Now why do I have Mr. Ed’s Farm?

I am sixty years old. I was born on a farm. I spent my first 18 years immersed in farm life. What a gift, I realize now . I think. it laid the foundation for what was to come. My feeling is everyone needs to be grounded in something. I am grounded in living the farm life. Rationally it makes no sense. I get up in the morning and do chores. Chores are a series of actions you do on a ridged structured schedule based on a feeling of irrevocable responsibility. A farmer willingly acquires other living creatures, farm animals, that depend on you for their lives, with the intention of increasing personal wealth. You don’t meet too many rich farmers. Farming is a commitment. Getting into it is a serious decision, getting out of it is even harder.

I am a farmer by choice, driven by passion implanted during my youth. I can’t explain why I take on all the responsibilities of a farmer. They are sometimes overwhelming. They are sometimes irrational. Sometimes I think I could be fishing. I could be riding an ATV on a trail, I could be on vacation. Instead I am plowing with horses, worming the sheep, thawing out a frozen water pipes, nursing a sick animal.

Farming to me is a vocation. Something I do that fulfills a visceral need. When the hour of death comes maybe I can look back and say i made a difference. Anyway this blog is about why I do it.

Mr. Ed’s Farm is a working farm that invites people to visit to see what farm life is like. It is a real farm, not an amusement park seeking to make a buck at the expense of integrity and reality. I t is not a playground. It’s the real thing.

I opened the farm to outside visitors to give them an opportunity to immerse themselves in a real farm environment. I present a positive message but I don’t pull any punches. The conversations are open ended. Children are presented with situations. Their ideas and opinions are listened to and respected. If you are going to be a farmer you need to be well grounded in information and thought processes. We will always need good farmers because they take care of the soil and animals that provide food for all of humanity.

The vast majority of children who visit Mr. Ed’s Farm have no connection to agriculture or horticulture at all. Many do have a compassion or at least a strong interest in animals. It is not their fault they are a generation or two removed from the farm.

“Mr Ed can I chase a chicken”? “Mr. Ed, will that sheep bite me”? “Mr Ed, how fast can your horses run”? These are only a few of the wonderful questions I have an opportunity to respond to. “Yes you can chase a chicken but how do you think the chicken feels with a big scary predator chasing it? Did you know sheep don’t have front top teeth? These horses can really run fast but we don’t want to find out. Want to hear a scary story about the time my horses ran away?”

Children love stories and I love it when they request one. Stories pique their imaginations and curiosity. I can get them to picture themselves in a situation and think about what they would do. I can pause, ask them if they are scared, what would they do, what they think happened next. Children remember what they are a part of.

All, or should it say most, of the trials and tribulations of farming have a purpose when I find a way to share them with interested people. My stories trigger their stories. I love listening to children’s stories no matter how simple they may seem. The provide a little window into what they are thinking, their frame of reference. It helps us connect. When we connect, we become friends. It is a sign of respect. Everyone likes to be appreciated and respected.

My friend Duane is a great story teller. He comes by it naturally. He got it from being a curious little kid who hung around older people, listening to their stories. When he works with children he emphasizes how important it is to have respect for others, for things around you. I have witnessed him talking with disruptive children about having and receiving respect. It works much better for him than scolding or threatening. It’s a core thing that children should and need to understand and feel.

Will farming make me rich? Probably not in the conventional way of a large bank account. I asked Duane one day about what he would do if he won the lottery and became instantly rich? His response: “I am rich. I have lived an interesting life. I have a great family. I have many friends that I have shared stories with. I’m in pretty good shape for my age and I get to work with children and with horses at Mr. Ed’s Farm. Winning a lottery wouldn’t buy any of that.”

Mr Ed’s Farm is more than a business. It’s a place where friendships are made, where stories can be told, where respect can be learned. It’s a place to learn a few of life’s lessons. Sometimes you step in a pile of poop. When it happens you have choices. You can curse it. You can laugh or you can take off your shoes and wiggle your toes in it.

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Up close and personal with a 2000 pound horse.

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Question and answer session after the horse ride

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Friends are priceless. Duane, Judy and I enjoying the moment.

Carpenters vs Farmers

Duane, my friend and co-conspirator on a number of interesting endeavors, aka “projects” fancies himself to be something of a carpenter. I on the other hand see myself as a farmer. Essentially we have diverse opinions on how to proceed on projects. He says my farmer approach is going to drive him crazy. I don’t think that’s possible because I’m not a very good driver when it comes to things like that. The best I can do is to suggest some shortcuts.

The subject for this blog started on Tuesday. Let’s call it ” The new door project”. First a little pre-project history. What was formally known as the old garage (which never really served as a garage but as a repository for stuff I, a farmer, might use sometime in the future, became the Welcome Center. A carpenter would have simply categorized it all as junk and ordered a dumpster. I, being a farmer, chose the sort and pile method of disposal. Granted this did slow down the process a bit and resulted in things be relocated to other localities . However I can sleep at night knowing I have it if I need it providing I don’t forget where I hid it.

Anyway, Mrs Ed and Duane, who doesn’t care for sheet rocking, suggested we hire a real carpenter. Feebly protesting that carpenters cost money, I gave in, I guess sheet rocking can get a little technical if you can’t live with a few rough spots and cracks. Farmers can, carpenters can’t. I will concede the job got done on time and looks pretty good but I think I could have saved money through a sweat equity strategy but as we farmers say, “what is done is done”!

The door project was the last piece of the puzzle. The problem needing to be addressed was a too narrow entry door to allow the comfortable passage of wheel chairs. Squeezing the chair shut with the person still in it isn’t an ADA approved method. Neither is taking a run at it. At this point the project was about to catapult into the “major” category.

Now you need to understand Mrs Ed doesn’t mind if I take on the minor projects using my farmer skills. Actually they usually get done under the radar. “Just do it ” I say. Saves me a lot of time thinking of rational answers to questions she might have like to “are you sure you know what your doing”? “how much will it cost or isn’t that a little crooked” ? I am a firm believer in trim and paint to deal with the minor imperfections. Besides custom farmer built projects have unique charm sometimes referred to on TV reality shows as rustic folk art. I believe perfection is secondary to functionality and is generally over rated.

I know a projects “gone major ” when I announce I am going to tackle it myself and a concerned looking Mrs Ed ‘s immediate response is “I think you better call Duane”. That’s fine if that’s what it takes to get her approval however the project instantly gets much more complex.

Let me explain the differences between carpenters and farmers. Carpenters spend a lot of time thinking about a project ahead of time. Time conscience farmers wait until the situation really becomes a problem before springing into action. Take for example the gate to the cow pasture is starting to sag. A carpenter would say I think you should fix that before the cows get out. A farmer would round up the cows before fixing the gate to make sure it served its total life.

A carpenter studies a project, makes a material list, goes to the lumber yard, consults with a professional lumber guy, before ordering the material and having it delivered to the job site sometimes days in advance of when the project actually starts. A farmer on the other hand sees a project and leaps into action. He makes a list of stuff he might need and heads for the lumber yard. He buys what is on the list plus a few extra pieces just in case he runs short. If he should run short he can always jump in his truck and head to town. He had to go in anyway because he needed to pick up stuff on his updated list.

A carpenter uses a pneumatically powered nail gun with specifically sized and strategically placed nails. A farmer uses a claw hammer unless he can’t remember where he used it last. In that case he uses a ball peen hammer unless the handle is still cracked from the time before last when it broke fixing some stubborn piece of machinery. In a pinch he can use the flat side of a hatchet or in an extreme emergency, the flat side of a left handed monkey wrench.
The size of the nails doesn’t matter as much as using what you have left over from the last job. Strength is measured in numbers. The bigger the penny size and the more nails you use, the stronger it will be. If you really want it to hold up you can spend the extra money on pole nails.

A carpenter relies on a blue print prepared by an architect. He claims it enables him to do things sequentially, in the right order. A farmer saves time by bypassing this cumbersome bureaucracy of experts by simply transferring ideas directly from his brain to the project.

The carpenter waits for the inspector to confirm the quality of his work. A farmers test for success is to look at the nearest person and ask “well how does she look”? Or “looks pretty good, don’t you think”?

A carpenter assume that because the inspector approved it that it will istand the test of time. A farmer waits for the next time there is a big wind storm to see if she made it.

A carpenter strives for perfection by maintaining high industry standards. A farmer always leaves the option of lowering the standards open just in case.

Back to the new door project. Farmer: We need a bigger door” Carpenter: How big does it need to be? F: At least 32 inches. C: Inside or outside dimensions? F: Big enough to get a wheel chair through. C: Must be inside dimensions. F: Ok then, let get the chain saw and cut that hole. C: Where’s the door. F: Don’t have it yet. C: Why not? F:don’t know how big it needs to be till we get the hole cut. C: Did you know doors come in standard sizes? F: Really? When did they start doing that? Do they charge by the door or how big the opening is? C: Maybe you better go to Menards to see what they have in stock. F: Those guys don’t know what a Welcome Center is. If I go there and tell them I got a hole for a door 33 by 81 and a quarter they will know what I’m looking for. C: Just go get a door and we will cut a hole to fit it. And don’t forget to get some shims. F: What do we need shims for? C: To fill in the spaces around the door. F: I thought you said we would cut the hole to fit the door? C: The shims are to level it. F: You mean it’s got to be level too? I don’t remember where I left the level. C: And tell them you need a left hand door. F: But I’m right handed. Now I know you’re pulling my leg. Next thing you will want me to do is find my sky hook so we can lower it into place. C: What’s a sky hook? F: Do I have to explain everything to you?

Carpenters, they think I’m driving them crazy ! Maybe I’m the one heading for crazyville!

Post script. I bought a door from Menards and got it installed.
Text messages between Mrs Ed and I. Ed: Got the door In. Mrs E: Did you call Duane? Ed: Yup, he’s here and brought his grandson. Mrs E: What’s he like? Ed: He has worked construction. Mrs E: Sounds good. What are you doing? Ed: They told me to go find the level.

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Front view of the old garage, I mean Welcome Center

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The new door as installed by Duane and Matt with a little help from me.

Math and Rabbits

Math was never one of my strengths. Neither were my construction skills. Luck with animals came in a close third. My first pet was a rooster named Charlie. I traded a jack knife for him with our neighbor Tom. Tom got my prized knife. Charlie died. In hindsight I should have noticed the two inch spurs and assorted battle scars as a sign of his advanced age. Live and learn.

My second pet was a brown rabbit named Bosco. Using some old rusted chicken wire from the scrap pile, some rough lumber and some recycled nails found in an old coffee can, I built my first rabbit cage. I proudly placed him in his new home only to discover the cage empty the next morning. I surmised the rabbit size hole in the chicken wire was the most likely escape route. Fortunately Bosco didn’t venture too far and I was able to locate and recapture him. I quickly came up with a plan B. By this time we had indoor plumbing and the old outhouse was seldom used. I figured with winter coming on, it would suffice as a rabbitree. Of course when I went to check on him the next morning he was nowhere to be seen. After checking for gaps in the door which were too small for a wily rabbit to squeeze through, I surveyed the other options. The outhouse was a three seater, two big ones and a small one. I learned the hard way, rabbits can jump. Retrieving a flashlight from the junk drawer in the kitchen, I headed back to the scene of the disappearing rabbit. Peering down the hole, I saw a pair of eyes reflecting off the dim light. The rest of the brown rabbit blended in. To make a long story short, it is true rabbits don’t lasso well and they don’t climb up
board ladders on command. Suspending head first down an outhouse hole to catch a rabbit is not a memory needing a lengthy description.

Things went better in the following days. My sister Rosanne got a white
rabbit named Ice Cream. Soon we were in the rabbit business, learning about multiplication every month or so.

Mr. Ed’s Farm is a magnet for soon to be homeless animals. Perhaps because of my early farm experiences, bunnies have a soft spot in my heart. There are six adult rabbits currently in residence. Each has its personal story that helped it find a home here. I have a pretty simple management plan based on the multiplication lesson learned years ago, first keep the boys and girls apart! Second, check out the relevant rabbit parts to make sure the donors claims of buck or doe are accurate if you plan on their sharing cages.

The last pair of rabbits to gain residence are named Peanut and Emerald. Two beautiful, gentle does who have always been together. Not wanting to break up the roommates, I assigned them to shared quarters. About two weeks ago I noticed an excess amount of fur in the corner. I wasn’t particularly concerned because sometimes does will go through the motions of making a nest. Later the next day I noticed the fur was moving. Upon closer inspection I could see there were a number of tiny pink things wiggling around. After inspecting the pair, it was obvious Peanut was the new mother. Emerald was quickly removed for the safety of the babies.
Two days ago, seven furry cute and cuddly bunnies emerged from the hutch.
The rabbit inventory instantly went from six to thirteen. That I think is an over one hundred percent increase. Now if all five does had seven babies, I’d have thirty five babies plus six adults making the total somewhere around 41. If half the babies are does that would be 17 new does plus the original 5 that would be 22. If they each had 7 babies I’d be somewhere around 154. Anyway this form of a nature math lesson gives me a splitting headache plus keeps me awake at night.

So if you are a caring parent or grandparent that is concerned about getting a child interested in nature and math, call me to reserve a sweet little bunny or two. They should be ready to go in a couple of weeks. If I don’t hear from you soon, I’ll need to brush up on my cage building skills. Since I’m not great at checking out rabbit parts, I’ll have to have individual cages for each one. Without doing the numbers, that’s a lot of chicken wire and scrap lumber!

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One of seven little Peanuts

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Peanut with a big mouthful of hay for her nest