Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Brunch at the Jackson Family Farm

Sitting beneath a white canopy with daisies on the tables at Jackson Family Farm, one of the few dairies left in Meridian, I could see why they were still here.

It’s all about rolling with it.

When Cindy Miller from the United Dairymen of Idaho viewed the charming place, she thought it the perfect setting for brunch, and the Jacksons were okay with that. They were already offering tours.

“We visited just a couple of months ago,” Cindy told the brunchers, “and this yard was filled with lilacs. It was incredible.”

There’s something very honest about dining in the back yard of a home that’s hosted more family parties than even the family could tally. Though times have changed, the Jacksons continue to have a Fourth of July celebrations on the shady stretch of grass behind the original home, where grandparents Stanley and Hazel built a life.

“If my dad could see us all right now,” said Brent Jackson, son of Stanley, “He’d probably say, ‘Why are you all just sitting around? There’s work to be done’.”

We laughed, knowing the type.

“But my mother, Hazel,” Brent said with a kind of tenderness,“she’d just love this. She held a lot of family gatherings right here on this same spot, and she would think it was great.”

 Brent also informed us that his mornings started hours before most of ours did. 

“Cows need to be milked, and they calve whenever they calve,” he grinned, as those in attendance with agricultural backgrounds nodded. 

There was something so soothing about sitting amongst people who had their favorite types of cows, (the sociable Jersey wins by popular vote), who talk about which high school FFA program was the one to watch and whose dairies were doing innovative things to keep going, all while sipping chocolate milk and enjoying a farm fresh egg, tart and fruity yogurt, and savoring cheddar-y hash browned potatoes.

Gentle breezes, country music, and contented conversation blended into the farm-fresh air, and for the first time since my big home move, I felt relaxed and happy.

“I’m just so glad I got to go to the Iditarod,” Idaho Magazine publisher Kitty Fleischman was telling me, “When I had that blasted heart attack last year, that’s what came to me. That more than anything, I told God I wanted to see the Iditarod one more time.”

She relayed how a friend with thousands of frequent flyer miles saved up offered Kitty and her husband tickets to Alaska, asking her what season she’d like to visit.
Typical of Kitty, she replied, “Are you, kiddin’ me? In the summer you can’t see the Northern Lights, it’s light all the time, and there’s no Iditarod. Give me winter!”

But Kitty was going to be in Fairbanks, and the Iditarod started in Anchorage. Except for this year, there was no snow in Anchorage, and you can’t have an Iditarod on no snow. Since there was snow in Fairbanks, that’s where the Iditarod began. And Kitty’s prayer to see the Iditarod again was answered.

“The Iditarod came to me,” she said, her eyes misting a little. 

That sort of real-ness, in the setting of decades of good, hard work reminded me that life in all its forms was really pretty magnificent. That the several people around our table were making a difference to all of us, directly or indirectly. Two were agriculture instructors who taught around 400 kids about all things crops, some were with the state agricultural department, and some, like Kitty and I, told their stories.

Sometimes it’s tough to convey through words the glow on farm wife Laura Jackson’s face when talking about giving up California for deep Idaho family ties and a simpler lifestyle, or the gleeful expression of  ten-year-old Dylan Jackson demonstrating how to roll down the ditch in his tractor-like go kart. The fragrance and scratchy feel of hay just on the other side of your jeans as you sit with thirteen others on bales atop a trailer being pulled by a John Deere tractor. The mirthful expression of Brent Jackson’s son, Clint, who’s found his second calling as tour guide and stand-up comedian.

“Hi, Amy!” another friendly United Dairymen of Idaho employee called out from atop a hay bale. They’d been greeting me since my first steps into the place. This lady couldn’t move her head, because another United Dairymen employee was French braiding her locks.

“Getting your hair done, I see,” I smiled back at her.

“Hi, Amy,” said another employee, “I’m Danni.”

I thought Danni said she was helping with the TasteIdaho agri-tour event in October.

“You’ll have to watch that one on the agri-tour,” I fake-whispered, pointing over at Kitty, who was sitting innocently on a bale at the back of the trailer, “She’s trouble.”

During the hayride, we learned about the sustainability going on. Tree and landscaping branches that would typically be taken to the dump are put through shredders to create good mulch for the ground cows stood on, wicking moisture away and providing softer standing areas.  When asked about the feline population, Clint quipped, “That’s yet to be determined,” then added, “On this farm we have a catch and release policy when it comes to the cats. You catch ‘em, and are not allowed to release them until you get back to your place.”

A perfectly timed comment, as we were pulled past open stalls typically used as a maternity ward. A tiny brown-and-white-spotted calf had made its dairy farm debut that day. In the adjoining stall reclined an entitled-looking black and white cat, causing predictions that she, too, might be anticipating her own Labor Day.

The new calf was adorable, everyone agreed.

“Did you see that placenta lying over in the corner?” a visitor asked.

“T.M.I.,” I said in a juvenile way, but didn’t care, “That’s way too much farm for me.”

Departure from the hayride led to the feeding table containing Dixie cups pre-measured by Dylan (the same one that showed me how to ride the tractor/ go kart deal down the ditch) with feed for the hungry goats and llama. 

“This one’s greedy,” commented visitor Nancy Buffington, as a goat crowded in on his pen mate, aggressively going after palm after palm of morsels.

We got to pet the young calves, too, and one took a liking to me. Knowing there was hand sanitizer nearby, I relished the cuteness of the calf licking my hands and jeans. Both were washable.

It wasn’t until my new friend Nancy was taking a picture for me that the calf decided to kick things up a notch by biting my leg through the material. 

“Not okay!” I told it, and it went back to licking mode.

“I was licked by a cow today,” I thought to myself, “I wonder how many people could say that during a regular workday.”

I had also fed a llama.

“Hi, Amy,” Tony Harrison said, extending his hand, “I’m the one who’s emailed you about the TasteIdaho agri-tour reservations.”

As we chatted about random things, I happened to mention where our former acreage was. Tony lived on that same road. 

“Wait a minute,” I said, getting ready to throw out one very long shot, “Is your daughter named…”

His daughter and my daughter had sat by each other on the bus for years.

“Our daughters used to play together!” I laughed, “I’ve been to your house before, and I’ve even met you and your wife before.”

Brunch, new friends, animals to pet, and neighbors-past.

To top it all off, the United Dairymen of Idaho sent us all home with swag bags.
It was a beautiful day on the farm.

*For more on the Jackson Family Farm, see this great Meridian Press article.