Tuesday, May 7, 2013

F-A-R-M! Farm! Farm! Farm!

Growing up on the hard concrete streets of Brooklyn, farm life was as alien to me and my family as winning football is to the New York Jets. (Ooh, ouch. Sorry Jets fans.) I do have some hazy recollections of having visited a farm on some long ago family trips, but I could be confusing that with assorted episodes of “Little House on the Prairie.” Tough to say.

The point is that the Schwartzbergs, as a group, are not a farming people. And while it is true that I moved from New York to Arizona about 18 years ago, this geographic shift did not put me any closer to a farming lifestyle than releasing Tim Tebow puts the Jets to fielding a winning football team. (Ouch again! Why am I doing this? I have no ill will toward the Jets.)

And so it is that living in a suburb of Phoenix, my two young sons have continued the Schwartzberg tradition of non-farm living. Although my sons do have rocking horses, so I suppose they’re slightly closer to farm living than I ever was.

But this past weekend we decided to give the boys just a smidgeon of a taste of farm life. So we piled the family into the minivan and made the arduous 25-minute journey to Superstition Farm in far, far, far (okay, maybe not that far) east Mesa.

Superstition Farm is a dairy farm with over 2,000 head of cattle. They also have a small selection of other farm animals like sheep, goats, turkeys, roosters, bunnies (are they technically farm animals?) and one donkey with an enormously large head. Our boys were eager to pet the bunnies, brush the goats, and throw feed at the sheep.

FYI—the throwing of the feed was not out of malicious intent, but out of squeamishness. The workers instructed us to hold the feed and have the animals eat right out of our hands. My wife and I did this and quickly had a handful of saliva courtesy of the gigantic tongues and lips slobbering all over us to get at the food. Our sons, with their distinctly non-farm blood, would have no part of this activity. Try as we might to convince them to let the animals eat out of their hands, they would not go near those enormous ungulate mouths. (And really, who could blame them?) So instead, they stood back about ten inches and pelted them with feed.

In addition to getting to interact with some of the animals, we got to hear all about life on the dairy farm from Farmer Larry. For me, this was the highlight, because Farmer Larry was a really nice guy who peppered us with a plethora of interesting facts about cows. For example, did you know that dairy cows eat 50 to 70 pounds of food per day? Or that milk from a Jersey cow is creamier than milk from a Holstein cow? Or that all cows are made to swallow magnets?

Ah-ha! I bet it’s that last fact that made you raise an eyebrow. When Farmer Larry told us this it made me raise an eyebrow too. It also made my jaw go a bit slack. Although what made my jaw go even slacker was the exchange that immediately followed.

Farmer Larry: Does anyone know why we make the cows swallow magnets? (My six-year-old son then raised his hand making me arch my eyebrow slightly higher.) Yes, you?

Son: In case there are any nails or metal on the ground.

Farmer Larry: (Seeming slightly surprised.) Yes, that’s exactly right. With all the hay that they eat sometimes nails and other metal can accidentally get mixed in and the magnet catches these things so they don’t rip holes in the cow’s stomach and cause infection.

Hours later when we were back home and I was able to successfully unslacken my jaw, I asked my son (he of the non-farm blood) how he possibly knew the answer to Farmer Larry’s question. “I don’t know. I just knew,” he said, matter-of-factly.

Hmmm…if a son of mine can conjure up arcane farm knowledge out of nowhere maybe there is hope for the Jets after all.

                                          My boys brushing a goat...cautiously.