Field Notes

 

Owens Farm poster

 

Owens Farm Visit

My trip to Owens farm last week was a very pleasant experience. Living in Lewisburg over the past four years I had always seen the region as agricultural. Yet, I did not see much of the land used for livestock but instead primarily for crops. With that said, this trip helped to introduce some the popular livestock in the area.

When we first arrived I found it quite amusing that the layout was set up as one would image a farm, with a small white house 20 yards away from a the typical red barn with the livestock nearby and acres of land fading off into the distant. We were met by Caroline Owens our tour guide and part owner of the farm. She began by taking us to the red barn which she described as the storage room, explaining this is where the hay (feed) was stored and explained that the origins of the farm.

However, once we left the barn we began to truly explore the ranch and learn the ins and outs of the business. The first group of animals she introduced was the sheep which were separated into two different groups based on breeds. The first was cupulas (unsure about spelling) the breed used for producing wool and meat while the Katab (unsure about spelling) were used just for their meat. I found this interesting because it shows how society’s dependency on sheep wool has faded. She claimed that people used to avoid sheep that couldn’t provide them wool because they felt they weren’t getting the most for their money, however in today’s society we don’t have this strong dependency on wool and therefore can afford to raise sheep without wool.  Another method I found interesting was the swapping of animals amongst other local farmers in order to bring in more males of the specific species to produce more animals. Although it wasn’t mentioned I saw this as a form of community building, farmers using this method showed the dependency they have on each other in the region. On top of that she mentioned a sheep camp program that occurred I the summer where children would aid in the farming process which also highlighted community.

This routine was done with the sheep but also the pigs which were our next destination. She explained that the pigs and sheep were both raised naturally with no chemicals with the sheep eating grass (moving around to conserve the grass) and the pigs eating a blend of feeds because they frequently overgrazed. Caroline states that because of this they are not able to grow these animals to the same size as industrial animals. Yet this method seems to be more beneficial not only for the animals but the consumers as well because they are producing healthier animals that are rarely exposed to many of the diseases industrial animals acquire.

After observing the sheep and pigs we looked at the horses and were met by David Owens, second owner and bee keeper of the farm.  This was perhaps the most surprising part of the farm because I tend to separate insects and livestock because bugs aren’t typically seen as a food source. He took us to his honey bees and described the mating process of the queen bee and describing the massive number of bees produced in order to create pollen for the surrounding plant as well as honey to consume. Interestingly enough the industrial aspect appeared again as David spoke about how industrial beekeepers used artificial sweeteners to keep the bees alive in order to pollinate plants.

This trip allowed me to get a firsthand look at the agricultural process, which is typically looked over because everything has gone industrial. It provides perspective on how local (small) farmers are able to produce organically without depending on chemicals and harmful fertilizers.

Beaver Springs Auction

Friday, January 24 I visited the Beaver Springs auction. Originally I intended on attending the Middleburg Livestock auction, however due to the weather I travelled with Shelby, Stacey, and Travon to the Friday auction. We travelled to this event passing through various small townships along the way, with each town nearly undistinguishable from the other. We passed many agricultural plains and small shops which seemed to be the only place many of these people could make a living, unless they travelled long distances for work.  Although I didn’t know much about the event I was attending I assumed that many of the participants would be blue collar, working class citizens.

When we finally reached Beaver Springs we had a hard time finding the location. We passed the entire building initially, but using our GPS we were able to locate it. We soon realized that out earlier confusion was caused by the size of the Auction House. There was an assumption that this would be a major affair in a large building, or maybe there would be a bigger gathering similar to A country Auction. The Paul V. Leitzel Estate Sale, the film we watched in class. Nevertheless this wasn’t the case, and the confusion continued as we struggled to find the sign that confirmed we were in fact at the correct location. Even with that validation we asked to be guided by a middle aged woman also making her way into the auction.

When we finally entered the building, I was still unsure we had entered the correct building because there were tables set up as if the only purpose of the building was to sell food. However this wasn’t the case, we were quickly directed to the room adjacent and found the items that would be up for auction. This set up was not as organized as the layout found in the film observed in class; items seemed to be scattered across the room with no sense of arrangement (i.e. children toys next to religious objects). Nonetheless those who were looking around seemed navigate comfortably going through the collection with a sense a familiarity. After noticing this I began speaking with the woman who initially directed us. She informed me that many of the people here (many of which I had yet to see) came habitually and knew which items were old and new, however she was unfamiliar with the origins of these objects, guessing that they came from donations or items that were left in the homes of the deceased. She continued by guiding us around the room and helped explained what scrapple was; which she explained as the remnants of a pig that people didn’t use for their meals that were grinded up baked and served in a baking pan. Once we finished surveying the item room we found the auction room where we found the group the women was speaking of, with about 30 people waiting for the auction to start.

On our way to the room we were encountered by the auctioneer who joked around with us, asking if we had any intentions on buying items in a manner that seemed to be used as a greeting. Once we entered the room we found our seats near the back of the room and watched as individuals spoke freely amongst each other as if they were part of an extended family that did this weekly. You could over hear exchange of stories that seemed rather personal to silly stories that held no significance. Once the auction began this familiarity did not fade, as the auctioneer seemed to want us to join as he shared our earlier encounter to the other 30 participants creating a harmonized laughter. With that he began his auction selling simple items like Ziploc bags, scrapple, cooking utensils, jewelry/accessories, and cheese. What really grab my attention were the last two, accessories and cheese. The selling of the accessories really highlighted the working class prediction for me as the jewelry/accessories being sold were of lower quality. These articles were what seemed to be imitation gold pieces and sold for cheap (about $5 apiece) showing what seemed to be the spending power of the group. The cheese however highlighted the community aspect of the event. The auctioneer seemed rather persistent on selling a 14lb block of Swiss cheese. In his pursuit he briefly abandoned his role of auctioneer and began bargaining with various individuals on the price he was willing to sell the item for and eventually was able to get 2 buyers, splitting the cheese into two spate items and managed to earn $60 ($30 from each) when he originally wanted to sell it for $50.

The auctioneer spoke with his audience with an overwhelming sense of comfort as he continuously called on “Big John” to buy items that he struggled to sell due to what seemed like a “big spender” reputation. He made multiple jokes about a man wife leaving him, used nicknames in a way that assumed everyone knew who owned it.

Such familiarity could have been assumed by the clues we found on arrival. In our drive the small towns that I noticed showed that this was a community where everyone was bound to know everyone given the close proximity. Even the building itself was a major clue. It seemed to be hidden with no signals to direct, however this only furthered the idea that those who knew about the event were the only ones expected to be there. This sense of family was quite obvious, in comparison to the suburban-city life I have grown accustomed to. I couldn’t tell you my neighbor’s names let alone their nicknames or make fun of their family. This seemed to display a community that relied heavily on each other as they seemed to try and create a more beneficial system rather than relying on commercial products.

 

1 Response to Field Notes

  1. milofsky says:

    You have a sharp eye and you see a lot but every observation you make is presented as a general comment, from the indistinguishable small towns you passed driving out to the friendly character of the auctioneer. The other thing is that you write in a way that makes you seem very external to the setting and outside whatever is going on. You want to be more connected and find ways to write that helps you increase your sense of empathic understanding of the people and the setting.

    The most important way to do that is to concentrate more on providing detailed descriptions of events, settings, and people. People are most important and you want to work on providing rich, evocative, individualized portraits. So if you look at the comments you make about the woman that helped you, you never tell us what she looked like or give a sense of the emotional tone that comes across when she interacts. Similarly, you mention the warm friendliness that people have towards each other but you never describe the actual people or give a detailed sense of how one of these interactions goes on so that you deduce that a communal relationship exists.

    The other thing missing from your notes are how you personally reacted, or when you give a reaction you convey it as passive voice—as a feeling that happened to you not one you were actively involved in. Your emotions are important to give the sense that you found the scene meaningful. Emotions also are key because the things that provoke responses from you also are places where your expectations or values are challenged. These are the points where you want to stop, think carefully about the moment, tell what you would have expected and how that differed from what you saw. These are the moments and the reflections from which you can build insights and, to use our sociological language, a theoretical interpretation of the scene.

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