The Healing Power of Nature

There is a David Viscott quote that says, “the purpose of life is to discover your gift. The work of life is to develop it. The meaning of life is to give it away.” I think my gift has always been to be of service. I spent my late teen years, twenties and thirties working as a Blind Rehabilitation Specialist and teacher. My favorite memories of that time was working closely with families in their homes who had just given birth to a baby who was blind or visually impaired. I felt a big sense of joy when it seemed I had an impact in making their life just a bit easier. That work brought me to farming as a way to counter balance the big emotions that I experienced throughout my days working with kids and families. Nature and animals have always reset my nervous system. Over the last decade in my forties I feel like I have worked on developing my gift of service by opening the farm to children and adults. Many visitors have expressed to me that the farm is a very calming place for them. I needed that reset in nature all those years ago and I continue to need it to feel grounded and happy. Through this experience, it has became clear to me that there is a human need to connect with animals and nature. During that same decade we worked toward building an Animal Welfare Approved dairy on the farm. With the help of cheese from our goat’s milk that we created right here on our farm we built community through a shared love of local food. We have always felt that cheese created by a real person’s hands from animals that are loved and respected is nourishing to your soul. We started to offer farm classes that teach the skills that took us years to learn and continue to share those with others both on the farm and to other organizations. Our latest roles have been as consultants to other small farms who want to start something like we have. This has been very satisfying to me to share this knowledge. This farm knowledge was earned by making so many mistakes I cannot even count them all! I am still happy to share our triumphs and setbacks as a way to help others achieve their farm goals. It is encouraging to me to know that there will be more sustainable farms in Illinois to counteract the huge industrial ones that sometimes harm our environment and animals. It feels like all the struggle was worth it. Through all the ups and downs of farm life and the many shapes this farm has taken, I feel most proud to be working toward my certification in Animal Assisted Therapy at almost 50 years old. I can’t wait to offer this unique service to my community. I have seen first hand the power of nature and animals to heal. There is no doubt in my mind that the reason my grandfather, who survived WWII raised pigeons in his backyard was a way to heal his trauma. Or how my dad who was also deeply affected by WWII and spent a good deal of his childhood moving from refugee camp to refugee camp spent 55 years raising sled dogs and connecting with nature. Nature combined with animals is powerful medicine for us all.

Speaking of animals and nature we have numerous goat hikes and soap making classes scheduled on the calendar through May! The first cheese making class of the season will be June 1. If you have a gift certificate from the holidays and would like to join this class send me an email at grettasgoats@gmail.com. You can find tickets here for classes and goat hikes: Baby goats will start arriving in May! Check the website often as baby goat snuggle sessions will be added often as we get an idea of how many of the little stinkers we will have this season. Oh! And 50 pounds of soap scrap is headed to the Eco Soap Bank this week. Thank you for all of your soap orders to help make this donation happen.

Finding Balance

This past week the focus of my Animal Assisted Therapy program was the topic of Animal Welfare. I love the weeks during the program when the subject matter seems to go into a direction that I am already familiar with! My connection to the assigned reading and writing seems to flow much faster this way. I think about animal welfare daily on my farm so the topic is one I usually have a lot to say about! What I did not realize was that the concept of animal welfare was first conceptualized by the Five Freedoms which was initially proposed in the UK’s “Brambell Report” to address livestock husbandry in 1965. The Five Freedoms outline five aspects of living beings welfare which are as follows:

Freedom from thirst, hunger, and malnutrition

Freedom from discomfort

Freedom from pain, injury and disease

Freedom from fear and distress

Freedom to express most normal behavior

Its crazy to think that in 1910 half of the US population worked on small farms where there was diversity of animals and plants on acres of grass. Within ten years as the Industrial Revolution swept across the country, there was a higher standard of living and an increase in population, we turned to new technology and mass production.

High variety, small scale farms were traded for giant indoor facilities that could accommodate the largest amount of animals for the cheapest cost and smallest amount of necessary acreage. Unfortunately, the beginning of Factory Farming in this country.

I don’t attempt to know what the answer is to factory farming. I try to do what I can and farm with the highest standards of animal welfare on my small acreage. My hope and belief is that more people are becoming conscious to the issues with factory farming and our food supply chain.

As I begin to plan what I would like the future therapeutic endeavor on the farm to look like I find myself thinking about the welfare of the animals that will be “co-therapists”. I have been asking myself questions like “how can I do this in the most ethical way for the animals that will be involved?” So far I have been thinking a lot about the physical environment for both animals and people. I have learned many lessons over the last decade with having a farm that is open to the public. The most important one is keeping the atmosphere less hectic, sticking to smaller groups, setting clear standards with little ones as how to appropriately handle the animals. The animals seem to do best when they have a place to retreat to if needed when we are doing events or classes. One thing that I know for sure is that most animals are social beings and desire human contact. Working dogs appear to be internally motivated to perform. They enjoy working and having a purpose. I have seen this with sled dogs, guide dogs, therapy dogs, and livestock guardian dogs. I think the bottom line is finding a balance that works for everyone involved both animal and human.

Our 2024 calendar of events will be posted to the website by Christmas! If you are still thinking of a gift certificate for a soap making, cheese making, or bee keeping class on the farm we can mail them to the recipient or email them to you ASAP. We are also offering gift certificates for goat hikes. Just send me an email at grettasgoats@gmail.com. Our plan is to resume goat hikes at the end of March weather permitting. Last day for guaranteed shipping for Christmas is December 18. Please check out our Etsy shop for great gift ideas.

The Art of Netting

Two small snow dogs standing on the ice

One of my favorite poems is written by the poet Mark Nepo. The poem is about the art of netting. This concept of netting is about how the “net” helps to distribute the weight and suffering of life between two people. I think it is a beautiful poem about friendship, authenticity, and the need for community. I think about “netting” almost everyday and how I have been lucky enough to be on the receiving end of someone holding the net for me and in return have been the provider of the net for others. The art of netting has taught me the value of staying present and truly listening to someone else. The most important lesson it has taught me that in order for someone to be the net for you you have to let them in and share your authentic heart.

The art of netting is ever present on the farm too. This may seem like a stretch to some but there is no greater net casted than one from a Great Pyrenees Dog to her livestock. She never takes a day off no matter the weather and often stays up all night to protect her herd. She is always watching, protecting, and casting a big net. This net is beautiful and loyal. I am grateful that I get to witness countless other “nets” on the farm. Sometimes these nets are between animals. Other times its witnessing the relaxed shoulders and smiles I see from people when visiting with the animals – another beautiful net.

This week I look forward to diving deeper into my animal assisted therapy program and learning more about the animal human bond. I am hopeful that the therapy farm will become an even bigger net for others. What/who have been some of the biggest nets in your life? I would love to hear! Thanks to my yoga teacher Miranda for being a net and introducing me to the poems of Mark Nepo.

Super fun happenings for the remainder of September on the farm!

Join us on September 16, 23, 24, or 30 for a goat hike!

Join us on September 23 or 30 for a soap making class and tour of the farm. Make your holiday gifts this year and learn the art and science of cold process soap making.

Find tickets on our website at https://grettasgoats.com

Next Women Farmer Farm Market Day October 7! The farm will be open to the public from 10:00 AM – 2:30PM. More details to come!

Father’s Day


The farm is typically open on father’s day to the public for farm classes and goat hikes. It is super fun to see so many families celebrating their Dad or Grandpa on the farm. Some folks have made it their Father’s Day tradition. Others we have welcomed many times before for various events on the farm. It fills us with joy to see so many familiar faces and that we have built a farm community where people visit regularly and find peace and fun in the farm too. Thanks to those to chose to share the day with us and the goats.

Even with the joy and busyness of the day we both found our thoughts drifting to our dads and missing them! Eric’s dad and my dad both live in Michigan. I grew up on the east side of the state and Eric grew up on the west side of the state. Eric and I did not meet until we both worked at a Veteran’s Hospital a few miles outside of Chicago. We quickly became friends over our shared outdoor experiences growing up in Michigan and our love for running and Bell’s beer:)

After the long and hot day of working on the farm we settled onto the farmhouse porch to take a break. We started reminiscing about our dads and our childhoods in Michigan. The conversation circled back to both of our dads’ work ethic. We wondered if we would have achieved the dream of the farm if we would not have witnessed our dads (mom’s too!) that worked like crazy and set those examples for us to work hard. I personally do not think we would have. 

My dad was a refugee when he finally made it to the U.S. from Eastern Europe just after the end of World War II. He was just a little kid who did not speak any English and had spent his entire childhood living in refugee camps and fighting to stay alive. He did not meet his dad who was in a prisoner of war camp until he was 9 years old. His story and that of my relatives on his side of the family is harrowing. He faced numerous challenges both during the war and growing up in the U.S. as a foreigner. But he NEVER gave up.  He learned english, graduated from the University of Michigan, married my mom and started a dental practice and family. Through those experiences he never became hardened as a person. He taught me to love the outdoors and included me on his sled dog adventures (his greatest passion). He encouraged me to take risks and enter sled dog races against adults as a kid! He never assigned gender roles or treated me like a “girl” but instead encouraged me to participate in the rough and tumble sport of sled dog racing. Often times I was covered in mud or snow and usually frozen:) I also think these experiences shaped me to be who I am today and for that I am grateful. 

Eric’s love of the outdoors began in childhood too. He went hunting and fishing with his dad.

Some of his fondest memories are not being able to sleep through the night before he knew he was going fishing with his dad in the morning. From the time Eric was 13 and his sister’s were 12 and 6 his dad was a single dad. Eric’s dad also never assigned gender roles to Eric. Eric watched his dad cook and care for he and his siblings. I believe these experiences made Eric the nurturing, kind, and amazing cook that he is. If you are lucky enough to be Eric’s friend (and have him cook for you) you know what I mean! 

I am glad that we took a moment to be grateful and recognize the gifts we were given this father’s day from our dads. We know that we are very lucky to have received these gifts and that many people struggle with this day because of loss or many different reasons. If that is the case we are sending you the biggest hug today and peace. 

Big Challenges

I have always been fascinated with the emotion of fear. Why are some people able to push through the fear and others cannot?  At times throughout my life I have allowed fear to lead the way and at other times I have been able to take fear’s hand, quiet the fear and move forward into the unknown. There is no way as human beings that we will not face fear. Sometimes I find myself wishing that fear did not exist but I also recognize the biological necessity for it. Our ancient ancestors never would have survived if they did not have their “fight or flight” response when chased by a wild animal or anticipating a threat. We are fighting our biology when we push fear away.

The rhythm of grazing and milking that the farm brings this time of year allows me to sink into my thoughts. The repetitive and daily nature of these tasks allows me to have time to think in a meditative way. I feel fortunate for this time to problem solve things on the farm, dream up new ideas, and just think about things that I’m interested in. I am still accomplishing many things and moving in a very purposeful physical way but there is a stillness that I appreciate tremendously. My old professional life was filled with noise, stress, and traffic. The farm and  self employment carries its own kind of  stress but one I would not trade.

During this time on the milking stand my mind wandered to the subject of fear again. I ask myself why I have ben feeling slightly off the last few weeks. My inner critic chimes in to say “what do you have to be fearful about?” “You are sitting here milking a goat!” I listen to the milk hitting the metal bucket with its familiar sounds. I listen to Clover, the goat’s breathing as I milk her and the sounds of birds that fill the farm’s skies. My inner critic softens and I realize the things that bring me so much joy also scare me like tall grasses, grazing goats, and trail running.You see one of my biggest challenges has been overcoming lyme disease and its lingering symptoms. When I finally emerged from my sickest time with it my first instinct was to flee the farm and it’s lush wild environment. When those old fears emerge again I often find myself wanting to flee. But, what I was able to think about that morning while milking was that there are TWO parts to the flight and fight response, not just flight. I am glad that I did not give in to the feeling of wanting to flee. That I chose to fight through the fear and stay the course on the farm.  That I chose to fight for my love of nature an not become afraid of it. 

I hope whatever your big challenges are that you consider the option to fight through it. I am glad that I did.

 

For Farmers Grant and Drinks All Around!

 

 

 

 

 

We are in planning mode at the farm and looking forward to the 2023 farm season and spring goat babies! While planning for the upcoming season we always take a look back to see what worked on the farm and what we could do better in the future.

One of the things we could improve on is our system to get water to all the animals both in the pasture and in the barns. Our current “system” is about as low tech as it gets! In the winter months we haul warm water to the animals multiple times a day. When the temperatures dip below zero our plastic Farm and Fleet heated water buckets have a hard time keeping up and we’re left with frozen water. We spend a lot of time chipping out ice in the super cold winter months. We have been dreaming about frost free drinkers for the animals for many years.

Yep, farmers dream about frost free drinkers!:) We were super fortunate to learn in December that we had been nominated by some of our customers for a mini grant through the For Farmers Foundation. We were then super surprised and honored to learn that we had received the grant! This grant was nationwide. There were 271 nominations for 146 farmers in 36 states. 81 farmers made it to the second round and there were 28 finalists with 6 awardees. We were one of the 6! This grant will enable us to purchase one frost free drinker for one of our barns. We hope to outfit the rest of the farm with drinkers by the end of 2023. We will see how it goes!  

Keep reading if you would like to learn more about the other awesome farms nominated and what they will be using their grants for. It is inspiring to me to learn about other small farmers making positive changes in their communities and non profits groups like For Farmers helping to make those dreams and changes happen! This info is copied from the For Farmers Foundation.

What if 1,000 people you’ve never met all came together for you? Because what you do every single day is important. Wouldn’t that feel amazing?

The For Farmers movement is off and running! Its first-ever mini grants process was a tremendous success. 271 nominations. 146 farmers. 65 founders. 36 states. 11 round one outreach volunteers. 12 volunteer mini-grant reviewers. 28 finalists. 6 awardees. $4500, much of it $1 at a time. From you. And people like you… who believe.

The nominees and the 81 first round farmers who stepped into the spotlight of For Farmers have been seen and celebrated. I hope that matters to each and every farm and farmer in the way it was intended. And while our reviewers wanted to award mini-grants to all of them, we had to make decisions. It WAS tough. Here they are.

Six farms from 6 states that produce many different products, are engaged with their communities, tell farm stories, and connect you to their farms in a powerful way. Some are pioneering in new spaces and others with new products. All have powerful needs – mainly for infrastructure and support from our extended For Farmers community.

Nautical Farms – Maine – Farmers Jake and Morgan – a regenerative ocean farm that grows seaweed and mussels and produces sustainable pantry and bath items. NEED – a greenhouse for drying seaweed to increase production and efficiency.

Giving One Tenth Garden – Newark, NJ – Urban farm that provides access to organically grown fresh, local, in-season crops to the City of Newark and surrounding towns. NEED growing towers to grow more food vertically in less space.

Covey Rise Farms – Central Ohio – Farmers Charlie and Kerissa — pastured, non-GMO chicken, pork, and beef, using rotational grazing to heal the soil and grow a nutrient-dense product for families across the US. NEED — to build a pickup-pack shed to pack orders out of the elements and to allow more customers to do farm pickups – which cuts down on deliveries and builds relationships with customers.

Heritage Farm & Ranch aka @kodiakgoatdairy – Kodiak, Alaska – Farmers Kelli and Stephen Foreman — a mixed species regenerative farm that provides food sustainability to a remote island and youth programming. NEED – support for increased hay prices and a shelter upgrade.

Beringer Family Farms – Cascade, Iowa – Farmer Lillie Beringer — 3rd Generation family farm raising high-quality Angus beef. NEED – farm expenses including feed, processing, packaging, and some new recipe cards to further engage consumers in the farm-to-plate process.

Short Leg Farm aka Gretta’s Goats – Illinois – Farmer Gretta – a 25-acre woman-owned pasture-based goat dairy farm and creamery, rotationally grazed with chickens, certified Animal Welfare Approved by a Greener World. NEED – 1) a batch freezer for a new added-value product 2) two frost-free drinking fountains to eliminate daily water haul 3) an upgrade to the kidding barn.

Small towns, open lands and better days.

 

This morning I wrote a letter to the township where I grew up in Michigan and this is what I wrote:

“I am writing regarding the township master plan of constructing high density mixed residential homes across the street from my childhood home. My parents Hubert and Lynne Winkelbauer have lived there since 1970. My parents raised my sister and I there and started a dental practice in the community. They have been apart of the community for more than 50 years. My parents chose this town as a place to grow roots and live based on the community being rural with open land, nature, wildlife, and the recreational opportunities. My father as a teenager spent numerous summers visiting the area for is plentiful lakes. He found refuge in visiting the area from a much more densely populated suburb of Detroit. When my parents fell in love at the University of Michigan they dreamed of some land to raise animals and enjoy the outdoors. They found that dream home on Bauer Road. I feel who I am as a person was greatly influenced from my childhood enjoying the outdoors and watching my parents do the same. We would canoe, hike, walk, and always be outside on our land. I make my living as an organic farmer and steward of 25 acres in rural Illinois. This career choice was influenced by my childhood and love of the outdoors. I watched the tremendous growth that my hometown has undergone throughout my adulthood. Every visit home over the years I have witnessed loss of wildlife habitat, traffic congestion and pollution, less of a small community feel, and the overall loss of open land. I feel through creating high density mixed residential housing this will only continue that trend causing the town to become a less desirable place to live and raise a family.” 

I think about nature and land daily. I make my living as an organic farmer so nature and my land are always on my mind. If you pick up an organic farming publication you will read about the alarming loss of farmland. You will probably also read about how land prices have skyrocketed and how billionaires are scooping up thousands of acres of midwest farmland. The U.S. Department of Agriculture data shows that 80% of rented farmland is owned by investors who do not farm themselves. This makes it nearly impossible for young farmers to be able to purchase land and make farming a career. I worry about the loss of farmland to suburban sprawl.  I worry about the loss of open land for future generations. I don’t pretend to know what the answer is to these issues. I sometimes get overwhelmed and frustrated about whether or not we are really making a difference on our small farm. We are just a tiny 25 acre dot in this huge vast country. The argument against organic small scale farming is that it cannot feed the world. Sometimes I feel defeated by that concept too. On my worst days I say to myself they are right and small scale farming will change nothing.

But on my best days I say to myself, “I can try damn hard to make a change on my tiny 25 acre dot of land.” Small farms are not meant to feed the world. They are meant to bring healthy land and food to their communities. They are meant to build community and preserve open land. They are meant to create rural jobs. They are meant to treat farm animals humanely and with respect. They are meant to connect us to our roots and spirit. I consider today to be one of my better days. I wrote a letter for my hometown and for those who are fighting to preserve open land in their community. I also watched goats graze on wide open spaces on a healthy farm. Here’s to better days ahead for all. 

Buck Rogers

The buck. The true hero of a farm. Yep, I said it. The true stinky hero of the goat farm. If you would have asked me 12 years ago if this was an accurate statement, I probably would have laughed pretty hard at that idea. Let me explain myself. Twelve years ago I quickly learned that in order to grow my farm or even have a goat farm, I would have to purchase a healthy buck to kickstart breeding. One of my first goats came to me “in milk” from a farm in Michigan which allowed me to delay breeding on my own farm. This goat’s name was Kazoo. She had the bluest eyes and looked like a spotted cow. She was a tough goat to learn to milk because of her stubbornness. We often referred to her as the stubborn beauty. I knew my fear was getting in the way. I kept putting off buying a buck. I felt intimidated by the reputation that bucks have. I read about how aggressive, stinky, and hard to contain they can be. One farmer I spoke to said, “YOU WILL” find your buck in with your female goats despite your best efforts to contain him. Their drive to mate is pretty insane! In order for my farm dream to come true, I needed a buck to get started.

 Kazoo

Giving myself numerous pep talks and talking with farmer friends who said Gretta “you got this” over several months I finally found a jet black stinky little guy in Wisconsin. He was just a bouncy kid living on the farm where I had bought my first doe, Sham-wow (I know, I know, the names we choose are something else!). We picked him up and brought him back to the farm where I first started farming in Grayslake, IL. We named him Buck Rogers and soon he became known as BR around the farm. Well, he definitely turned out to be stinky! When giving farm tours we often joked with people and said “now is the time for you to plug your nose”. He turned out to be gentle with us and our farm hands over the years. My respect for him grew. He never challenged me aggressively in the pasture. He was even quite friendly despite me always saying keep your distance BR (he was just too smelly!).

He gave us SO many beautiful kids over the last decade. We appreciated him for being our first buck and helping us realize our goal of starting a farm. We lost him this past week to old age. In typical BR fashion it was without fanfare. We think he died in his sleep. Death used to break me in two on the farm. I won’t lie it still does sometimes. What has shifted is my perspective. My perspective has turned to finding gratitude for each and every animal on this farm and the short time we have had together. The fun they have brought to visitors, to us, and our farm. Everything changes, nothing stays the same. Everything is impermanent. The one thing that does stay the same is love. We love you, Buck Rogers. Stay stinky. Buck Rogers: March 28, 2012 – September 15, 2022

Buck Rogers

Proud Partnership with the Eco-Soap Bank

We are beyond excited to announce our partnership with the Eco- Soap Bank. As a former educator and woman business owner we are proud to be affiliated with this organization that supports women and children’s health and employment options. The Eco-Soap Bank is a humanitarian and environmental non-profit organization working to save, sanitize, and supply leftover soap from manufacturers for the developing world. As one of their “scrap packers” we fill boxes that hold ten pounds of soap scrap from our soap operation. This soap scrap consists mostly of soap ends from our soap logs, shavings for laundry soap, and any leftover soap we may have. This soap is then shipped to one of the Eco-Soap Bank’s hubs where they work with partners to employ women who come from disadvantaged backgrounds and have no other reliable sources of income. These women repurpose the soap into usable soap bars while being paid a good and livable wage. The soap is then distributed to children in over 25 countries around the world. These jobs are enabling them to support their families and make a product for those in need. Many of these bars end up in schools. I was shocked to learn that over 800 million children in the developing world go to school without using soap and water or have soap in their schools. Know that your soap purchases are also helping to support this mission!

Eco-Soap Banks seeks to address the critical need for hygiene. Working since 2014, the Eco Soap Bank has sustainably supplied more than 3.5 million people with soap and hygiene education. The demand for improved hygiene in the developing world is immense, and much remains to be done. You can support Eco-Soap Bank by donating, by getting involved contact@ecosoapbank.org, or spreading the word on social media. Eco-Soap Bank’s mission is to provide soap to every school in the developing, and it costs $.20 to provide soap to a schoolchild for an entire year. Together let’s save lives.

To learn more visit visit https://ecosoapbank.org

 

 

 

Meet the 2022 Spring Kids!

 

Hello! Please see some the newest members of Gretta’s Goats. We had a pretty easy kidding season this year. Below are some of our newest kids. They joined their mothers and the rest of the yearlings for a hike on Sunday. They loved it. Clark is the little brown and white moon spotted boy. He decided on his birthday that he would not nurse mom. The little cutie left us no choice but to bottle feed. He’s doing great, much like all of his new friends and led most of the most recent hike.

Enjoy!