I work for a local newspaper based in a small town. It may not be as exciting as working for one of the big city newspapers but in one way it is more interesting. If I worked at one of those papers, I would be pigeonholed into reporting one type of news. Since there are only three reporters working for the Montclair Tribune, we are expected to cover whatever comes our way. This morning I showed up at the office and found a note from my editor telling me to go to Happy Hooves Dairy Farm. They had just won honors for being the most productive dairy farm in the state. Like I said, my job may not be exciting but it definitely is varied.
The note from my editor included vague directions for getting there but, knowing the county circuit pretty well, I thought I knew where it was. After almost an hour of driving, the last twenty minutes on a clean swept gravel country lane, I arrived at a pretty little farm in a scenic valley. The red barn was a short distance from a small cottage and the silo had a wind vane spinning high on top. The cows were beautiful black and white Holsteins, calmly grazing on the sweet summer grass in a pasture set back behind the farm buildings. I pulled out my camera and started snapping pictures. I could see the milking shed behind the barn and started towards it when the farmer came out from the milking shed headed towards the house. I called out and he caught sight of me as I turned into the driveway. He put down the pail he was carrying, wiped his hands on a bandana hanging from the back pocket of his overalls, and came over to greet me.
He shook my hand as I stepped from the car. His hand was calloused and his grip was strong. “Howdy. My name is Bob. What brings you to my farm?”
I showed him my press card with my name and picture. “I am here to do a story on your farm. It’s said that you know a thing or two about dairy farming. Our readers would love to hear about it.”
Farmer Bob smiled and slapped me on the back. “Well, I don’t mean to blow my own horn, but there aren’t many people who know modern intensive dairy farming as well as I do. Let me show you around.”
For the next two hours he led me around his farm. He showed me his silo, full to the brim with sweet smelling silage, fortified with commercial vitamin additives that are essential to top dairy production. Farmer Bob explained that these vitamins are lacking in the average farmer’s cow feed. He showed me his milking parlor and the computerized system he used to track individual dairy production. He showed me the printouts and I was amazed at the database required for what I thought of as simple farming. The milking machines had a brand new system for sterilizing in between milkings. He showed me a room where he kept frozen bull seed for artificial insemination. I asked him about that and he showed me a computerized leg bracelet that was actually a pedometer that was fitted on every cow so they could keep track of the cow’s heat cycle. We sat down in his office for a cup of tea when the tour was over. I took the tape out of my pocket recorder. The two-hour tape was full from the non-stop lecture Farmer Bob had given as we walked around his farm. I could fully understand how this man had become the top dairy farmer in the state. I had never met anyone who was as well versed in his field as this man. In addition, he spoke with a real passion that I found infectious. I was ready to give up reporting and buy a dairy farm. As I sipped my tea, I looked around his office. The shelves were lined with books about veterinary science, feeding techniques, and other cow related subjects. One wall was covered with pictures of champion bulls and cows. Farmer Bob sat across the desk from me, smiling as I jotted down a few notes.
He finally broke the silence. “Tell me, how did you find out about my operation?”
I looked up from my writing. “They called and told my editor about that award you won.”
He looked puzzled. “What award?”
He looked puzzled. “What award?”
“The award you got for the most productive dairy farm in the state.”
His face got red and Farmer Bob looked embarrassed. He coughed once before speaking. “I don’t remember ever getting such an award.”
I shook my head. “Maybe they just haven’t gotten around to notifying you yet.”
He shook his head and stood up, asking me to follow. We walked back out to the milking parlor. He led me to a back room where the enormous refrigerated milk tank stood. When we had been here before, he had explained that the thirty thousand liter tank was so well insulated that it could stand for two days in the summer without the refrigeration unit working, and it would only drop one degree Fahrenheit. On the side of the tank was a ladder leading up to a small platform. He climbed up and I followed. There was a small porthole in the top of the tank. Farmer Bob told me to look in. The tank was empty. I looked up at him, puzzled.
“Where’s the milk?”
He polished the glass where my face had pressed up against it. “Well, you see….I tried that kind of dairy farming for awhile but it got to be a real hassle. Do you realize that you have to wake up at six in the morning to milk cows? If that wasn’t bad enough, you have to milk them in the afternoon and at night? And it’s so messy! And the cows make a lot of noise. And the worst part about it was that the cows just wouldn’t cooperate. Look, you heard all the stuff I was telling you. No one knows more about dairy farming than me. I know what it takes to make great milk. It was those darn cows. I fretted about it for weeks until finally, one night while listening to them moo, I figured out the problem. I was doing everything right, so if the cows wouldn’t go along with it nicely, they would have to go. So I figured, the heck with it. Who needs them anyway? I don’t need cows to be the best dairy farmer around. So I got rid of them.”
I looked at him in shock. “But I saw the cows out in the fields.”
He laughed. “Oh, those! When I decided to close down the cow related part of the business, I had my favorite cows killed and skinned. I had them stuffed and coated with a special polymer that is guaranteed not to fade for twenty years. Each plastic cow has a little speaker with a recording of that cow’s moo, played over and over. It’s on a timer so they don’t bother my sleep, of course. The best cow in the world doesn’t last as long as mine do. I don’t have to bother taking them out in the morning and bringing them in at night. I just let them sit out there. Once in awhile I go out and rearrange them, just for kicks,”
I pulled my editor’s note out of my pocket. “Isn’t this Happy Hooves Dairy Farm?”
He shook his head. “Nope. This is Farmer Bob’s Cowless Milk Palace. Happy Hooves is five miles down the road but you don’t want to go there. It’s dirty and smelly and the farmer is always grumpy and tired from waking up to milk the cows. That’s not what real farming is about. If you go out there, you better take some boots because your shoes will get ruined. And the pictures will look awful. Who wants to look at some tired old farmer all covered in dirt and his dirty old cows.”
I thanked Bob and asked him if I could use his phone. He laughed and handed me his cellular phone. “Every modern farmer should have one of these so he can take calls out in the field. You won’t find that at Happy hooves.”
I called my editor. I explained that I had messed up and wasted my morning interviewing the wrong farmer. “I’ll head out right now and go to Happy Hooves. It’s right down the road.”
“Forget it”, he said. “I need you to go to this address on the other side of town. I heard about this guy who is supposed to be the newest thing in spirituality. Everyone who meets him is blown away by his aura. His brochure has the most amazing quotes and the pictures are awesome. This guy has the coolest clothes and the most far out hair. He talks like an absolute expert on spirituality. It’s something our readers really need to hear about. He says there is no god and everyone should be cool and far out for their own sakes. He says you can be greedy and nasty and step on people’s toes and there is no need for guilt because guilt gets in the way of being cool and far out. This guy could be hot, maybe even become famous. Spirituality is ‘in’ these days. Get on it.”
I hung up and grabbed my tape recorder. A story about spirituality is a hot item. Last week I did a piece on some housewife who cooked for her all of her sick neighbors. The week before I did story on a guy who never passes a beggar without giving him a quarter. No one read those articles. I almost got talked into writing an article about some lady who had never ever spoken a bad word about anyone. That would have been the ultimate snoozer. This story about the holy man was going to be hot. People love thirty-second lessons on how to be holy that have a great beat. I grabbed my camera and ran to my car. I was on it.