adventures in organic sheep-farm-intering : [why?]

as i mentioned in my last post my next endeavor is to spend time as an intern on mint creek farm near the community of stelle, illinois. in that post i told you everything that i know about my duties as an intern on an grass-fed-organic-meat-farm (lets just call it what it is). the purpose of this (less crazed) post is to try to answer the question of “why?”

the answer to this question starts about three years ago, when i signed a contract to work with mennonite central committee (mcc). when i accepted the position in kotido, uganda i also accepted all of the culture-shock, learnings, love, hardship, confusion and clarity that came with it. i wouldn’t change those choices for anything–and were i to have the opportunity to make that choice again, i would.

that being said, a lot of my work with the diocese and with mcc was work that wasn’t easily measurable. it was difficult to know if i was making an impact, making a difference, if my work mattered or if it had staying-power. this situation wasn’t assuaged at all by mcc and the diocese having forms requiring some sort of measurable data.

i realize that ministry and the ministry of presence do not typically have “measurable numbers” or necessarily have “measurable standards” and would wail, moan and complain when asked to try to measure my impact in my work. tell me to measure numbers of children impacted, or numbers of people ‘converted’ and this pacifist will probably be tempted to pop you in the bracket. it’s not necessarily your fault, but, i really hate that.

ironically, when i had about a year left on my contract with mcc i started craving something “to do with my hands” between finishing with mcc and starting full-time with the methodist church. as i am so passionate about the ministry of presence, and showing up i was as surprised as anyone at my great desire to do Great Measurable Manual Labor beyond the labor of exercise.

perhaps my appreciation for the rule of st. benedict and brief stay with the trappist monks in south carolina have influenced how i feel about this sort of Work. the rule says:

Idleness is the enemy of the soul; and therefore the brethren ought to be employed in manual labor at certain times, at others, in devout reading.*

the devout reading (and less devout reading, too) is constant, but the manual labor was lacking. doing hard manual labor, being bone-weary and not just mentally weary at the end of the day was what i was craving.  so i did what any self-respecting child of this generation would do: i got on the google-machine and started researching.

my internet search began around wwoof-ing (willing workers on organic farms) as it is a world-wide network of organic farms and typically when one works on a farm it is with one’s hands. i love the philosophy and mode of learning that wwoof-ing offered but upon deeper digging discovered that one has to pay to access the full list of places, or see the availability or something of that nature (it was a year ago, i don’t remember which). at the time i was making $74 a month (yes, you read that right) and didn’t necessarily want to pay for something i might not utilize, so i got more creative in my google-searching.

somehow i ended up on a site called picking jobs which lists tons of international seasonal opportunities. while a lot of them were enticing and fascinating the ones i was interested in were quite far from where i’d be in missouri and that whole $74 a month and then working for free makes international travel to pick cherries or peaches kind of financially insane (rather than just mildly financially irresponsible by staying domestic).

eventually i found a site called growfood which essentially is like facebook for farmers. (feel free to geek-out. i know i did/do.) they had me at the drop of their motto: “work. live. learn.” there is a good chance i swooned. so i spent an entire day at the united nations office (using their faster-than-my-internet) opening and reading as many of these options as possible, creating a tab for each position that seemed like it could be a good fit.

i spent a few days reading and rereading these options and began conversations with three farmers about what it would look like for me to show up in about a year to work and learn. it was clear very early on that mint creek was going to be a good fit.

if you know me very well you know that when i make up my mind about something that is usually the end of it. we can converse about it, but when i say “yes” i say “YES.” (strong-willed, stubborn, spoiled…whatever you need to call me, go for it.)

so, why am i going to work in the potential-brutal-cold of illinois with sheep?

because i love animals. being around and loving animals. (yes, even when they are to be eaten! t = carnivore!) i love working until my muscles and bones are weary, especially when there is something tangible and measurable other than my own personal strength–and when working with animals you can see if you’re doing well or not (and arguable that they tell you how you’re doing. we can discuss my animism side another day). sustainable, green, organic living is one of my passions and my liberal-arts-education has taught me that it is very good to be well-rounded and educated on many things. my learning style is that of hands-on get-in-there-and-get-dirty and i just really want to learn how to be with and keep sheep.

i am looking forward to the solitude and quiet of keeping animals. to being cold. to filling my head with knowledge about sheep and cows and goats, how to keep them well and how to communicate with them well.

choosing a farm with livestock was a very conscious choice–i have been living with a pastoralist people in uganda. bishop, my neighbor, kept his cows, goats and sheep in pens in his front garden–so the smells and sounds of animals are familiar and comforting. participating in this internship will literally ground me in this country, but also will connect me with those i love and miss keeping their sheep in uganda. in creating a tie with the land here, i am strengthening my connection there.

i want to learn because i’m interested. because maybe one day i’ll keep sheep of my very own (this isn’t a life-goal, but hey, you never know!). because i want to learn to be as self-sustainable and kind to the earth as i can. and, perhaps most importantly, because it just feels like the right thing to do right now.** the majority of my big-life decisions have taken place because they feel like the right thing to do, and i have to say, so far they have all be excellent choices.

i’m excited.
and i hope you’re excited, too!
what questions do you have?
what would you like to hear about while i blog from mint creek?

n.b. all the jokes about keeping sheep and then becoming a pastor have been made. however, feel free to share any that come to mind–while i generally loathe a pun i am giving you free reign to make them on this particular subject.

*you can find the rule here, if you’re interested in further reading.

**when i shared this “next step” with a friend she immediately went to her bookshelf and pulled a book that has been helping me be able to put more words to the feelings i have about this venture. the barn at the end of the world: the apprenticeship of a quaker, buddhist shepherd by mary rose o’reilley. its one of those books where i read a passage and then ponder how she managed to put my thoughts into her book. highly recommended! (you can probably expect quoted passages when i am reflecting from mint creek–and will probably give it at least one solid reread if you would like to read along. drop me a line if you are and we’ll talk out-line.)


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