What Are Green Apples Good For?
By Marney Blair
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Annie likes an appetizer. I have learned this about her. It is to be expected really. In many cultures, a little bitter or astringent nugget is served before the main course or alongside. Even tea works as an appetizer. These little tasty treats work to awaken the sensory. When the nerves are stimulated, juices in our digestive tract are released and begin a remarkable process of turning something material into something spiritually nutritious.
For Annie, sour apples and oats with molasses gets her going. Strange you may think. But not if you are a cow. The cow can stay within a “digestive mood” over many hours of the day. She is either ripping grass with her tongue or regurgitating and chewing that grass. Over and over, she repeats this process. Therefore, the cow seems to be in an altered state. She is, compared to our experience. The bovine is almost always in the mood for eating. They are digesting the world around them.
The more domesticated the cow, however, the more she is removed from her “cow-ness”. Jersey, Holstein, and Guernsey cows need nudges from their farmers. By its very nature, domestication of an animal makes that animal more dependent on the human. It is the job of the farmer to observe this delicate balance between the cow’s nature and where the nature has been lost due to domestication.
Annie is our beloved Jersey/Scottish Highland cross. Her mama is a lovely, gentle Jersey named Saffie. Her father is Malcom. This dapper guy is our Highland Bull. Annie takes on the characteristics of her mama and papa equally. Her coat is shaggy like her daddy, this makes her set for the winter. Her utter is like her mama, sufficient for 4 gallons of milk a day. She does not have a uniform coat, but instead has a red mottled black coat with long red hairs. I am not sure where her high spirit comes from, maybe that is truly a combo of her parent’s demeanors. Annie loves to eat. Annie does not love the milking routine. She dislikes having her head in a stanchion. It is not natural for a cow and certainly not natural for Miss Annie. Therefore, we would expect that her meditative eating nature has been disrupted by our milking routine. A little appetizer is needed. This gets her eating going and she is nicely distracted while we milk her. Then after the milking she is released to the herd and allowed to find her own rhythm. Various pastures have a smattering of delicious nibbles. Birds Foot Trefoil, Chicory and Sainfoin dot the fields. These bitter tastings help the cows. The bitter bites break up the mundane tastes and help to stimulate digestion.
This simple apple routine is something we have developed over the years. Years of careful observations. Any biodynamic farmer must cultivate a rigorous approach to observing and questioning. We must constantly learn to focus our attention and gather facts. Just like a student of meditation, one is always practicing and learning.
An immense feeling of joy can overcome you when you dedicate yourself to observing and recording what you observe. By moving into the mystery of the wonder before you, all sorts of insights and delights begin to fill your mind and heart. At first it may seem counterintuitive to begin a rigorous task of documentation in order to know Annie more. But this is precisely what is needed. The dedication to inquiry is the first step.
The second step is finding the method of recording that works best for you. It may be taking down numbers. How many minutes did it take for Annie to begin to really eat her alfalfa? Or perhaps you like to draw. Sketch quickly her mouth. How does she eat this dry stuff? Be creative and find a way to dive in with gusto. Find a way to record daily what Annie’s experience is. Without a doubt you will have a deeper and more lovingly real understanding of the cow.
Personally, I love collecting numbers because I adore graphs. So, I go down to our local stationary store that has these wonderful books. The pages are organized in columns. Places to put the day of the week and then the values are neatly organized within a hard binding. I find it just fantastic. Lately, I have been using an entirely different tool, but equally effective. I am training myself to draw and record the world around me in a visual way. Sketch an image and then write the questions down. Follow up the next day with another drawing and more questions that may build on the previous. Each method gets me there, to a deeper focus of my attention, and my understanding of Annie.
After you have a commitment, a method for recording, then one can begin to ask the questions. Try to freely ask questions that are directly tied to your observation. Perhaps a note card nearby that states “Who, What, Where, When, How and Why” would be helpful. Focus the mind on exploring angles of deeper knowing of the cow.
Be ever so careful not to enter the process with a desire to prove an observation or a point of viiew. Instead, begin to cultivate mindfulness, and a stillness in observation. A good exercise is to try and prove yourself wrong. Be ever so humble.
Marney Blair, along with her partner, Lisa Bjorn, created Fulcrum Farm over 15 years ago. Aside from food, the farm also produces Biodynamic compost for sale to local farmers and gardeners. They sell over 300 yards a year. Prior to her work on the farm, Marney managed a large-scale biodynamic composting operation in San Francisco's Presidio. The facility created compost for habitat restoration projects and provided a growing medium for all of the plants in the native plant nursery.