I was born in the back of a pharmacy. Well, not quite, but close. My parent’s opened their store in a small California town just a few weeks before I was born. My playpen sat a stones throw from medicine bottles and I learned to count on a pill tray. I played “store”, not house, and as soon as I was able to see over the counter, I started waiting on customers. By the time I reached high school, I was dressing in clothes more suited to a law office than the classroom, and it seemed natural to think I might become a pharmacist and take over my dad’s store.
That was before I discovered how much I enjoyed growing things, and that you could actually get a degree in something called horticulture. My dad continued to give me his old pharmacy textbooks to read, still hoping I would become interested. The only one that held my attention was the Pharmacognosy text – the study of how medicine is derived from natural sources – usually plants. I couldn’t get enough of that book!
During my senior year of high school I was making plans to go to school in Iowa, and my dad started teasing me mercilessly that I would end up marrying some Iowa farm boy. Uhhhh, NO! That was not going to happen. “You’ll end up slopping hogs!”, he laughed. To finally get him to pipe down, I ripped a sheet off of the nearest prescription pad and penned the following:Famous last words.
That was March 25, 1993, and exactly two years later, I was engaged to an Iowa hog farmer’s son. I had long forgotten about this little slip of paper, but apparently my dad had folded that evidence in half and tucked it into his wallet. It re-appeared at our wedding – laminated and presented with great flourish.
Having ended up in the Horticulture Department of Iowa State, the idea of being married to a farmer was not all that disturbing. Yet, once I landed on an actual farm, the learning curve was very steep. I couldn’t pick a combine out of a lineup of tractors, I didn’t really understand the cycles of farming, and I certainly had never lived in the middle of no-where – miles from anything.
The first summer after I got married was spent back on the family farm, building a greenhouse by my sister-in-law’s home, planting vegetables to can and sell at farmer’s markets, and generally learning what cattle, corn, pigs, and beans were all about.
Eventually, I even slopped a hog or two.
A few years later, I’d sunk about as far into farm life as a girl can go. We’d since bought an old house and moved to the area where the rest of the family was farming. My father-in-law (cattle, hogs, hay, corn, and beans) opened a boar stud in his spare time, and I became the lab rat. Now if you don’t know anything about a boar barn, I’ll give you a brief run-down. Farmer Gene (pictured above) kept his boars in a heated and cooled barn. These are high priced animals and they are PAMPERED. Twice a week he would receive orders from other farmers. He’d then go into the barn, completely sanitized, and collect semen. There was a little window that opened up and the boar’s deposit was placed on a shelf. This was where my job started. I had to inspect the shockingly large jug of ‘juice’ to make sure there were plenty of swimmers, extend it with a sugar solution, and bottle it up for distribution.
I do believe this is one step lower than slopping hogs.
I quickly grew to love farm life, the connection to the land, and the closeness with multiple family members all involved in one aspect or another of farming. I learned to enjoy the achy muscles after a day of hard work, knowing that I spent my time doing something I’d come to love.