I Will Not Slop Hogs EVER!

IMG_6267I 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:IMG_6263Famous 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.


IMG_6266My father-in-law checking out the latest squash harvest for market.

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.

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