The dirt and rocks crunch under our tires as we turn from the rural road onto the driveway that leads us to the barns at Carterly Dairy Farm. We cross over the cattle grid and to our left we see a small herd of cows grazing in the grass. My husband Jacob parks the car and the girls climb out, stomping in the puddles left behind from the rain. They make slobbery introductions with the farm dogs and then meet the MacKinnon children who just happen to be very close in age to Lulu and Scout. I love that my children see that families live on the farm. I love that my children see FARMS! Not only do they learn where their food comes from, but they get to meet the families that help feed our family, and that is magical.
Kelly McKinnon and her husband Caleb greet us. Kelly and her mother Margaret Carter take us to see the baby calves — they’ve heard the calves are Lulu’s favorite. Kelly’s father Charles heads towards the barn to feed the cows.
Charles Carter’s parents bought Carterly Farm when he was three. Now that his own grandchildren are three, there have been many generations of cows on the farm, and a lot of the calves that our family met come from the lineage of a cow named Valerie. How do they know? The Carters name each of their calves and they name them with a name that begins with the first letter of their mother’s name. “There’s Veloma, Veradi, Vanelli, Vichelle, Venture, Valinda, Velocity…” Margaret lovingly rattles off the names of “V-calves” as we watch the kids stick their hands in the pens to be licked by the long tongues of the calves.
It was appropriate that the majority of my time on Carterly Farms was spent with the two mothers because really a dairy farm is all about mothers. While fathers have their place on the dairy farm, the mother’s job is to provide nourishment for all of us. That’s a job that the Carter family takes very seriously. Not only do they strive to provide the best possible milk product for all of us, but they strive to serve and nurture children in the community.
This month, Carter farms hosted an open house for their community, inviting people to come on out to the farm and enjoy themselves. For many years the Carters have inspired many children through another outreach that is sort of like a fantasy football league meets dairy farm — Every spring, many city and suburban kids who want to participate in the livestock project in 4-H, are invited to “draft pick” and lease an animal from Carterly farms for the state fair. Children, preteens and teens come to the farm, select their choice animal and then spend the spring and summer caring for their cow or calf, training it to show well, cleaning it and learning how to take care of it. Ultimately, they show the cow at the state fair and can win ribbons! This is a great way to get kids on a farm and involved in a 4-H project that they generally might not be able to because of their family’s lack of space for livestock at their home.
We step into the milking parlor and watch as the milking process begins for the second time that day. It’s Kelly’s turn to milk but her dad Charles has stepped in to take over her chores as we wrap up our chat — it has to be done twice a day, rain or shine, no ifs, ands or buts. The cows like routine and are impatiently waiting their turn outside of the parlor, eager to do their job and get on with their day. Some will return to the barn, others will graze in the fields, but each will contribute to the giant cooled tank that waits for Monday morning pick up to be taken to the Prairie Farms milk processing plant. From there it will reach the grocery store for you and I to drink, cook and bake with.
As we leave the drive and head for the highway, our hands gripping bottles of yummy chocolate milk, Lulu points out the cow on the label, “This cow is a chocolate milk cow mommy!”
Snorting a quick burst of air out of my nose and smirking, I shake my head and quietly say to my husband, “There’s always next time.”