I visited Heifer Ranch a couple of days ago. The visit, one of many periodic events orchestrated by the social committee of UUVC, was meant to accomplish two aims, I think. The first was to encourage more social interaction, outside of church, by church members and friends. The second was to emphasize two of the seven core principles of Unitarian Universalism: 1) The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all; 2) Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.
Eleven of us signed up for the event. We met in the parking lot at the east end of Hot Springs Village, where we gathered in groups to carpool to Heifer Ranch. I offered to drive and two women rode with me. I chatted with the woman in the front seat on the drive to the ranch. I chatted with the other passenger, who switched seat on the way back, on the drive back to the Village. I learned that people sitting in the back seat have a hard time hearing conversations taking place between the driver and the person in the front passenger seat. It’s a lesson worth remembering.
In a nutshell, Heifer International works to care for the Earth and to end world hunger and poverty. The organization does that first by educating families about animal husbandry and agriculture and then giving the families an animal (usually a pregnant animal). The recipient families commit to sharing the agricultural knowledge they gained with their communities and to give another needy family the next generation of the animal they received. The idea is to broaden the circle of shared knowledge and animal/agricultural resources.
The Heifer Ranch, which also serves as headquarters for Heifer USA, is a 1200-acre ranch dedicated to serving people in this country. The ranch raises cattle, sheep, goats, turkeys, ducks, chickens, hogs, and probably a few other animals. It used to raise Alpacas and Llama, but no more. There was a time when the Heifer Ranch sent animals from the USA to other countries in furtherance of its mission, but it became clear with time and experience that buying the animals in the countries where they would be given to families was more practical and more economical. So, when the decision was made to stop sending animals to other countries, the Llamas and Alpacas at Heifer Ranch remained until they died of old age or circumstances of which I know nothing.
Today, Heifer Ranch offers volunteer opportunities that allow people to learn a bit about agriculture and animal husbandry while spending time living on Heifer Ranch. Some people spend a few days; some spend a week or two; some spend several months to a year. The long-term volunteers have heated and cooled housing, as do some of the other groups, depending on needs and expectations. Others have the option of staying in a bunk house (formerly a barn) with no heat or cooling; the place is called the Heifer Hilton. I would not be comfortable sleeping in an open-air dorm filled with bunk beds awash in (mostly) snoring children. There may have been a time when I would have been comfortable with that, but I do not recall that time.
Upon our arrival around 1:00 p.m., we sniffed around the gift shop for a few minutes and were then directed to the dining hall, where we went through a serving line for our food. The meal was decent; strips of beef in a brown sauce, served over rice, along with broccoli, potatoes (for some…I was not served potatoes), a roll, and a salad bar. I believe all the food served to us was grown on the ranch. The meal, not included in the fee, cost $10, as did the entry fee. So, $20 for the afternoon.
After lunch, we watched a fourteen minute film about Heifer International and its history. We were then escorted back to the building where the gift shop is located. There, we were invited to climb aboard a flat-bed wagon that had a built-in bench around the perimeter and metal folding chairs in rows of four along the center. The metal chairs were attached to one another with plastic bands. It occurred to me that the people in the chairs could be thrown from the wagon if the wagon hit a bump an a speed any greater than ten miles per hour. I did not find out, inasmuch as the John Deere tractor that pulled the wagon never exceeded that speed limit.
During the wagon tour of a portion of the ranch, we saw fallow fields as well as newly-planted fields and gardens that were, we were told, used for Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) operations. As we made our way slowly around the ranch, our guide (a volunteer who, we learned, retired as a school teacher fourteen years earlier and has volunteered one day a week at Heifer Ranch ever since) explained what we were seeing. We saw various types of housing (both for volunteers and for visiting groups) and all sorts of out-buildings used in farming operations. One interesting area, called the Global Village, consisted of several plots where the buildings consisted of country-specific housing, built to mimic the types of housing one might find on poor farms in those countries. For example, Thai and Vietnamese huts, African mud houses, etc., etc. It is my understanding that visitors can stay in those buildings.
One of our final stops was at the show barn, a building with stalls and coops for chickens, turkeys, sheep, goats, ducks, and (perhaps) cows. We did not see cows in the show barn, but we did see them in the fields. Some of the cattle were quite curious when our tractor-led wagon stopped near they; I suspect they incorrectly anticipated we were strangers bearing food.
I took a few pictures, but for reasons unbeknownst to me, I could not upload them to this blog post. Maybe I’ll do it later, when the computer gods are more accommodating.
And so there you are. I promised I’d do it before month’s end, didn’t I?