May 21, 2014

Shekinah Farm Homestead

Richard Berry describes Shekinah Farm as an Education Laboratory Household. Two interns were living with Richard and Christie, when I arrived. While I was there, one went out to do the milking. They use the cow's milk to make their own, delicious, immune-boosting kefir. The chickens were producing so many eggs that they had run out of space to store them. The other intern spent some time spinning some wool yarn. The living room of their home housed the tools for carding, combing, and spinning wool. The wool came from their own sheep. They do their own shearing. They also do their own butchering. They butcher their sheep and their chickens, but not the cattle. A nearby butcher handles that. They treat all their animals with herbs. They use a garlic tincture proactively as an immune booster. They make the tincture from garlic that they grow out back. They also sell some of the garlic they grow. It turns out that farming is just a small part of what goes on at Shekinah.

Christie's explanation of their system harkens back to the American frontier and the homesteads that each family maintained. The Berrys use the food and herbs they grow to make medicine. They use their cow's milk to add a creaminess to their hand-crafted soaps. Evidence of re-use, repair and recycle abounds around the homestead. They harvest rainwater for use outside. I found it surprising that all the animals shared the same pasture. Both farms I had just visited - Many Fold Farm and Country Gardens Farm - kept their cattle, chicken, and sheep separated and used intensive rotational grazing. As I slipped out the back door, I was greeted by a turkey, chickens, dogs, and sheep, all grazing together in the barnyard. Christie explained that was how the early pioneers did it.

I could tell that Richard spends a lot of time with the animals. I was trying to capture a nice photo of the sheep, but every time I walked up to them, they turned and walked away from me. I was getting nice shots of sheep butts. Richard let out a deep "Baaa" and they all walked over to him, baa-ing back. I took up the call - "Baaa" - and the sheep answered me in kind, but they kept their distance. Richard holds the title of sheep-master.

There are a couple of things Christie would like to plant, but due to GMO (genetically modified) fields in the vicinity, she has made the decision not to plant. She has some seeds for green and brown cotton, but there are large conventional cotton growers nearby who grow GMO cotton. As a result, she doesn't see herself knitting any home-grown-cotton clothing in the near-term. Neighboring GMO cornfields have stopped Christie from planting any early-season corn that might cross-pollinate. Corn is especially problematic, because it successfully pollinates after traveling for miles.

Christie and Richard Berry love to share their farm with others. They offer school tours and family farm days. They host interns. They hosted me as well, answering all my questions, feeding me, and letting me choose a camping spot to set up my tent. Fearing tics in the tall grass pasture and inquisitive neighbors in the front yard, I chose the barnyard. The Berrys want to move to a larger farm; they have put their homestead up for sale. So, if you're in the market for an organic farm homestead or you're passing through Hazel Green, Alabama, look them up.