain things due to being female, and there were some pretty tough moments. When the guys jumped to do things that I was already trying to do, I sometimes became snappy, knowing that I would never learn if i wasn’t given the opportunity to try. I kept my opinions about politics and feminism to myself and tried to stay out of any conversations related to those topics for fear of rocking the boat. I tried to find ways to relate to the people who were different than me and sometimes I failed. Sometimes I made jokes that were taken seriously and I offended people instead of making them laugh. And so, I tried again. I finally gathered the courage to apologize to those I had snapped at in the beginning. And they let me.
As the weeks and months passed by, I learned and learned. I learned how to butcher chickens and haul cattle. I learned how to drive a tractor better and back up a truck and trailer like a total boss. I learned how to build fences and chip wood. I learned that I love farming more than almost anything. But the things that will stick with me forever are the things I wasn’t expecting to learn. On a road trip right before Polyface I had asked a woman for advice on moving back to a small town. She told me that it’s easy to love people who are the same as you but it takes true character to love people who are different than you. I learned about that this summer. I lived and worked with people who I probably never would have met or became friends with in normal life and vice versa. But thrown into this intimate environment of farming and I learned that these people had much to offer to my life.
I loved Joel’s ability to inspire a rock and his beautiful prayers before dinner each night. I loved Missy’s passion and deep love for her family. I loved how Daniel really wanted to teach us how to be great farmers. I loved how Eric and Leanna were two of the genuinely kindest and most wonderful people I have ever met. I loved how completely badass all the lady interns were and loved watching them grow into their badass-ity. I loved that almost everyone congratulated my little brother who has down syndrome on his recent graduation from high school when he visited the farm. I loved how willing everyone was to answer my questions about God and religion and to tell me stories to help me understand their perspectives on life. I loved that everyone let me stumble through trying to become a better person at Polyface and that they loved me back.
In the first few weeks after leaving Polyface, I have realized I learned what I went there to learn. Despite being terrified, sometimes to the point of being frozen, I have started to build my farm. I have trained my cows to single strand electric fence and started rotating them onto fresh pasture and built a brooder for my chicks. I have written a business plan and calculated margins. But I have also realized that maybe I went to Polyface for a reason bigger than farming. Maybe I went to Polyface for love. And I found it.