It was animal day here at Shalom Hill, meaning that we were up earrrrrrrrrrrly to visit a dairy farm! Every one of these city kids had a chance to milk a cow, and we all got to hear about a small family dairy operation. We're thinking of a great game of trivia for all the adults when we return. This particular farm has just 30-35 milkers at a time, and all the milk goes eventually into cheese. (I'm getting hungry just thinking of it, since I'm writing this just before dinner).
We had breakfast after that excursion, then headed out again for a busy morning of 3 stops: 1) a soybean biodiesel plant, the only one in the state currently in operation; 2) another small family farm, this one raising mostly hogs, and 3) a strawberry pick-your-own farm! It was a lot to squeeze in, but each stop provided plenty of learning.
We're learning a lot about the economics of this area. The hog farmer described how, in the wake of the swine flu, prices dropped so much that he was taking a $20 loss on every hog he raised. Given that his normal profit margins are less than 5%, he doesn't have a lot of time for the mindset of large corporations that expect double digit profits. The strawberry patch we visited seemed quite large, but in fact it is only 2% of the farm's total business. They make most of their money with a nursery raising trees for the kinds of soil and water conservation projects we learned about yesterday.
The group especially enjoyed the strawberry picking, and we returned to Shalom Hill with buckets of berries that we later cleaned and prepared for freezing (and eating -- tonight). After lunch we worked on a variety of projects around the farm, including more weeding, varnishing some of the outdoor furniture on-site, and picking mulberries. The group has been very hardworking, and in the company of so many industrious people, it feels good to play some small part in the operation of this place.
After a very busy morning and afternoon everyone is enjoying the downtime before dinner now. The group is enjoying well-earned showers, board games, and playing with the farm cats. Every group on these mission trips seems to have its own character - if I had to name that spirit for this group, I would say it is laughter. Even more than some other years, these nine youth seem to enjoy one another's company and make the most of their time together. The laughing is a lovely sound to hear.
The wind is picking up outside -- we're planning a bonfire and s'mores for the evening -- we hope the weather will cooperate. In any case, there's not a cloud in the sky, so the stars will be spectacular.