Scott’s oldest daughter Tashina sent me a message on Friday saying that she was going to be up visiting her family for the weekend and asked if we’d be able to make it out for a visit. So on Saturday, Leah, Kansas and I headed out to Hillsboro for quite the memorable day.
When we arrived, most of the boys were out in the barn, Bilando came in, sat down and said that Andaya had volunteered to go “get” the cows for the afternoon milking. We sat in the kitchen and chatted while Irasa was hard at work organizing this week’s orders, only stopping briefly to laugh or joke at our conversations with Tashina and Bilando- she wasn’t going to be distracted from her task, those orders are important!
Leah jumped up when she saw a tiny speck of a cow out of the kitchen window, way down in the valley of the vast property… one by one they all came in a line on their way up to the barn for the day’s milking, we even saw frolicking’s calves excited to be on the move with the rest of the herd! We would find out for ourselves in a little bit just what a long trek it is up that hill, covered in snow, to the barn!
We asked if we could help with the milking, which I corrected by saying, “can we get in the way under the guise of helping…?” One thing you need to understand about the Richardson family is they LOVE to laugh, poke fun and play jokes. It was either Martes or Pasiando (15 and 13) who had just woken Tashina up from a nap with a licked finger across the face… Oh the joys of having little brothers!
Out in the bottling room, in front of their ice house, there were stacks and stacks of crates of jars. The coolers the milk travels to and fro in from each drop around the Cincinnati area had been emptied by the boys, and although Irasa had told them to keep Tuesday and Thursday’s orders separate in their stacks… of course, they weren’t. We stood there, helpless and she sped through four towers of milk crates, moving jars, knowing by name, which went here and there and in short order made organization out of complete chaos, clearing room in the center of the bottling room for the milk that was to come.
A young local girl named Mary Alice came in to help Irasa get everything cleaned up and ready to go, while I was sent back to the house to get the straining filters for the 30-40 gallon strainer. I happily hurried into the house and burst out, “Irasa needs the straining filters” before realizing Miriam was bandaging up Santiago (the oldest brother at home, 23). He had a deep cut on his pinky finger from shoving trash in the trash can, *note to self, look to see what in the trash before pushing on the pile you’ve just added, yikes!*. But the show must go on and work on a farm waits for no man, so out he went again!
I had high hopes of helping with the actual milking, but it was pretty clear we’d be more of a hindrance out with the cows than a help, so we helped with the bottling. Scott had built a detachable shoot off arm, to drain the milk directly into the bottles, making quick work of what would otherwise take a long time pouring into jars after the fact with a funnel. It also keeps the milk contained straight from the cow, milking bucket, through the strainer, into the bottles, ready to go! Leah sat on a crate and manned the shut off, while I helped move the jars out of the way, she only overfilled one… 😉
Pasiando and Tashina had a milking contest to see if Tashina still had her skills, Pasiando claims to have won, but Tashina wasn’t far behind and she told me she got a full three gallons from her cow. Local community neighbors have made a schedule to help daily at milking time, so there were some extra hands about to help them get through the milking of 15 cows. The stainless steel milking buckets just kept coming and then they would hurry back out to go and milk another. It was quite the production train, quick, organized chaos. And even the barn kittens got a heaping bowl of milk; I’m sure it’s their favorite part of the day.
After the milking was completed, we asked Pasiando if we could walk with him down to take the cows back to pasture. “It’s just a walk” he said, “Yeah, I know, but we wanna tag along!” We were at the end of the line, at least 30 cows and calves were ahead of us, many of them already gathered around the gravity fed concrete watering trough; Pasiando said it’s their last chance to get easy water. They have a creek they can go to to get water, but this hole was much easier he said, and they liked it best. We waited at the hole for the cows to each get their fill, so went on ahead a bit, but stood waiting for the rest of the herd to come. One cow seemed to look right at us and let out a huge bellow, Leah assured her we were friends, no foes, but then a couple of others started carrying on as equally upset. “Man, are we letting off bad vibes or something?” I wondered. It was Pasiando who solved it though, all the way up at the top of the hill were three calves just romping and playing, knowing they were supposed to be with the rest of the herd, just not quite finished with their freedom of being with out mom. Pasiando started to head up there to go get them, but as if on cue, one of the mom’s stepped forward and let out another bellow calling up to those three rebels as if to say, “don’t make me come up there!” The other two mom’s echoed the sentiment, “that’s right, don’t you make us!” Pasiando allowed two of the mom’s to go get the calves, they didn’t have to go quite ALL the way up there, about 15 feet away, they must have little gotten close enough to give the classic “mom” look, with eternal patience, she waited until they gave up and decided to come down, but of course still jumping and playing along the way. When the third calf made it down to it’s mother, they nuzzled as if to give a hug of excitement of being back where he or she belonged.
Am I humanizing the cows too much? Perhaps, but when you are around these massive herd creatures, with all of them standing and watching the entire even and waiting to resume their walk, it gives you this sense of sentience a bit beyond what we would normally give a cow.
We continued our walk down behind the cows, taking our cues from Pasiando on how to be effective herding dogs and gently keep them moving down the snow covered hill. The last cow in line was also the fattest. We asked if she was pregnant, because she swayed from side to side with her giant abdomen shifting with each step… Pasiando said she wasn’t… I still made a bet with him that if she popped the next day he’d have to write me personally and let me know.
I was amazed as we approached the deep creek, the water was only trickling, but it was rather a steep climb and stunning to watch all of these cows, 1000’s of pounds, manage the severe up and down climb with ease. Finally we made it to the back pasture, deep by the woods, and there was a freshly broken up round bale of hay in the ring for them to feed on. We were told it would last a few days. I was confused though… Earlier, from the window of the bottling room, I had seen Andaya back a bale mover up to a round bale of way, with a team of horses and looking at the ski tracks on the ground, he took that team of horses, plus the bale mover up and down that creek embankment! Unbelievable! What’s more, it was on a sleigh, not wheels. Our minds were blown.
The cows took their own time to finally pour into the furthest pasture and once they were all in, Pasiando told us we still needed the horses. Leah asked if someone would bring them, he said yes, and that he’d just leave the gate open. “The cows won’t leave?” I asked, “no, they just stay.” Wow, I was impressed. Through the crispy snow we marched back through the pastures, over the creek, and back up the hill, chattering with Pasiando all the way- an incredibly intelligent and conversant young fellow is he. He told us about the sheep they are raising as Scotts latest enterprise, selling them to locals and about the different chickens in the chicken tractors we could see off in the distance. The poultry were all literally living up to their names as you could see them huddled in mass around the tractors, too scared to venture out in the snow!
About 2/3 of the way up the hill, someone let the horses start coming down the hill to pasture for the night with the cows, about 1/6 of a mile from the barn. If only we all could act as joyful and free as a horse let out of the barn! They ran and frolicked the whole way down the hill. These magnificent animals, with every muscle moving, and smiles on their faces, I realized in this moment, every animal on this farm was happy and content. We were quite literally stopped in our tracks, amazed at the site before us. Indeed, stopped, standing in their tracks as I looked down to see horse hoof prints, left by the draft horses from their way up to the barn that morning no doubt, as big as a small frisbee. After the first set of 3 or 4 came running past us, we thought it was over, then another set, we stood just soaking it all in watching them move, unabashedly and a last set came again! “How many horses do you have?” we asked, “15 now, we had 20 a couple weeks ago.” When the Belgain with the blonde, trimmed mane came past us I looked at Leah and said, “I have to be able to paint this picture with words.” Now that I’m trying, I feel wholly inadequate to the task.
I said to Pasiando, “your life here is amazing, just truly amazing; I know it’s a lot of work, but this is all just so incredible.” His response? “You can have it too.” “That’s the goal buddy, that’s the goal.”
We passed Santiago and his now bloodied bandage, with a family friend who was up visiting to help out from their former community in Scottsdale, KY. We stopped to express our wonder at the horses, ask some questions, give him a hard time about his finger. They asked us if we’d seen the calf that was just born a couple of hours before and we hadn’t! Amazing that it fit so in with the herd and followed right along with everyone else. They headed down to close the gate for the horses and bring back with momma cow and her calf to give them both their first night in the barn. All the cows come up each day for the milking, regardless of if they get milked. Pasiando said it was easier to separate them at the barn than down in the pasture.
We were taken to the sheep and pig barn next where there was another fresh momma cow and her calf allowed to stay up in the barn. There were rabbits in crates and wild bantam chickens all over, even on the highest beams of the barn. The sheep let out a constant bleeting and often sounded like my sister and I arguing, “haaay, haaay…” with a gutteral full stop and the end. I couldn’t help but laugh. There were stacks and stacks of square bales of hay, and neighbor boys and Richardson boys jumping and climbing all over gates and things to get jobs done. When the tossed a bale of hay in for the pigs, the pigs went crazy for it, excited for their snack.
We walked about into the house where we laughed and talked, and ate in a circle with the whole family, and this is where so much of the magic happened. You see, Scott was a hard working man, who also knew the value of rest, laughter and family time. Santiago told us that they try to finish chores early on Saturdays because their dad would ring the bell and make sure they were all gathered in to spend family time in the big kitchen together. And if anyone went upstairs, he asked them to come back.
At one point Leah asked them if they had a favorite memory of their dad to which many of them just said his laugh. Andaya told us that he loved how his dad would talk with people, with anyone. And Bilando pipped in that he would often times talk so deep he’d lose people in the depth of it. That Scott would sit and listen to folks talk about politics and they could literally see him smiling on the inside, knowing that their dad’s thoughts went so much deeper than those conversing. But he didn’t just sit as a man heads above the rest in his wisdom, the boys told us how he would go back and for with people, on all sorts of topics, much like a debate. I asked if he ever won them over…the answer… “most of the time.” Haha, yes, Scott had an amazing way with words. Every time he got up to spoke on our farm days out to visit, he kept people enraptured with his calm, yet confident and often times jovial way of getting a point across. I would imagine he did that with everyone.
Tashina had told us how many in their community didn’t think Scott could pull off his herdshare enterprise. You see, this community, that spans several states in the midwest has always done things one way. They farm conventionally, and sell their produce at a large produce sale. The idea of selling direct to customers that were much farther away than a buggy ride was unheard of. And would people actually join a CSA like this? But Scott had a vision from the Lord and carried it out, likely even bigger than he imagined it would be.
Miriam and Santiago opened up as to just why this was the case, because they came into the community from the outside. Miriam said that it was different when you’re coming from that perspective. She said that the people in the community often live the way they do because it’s tradition and that’s the way they’ve always done it. But that Scott did it because he literally believed that is how Jesus Christ would have us live. My heart swelled… Leah and I had the same thought, “these really are our people.” Santiago pointed out that he felt that because of his parents and the way they were raised that they actually think differently than the people in their community. Not in a bad way, or a superior way, but just in a way that allowed them to see the world in a more unique way. I found this fascinating; most of the Richardson children were raised only knowing this way of life, but because of their parent’s life experience and belief system, they were a part of that. Wow. And I must admit, when we are around them, it’s so very true.
I can’t remember the last time we laughed so much, dishing out and receiving good old-fashioned ribbing, it was like an indoor verbal snowball fight. At one point my personal superhero powers of having a long +3 wingspan got brought up, to which we told them how most humans have a wingspan that is equal to their height, exactly, and that it’s rare to have over a +3. So out came the measuring tape and everyone’s wing span was measured, including little 4′ 9″ Miriam, with many laughs. “Do me!” I heard, and so we did! Much to our shock, ALL of them except Tashina had over a +2.5 wingspan with Santiago at +5 and Bilando at +4! Tashina just maintained that she was perfect proportioned. It was just great fun!
We stayed until right as the sun was setting and the candles and lanterns were lit. There is nothing more peaceful than a Saturday evening with a loving family laughing and telling heartfelt stories by candle light. We thanked them profusely for the wonderful visit we had and headed back to Kansas’ giant 4wd diesel truck parked next to the neighbor’s buggy and small buggy horse at the hitching post. What a contrast… I must admit, I was far more envious of the horse and buggy…
I can’t imagine what our dear friends go through each night, or in those moments during the day when the loss of their papa rides over them like a crashing wave, I know that much is not gone. But it was a joy to our hearts to see them laugh and even be able to talk about their dad, and his accident, with clarity and strength. Tashina cuddled on the couch with her brothers who all seemed to take turns in the coveted spot. The unity and love that they all have for each other and their faith in the Lord is what is going to see them through this. It’s not an easy road they have ahead, but the hard road will be made easier by the love that they share. And this is one of the many reasons why we and countless others in our herdshare, the community and any life they have ever touched truly loves them.