Our Yard Farm - Catholic Rural Life

Our Yard Farm

Joe Anderson • April 3, 2019

Ethical Food and Agriculture

I fancy myself a country boy – from a small Arizona town where I grew up surrounded by (very small numbers of – and not all at the same time) sheep, goats, cattle, wheat (we once harvested enough to make one loaf of bread), zucchini (lots of that), horses, hound dogs, chickens, and a goose. So, I have always been a little nostalgic about farm life. My wife who grew up on a real farm in Iowa, though she appreciates the experience, preserves a little more agricultural realism and a little less nostalgia than I. Thus, it was I who called her one day shortly after we bought our new house that had enough land to qualify for “animal privileges” with the request, “Don’t get mad at me, I have something to tell you.”

After some silence on the other end of the line I announced to her that I had bought two goats. She bore up mightily and ultimately extricated me from my predicament as the sole instigator of the “goat experiment” that has colored our family life for some 10 years. She came home, saw my first goat acquisition, and insisted we return to the feed store to rescue two remaining members of the goat family I had sundered (in hindsight, I think it never had been a family).

Nothing was ready for the arrival of goats. Hut construction began the day they arrived. Fence construction began a little later; after my wife tired of stepping out of our back door into the goats’ preferred sleeping area with all the attendant droppings (I have been given to understand that on real farms in Iowa the animals are not quartered right next to the house).

The country boy and financier in me soon bristled at the idea of maintaining pet goats. It was time to make them produce! Thus began the years of finding bucks, the wonder of newborn kids and the nickering of nanny mothers, the dis-buddings that followed shortly thereafter, driving 60 miles to a suitable butcher (there aren’t any in the middle of a metropolis, and you can’t do the job yourself when the animal-loving-neighbors live 30 yards away), building milking stanchions, and finally, trying to treat nannies for mastitis (I know, they should be culled but there are the animal-loving-neighbors to be considered). The goats have never “produced” in the sense of providing food at a cost competitive with that paid at the local grocery. In fact, though we still have several goats our meat and milk production has dwindled to nothing; we may try again but our location and our very small scale make goat farming difficult.

The goat experiment succeeded, however, in that it led us deeper into the stewardship of our little piece of city land. We have since augmented our place with chickens, fruit trees, and gardens. On the surface, these have proved more fruitful than the goats. We have all the eggs we want (at a high though not unreasonable cost). We enjoy fresh fruit in season and my ever-efficient wife cans enough preserves to last throughout the year. Our gardens produce year-round. And the goat manure is composted (with the help of animal-loving-neighbors I mentioned earlier) and serves as fertilizer for other projects. In short, our relationship with this plot of land has been enriched by what started as a pair of goats. Our family work – much of our family time together – consists of coaxing life and fruit out of our land (yard). We learn together, suffer setbacks together, rejoice together, and every day enjoy some gift of our farm together (a gift that we all participated in creating).

I would like to claim that what has become our one-third-acre micro-farm began as a deliberate effort to introduce rural values to our family and to this growing southwestern metropolis. Certainly it was not deliberate on my part, but I do not doubt that God had something in mind when I bought those first two goats.

— Joe Anderson is the CFO for the Diocese of Phoenix, AZ. He resides in the area with his wife and children.

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