We have it pretty good here on the farm, the pigs and I, but we owe a lot to one person in particular: my Pig Mentor. For privacy's sake, I'll just refer to her as PM.
PM grew up on a farm, and she also is sharp as a whip - knows how to figure things out, pushes a pencil to numbers to figure if things are cost effective, knows her stock, constantly, is always learning a lot more to add to all the mystical talents and skills that make a good farmer. She's one of the comprehensively smartest people that I know.
PM and I attended OSU's College of Agriculture at roughly the same time, but we didn't meet till years later, when we sat across the table from each other at a Living Kitchen Farm and Dairy farm table dinner one night; it was the pig roast, of course. We hit it off, and she heard my yearning for having a little pig farm of my own. She invited us out to her place and started showing me practical skills - how to run current for electrical fencing over a large area and how to move it to rotate the stock. How to grow a diversified pasture, what to look for as the animals graze it, how to move the animals before the grazing area is damaged but the animals have utilized it well. We discussed lots of things. We planned. She let me farm sit a few times and get dirty. She gave me encouragement, and also realistic advice.
"Farming is an inherently dangerous profession."
"Sometimes farming is the hardest thing you'll ever have to do, and you'll doubt yourself, because all you have is a Sophie's Choice, and you pray you'll make the best decision and you live with the results."
"Farming can be the most rewarding occupation."
As usual, she has been right.
We moved to our little farm in the Missouri Ozarks, and she continued to be my friend, confidant, and wise advisor. We got the little black pigs, and, armed with her advice and planning, put them into the pastures that she helped me lay out. Thanks to PM, we had our infrastructure in place and ready to go when the pigs got here so that all of us hit the ground running and squealing. The tired, old pasture was already seeded with good things like clover, buckwheat, oats, and the piglets added the fertilizer. They grew well. PM suggested that I go ahead and try to get my own sows, then she sold me a couple of proven Berkshire sows and even brought them over from Oklahoma.
PM has always been there to advise me when things aren't going smoothly, such as the night Pistachio went down and sounded like she was in early labor. She commiserated with me when we lost some pregnancies and gave me guidance on what to do next. She celebrated with us when we successfully raised our first bunch of feeders and they turned out healthy and tasty. She has shooed some business this way. She has answered my calls when I really needed it, even when she has been out to dinner or at the movies.
Best of all, PM has given me confidence - in the way we choose to farm, in how we take care of the land that feeds our pigs, in how we raise and care for the land and our stock.. Confidence when I have to make that Sophie's Choice decision, and consolation in having to do it. Confidence in keeping at it, so that it wasn't so hard to buy and raise piglets when my sow didn't have any, and watching those pigs thrive, too.
But the most amazing thing about PM? I'm not her only woman farmer that she mentors. There are others that she shares her knowledge, experience and fine stock with. She generously shares so much with us so that we can grow and learn and become mighty fine stock persons, too, and she does this without expecting much in return. Just the satisfaction of seeing her gift of time and experience going out to help others. Not many new farmers are lucky to have any kind of mentor, never mind one like PM. That's why I will repay her by keeping a keen eye out for someone who needs a PM when they are starting out, and giving her words of support and wisdom as she travels this dicey and rewarding road of being a small farmer. Because at the end of the day, my best tribute to PM isn't a blog post. It's paying the gift back to others that follow. PM, thank you so much. We love you, gal.
Merry Schepers lives on a farm with her heritage pigs in Nixa, MO.