Arrival at the Keener's


We got in to Keener Farms super late, and found Matthew and Peter up playing cards, feeding the pot belly stove with wood, and drinking Miller Lite. It's been a year since the last visit to Keener, a place where one always feels welcome, always laughs, and always eats well. 
We drove for an hour before dawn hit, South on small roads to Seaman, Ohio where we met Tyler Palmer and Andy, who helps out on the farm. It was cold enough the tractor wouldn't start, and Tyler and Andy finally got it started after a little while. 
Tyler drove the tractor, and Andy tossed hay, while Andy, a different person that is, filmed and I tried my best to stay out of the shot. The cows warily approached the hay and started eating, with the ground hard and a half-white frost on the grass and hay bales. 
After feeding, the two moved hay in the barn, sunlight streaming through two old windows, the particles floating between the soft rays of light, the cold beauty of the moment, calming. We interviewed Tyler who talked about how he enjoyed working with his Dad, how he grows corn and soy, making sure to buy seed from his wife- who sells seeds. The past two years have been record highs for grain prices, and as a result Tyler's investment and work have paid off. 
We said goodbyes and thankyous, and hope to return soon. 
Got the chance to talk w Laura Hedlund and Karen on Food Freedom Radio halfway back to Dayton before we headed over to the main portion of Keener Farm, where Dave heated up some of Karen's eggplant parmesan. We all talked in the kitchen for awhile, discussing the year that had passed since our last meeting, and Andy talking about his Dayton upbringing. 
After some time, we got to some farm work. It started with spreading woodchips on manure in the barn, then spreading out straw, to make the bedding for the animals more carbonaceous. Which makes it smell better, too. 
From there we headed out into the woods, where 400 two-gallon buckets were sitting at the base of maple trees. In the late winter, early spring, there are certain days when maple trees produce lots of sap. Basically, if at night the temperature drops below freezing, and then the following day the temperature rises up in the 40s or 50s, the tree will shoot massive amounts of water from the roots up to the leaves. If you put a tap in the tree, connected to a hose, then you can gather the sap in buckets. By the way, this does not hurt the tree, as long as it is an old enough tree, and it is tapped in different places each season. 


From there, the sap is loaded into a big container and heated up until it reduces down to syrup. Amazingly simple, amazingly healthy, sweet and good. Gathering the sap in a warm late winter day was truly magical. The trees are bare, and the sun out, the promise of spring a few short moments away. George, of Patchwork Farms, a generous soul with an loud infectious laugh joined Peter, Andy, myself and Dave (Matthew's Dad), and we walked the woods, unloading the 2 gallon buckets into 5 gallon buckets and then dumping the 5 gallon buckets into a massive 325 gallon tank that was hitched to a 1948 Ford tractor. The work involved removing the lid from the small buckets attached to the tree, loading from the small bucket into the large bucket, and placing the lid back on the small bucket, then doing that until both 5 gallon buckets were full, and then carrying that back to the main tractor. There was a lot of mud, in the thawing Ohio ground, which meant boots were heavy and pant-bottoms soiled. 
We filled the 325 gallon container when the sun started getting low, and Andy took off to join his parents for dinner, and George headed back to Patchwork. 
Dave, Karen, Peter, Matthew and I had a dinner of burgers- beef from the farm- and broccoli. It was beyond good. We met up w Matt's friend Brittney, who had purchased him tickets to the rodeo. Matt had bought Peter and I tickets. It was my first rodeo, which is not how the expression goes, although it literally was. 
4,000 people in an arena, on a Saturday night looking to have a good time. Various events include folks trying to stay on horses and bulls, as these animals try to buck the people off. It's a sport in which almost all the participants get severely injured at some time, with Brittney saying she was at a recent rodeo where a fellow died after a bull stepped on his head. In person, it's hard to imagine getting to a point where one would voluntarily mount a live bull, an animal angry, that has its genitals tied up so as to stoke it's anger. Many of the riders are either drunk, young or otherwise, and that's about the only way it makes sense a person could willingly self-inflict such a fate. With that said, there's a lot of tradition, a lot of knowledge and a lot of pride in this sport, and an overarching respect for the animals and riders alike. A "funny man" dressed in a clown outfit makes jokes throughout, staged bits with animals, and a "straight man" announcer is the yin to his yang. 
All in all it was a good time, and a very long day. Back home, sleep came easy, long and deep. 
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