Storybook summer

Happy June Dairy Month.
It should surprise none of you who have read this rambling column before that I have a slight obsession with books. It has been deemed a healthy one. I could have a gambling or a drinking problem; instead, I just hoard books, read books, share books and talk books. Some days (OK, most days), I also think in books. At the moment, this has taken my brain in a few different directions.
Every time I have the good fortune of catching one of our bunnies and snuggling it, I hear the words, “bunnies say nothing at all.” This comes from one of 3-year-old Cora’s favorite books – Patricia Polacco’s “Mommies Say Shhh.”
When I wander from critter to critter in the early morning hours and hear the rooster crow above the din of the other animals, I become a young Fern in “Charlotte’s Web.” The newfound joy I have in brushing and helping walk the pigs for the fair has made me feel all that much more like Fern with her precious Wilbur.
As I look out across the yard and spy the catalpa tree just beginning to think about displaying its pungent flowers, I hear Anne Shirley from “Anne of Green Gables.” Anne greets the trees, the water, the woods, all by the eloquent names she has given them as if they are all old friends.
As we work to finally plant our garden in the very dry ground and I contemplate different ways to help things grow, I find myself in the pages of “Farmer Boy” by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Almanzo grows the prize-winning pumpkin by feeding his pumpkin buttermilk. This may be the year I try that.
All because of a conversation with Jaime about some random ideas I had years ago regarding books and growing things, our gardens have turned the pages to a new planting theme this year.
The kids and I listed some of our favorite books that had vegetables in them and a wild plan began to take shape. The final product looks incredible in my head. Now to make the real-life version follow suit. We have a picket fence with cabbages and carrots and a few well-placed rabbits to show our living story of “Peter Rabbit” by Beatrix Potter.
A bedspring is awaiting peas to climb up it that Cora weaved strips of fabric through to symbolize the many mattresses in Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Princess and the Pea.” We are attempting to plant the three sisters of pumpkins, beans and corn this year for Tasha Tudor’s “Pumpkin Moonshine.” Cora’s flowerbed is blazing with colors to illustrate Lois Ehlert’s “Waiting for Wings.” There are a few more books making their garden debut, but I will save the list for a later column if this all works out.
There are many storybooks written about farmers, farm animals, how farms look and so on. No two are the same, and one of our many blessings in spending our lives as farmers is that we get to write our own story about our own farms. Every farm is a different book, and each day is a new page. We can choose to share our story with many or choose to lock it tight like a lovestruck teenager’s diary – lest someone see what happens. There will be characters that appear but once in your story, but their experience with you will change their story in ways you may never get to know.
The last month of school was a flurry of field trips for most children, and our farm welcomed all of our local fourth graders as well as a small high school study hall. Students were well-behaved, asked great questions, were observant and appeared to thoroughly enjoy the experience. One fourth grader went home and reported the entire trip to her parents, thrilling her farm-raised father. Her mom contacted me and asked if the child could come out another time to farm some more. We made it happen last week. She was elated and went home requesting a pair of bib overalls and some barn boots.
Ordinarily, we remember to compost that unlikely dead calf that just happens to be lying outside the barn before a field trip. The day the fourth grade came out, we had forgotten. I answered the questions head on – it’s part of real life; isn’t it? The kids handled the answers fine; no one got squeamish or dramatic about it. I chose to tell the real story. When I have kids one-on-one in the barn with me, I always explain the truth about what is happening with a cow. Gumball, one of my all-time favorite cows, freshened two weeks ago and within two hours had cast her withers and died before I had gotten to the barn. That was the image four kids and I discovered when we walked up to the barn. Only one of those children was mine, and man, was that an educational evening.
I’ve made a couple quick trips to town lately and decided that I was much too sweaty to attempt to peel off one outfit in order to tug on another. So, the general public got a glimpse of the real me in my daily business attire: boots, oversized overalls, probably a few unknown spots of manure freckling my arms. That is the person I am, most of the time. My pockets sag with the weight of all my necessary items. I probably have manure on my pant legs and have no idea. I was real on those trips to town.
So, when you hear about how you should be telling your story to the public, especially during this month of all things dairy, choose to be open and honest about it. It will shock some, it will amaze others, it will grow curiosity, and it will hopefully create more appreciation for what and why we do what we do. You will have new characters that add to your stories, and your words will show up on the pages of theirs.  
    Jacqui and her family milk 800 cows and farm 1,200 acres of crops in the northeastern corner of Vernon County, Wisconsin. Her children, Ira, Dane, Henry and Cora, help her on the farm while her husband, Keith, works on a grain farm. If she’s not in the barn, she’s probably in the kitchen, trailing after little ones or sharing her passion of reading with someone. Her life is best described as organized chaos, and if it wasn’t, she’d be bored.


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