Volunteers at Heifer Ranch carry on the spirit of the Seagoing Cowboys

I want to give a Shout Out in this photo essay to the wonderful work that goes on at the Heifer Ranch in Perryville, Arkansas! Just as the seagoing cowboys and innumerable volunteers helped Heifer Project become a viable organization, today’s volunteers help keep the Heifer Ranch and Heifer USA running.

Spring 2018 volunteers, minus the snowbirds who had already left for home. Photo credit: Ian Peters, Residential Staff Coordinator.

For anyone out there who has a hankering to volunteer somewhere, this is a great place to do it! A lively community of both young adult, in-transition, and retired short-term and long-term volunteers (including several from overseas) gathers here. They serve in maintenance, gardening, education, the visitor center/gift shop, dining, the farm – wherever volunteers can be useful. Housing and a stipend are provided.

The mission of Heifer International to end hunger and poverty and care for the earth binds the volunteers and staff together in a common purpose that forms a close-knit community. A potluck meal is shared year-round on Thursday nights. During the height of the snowbird season, game nights are enjoyed on Tuesdays. Special events, like a pie baking contest, Memorial Day cookout, and the annual “Hoof it for Heifer” race at nearby Petit Jean State Park, pop up year round. And Northwest Central Arkansas is a beautiful place to explore on days off.

Since I’m not a volunteer, but rather came to sequester myself to write, I rented one of the apartments available to guests. Very comfortable and enjoyable!

My make-shift office in the dining nook of Rupel Apartment.

Most volunteers live in the private volunteer housing area of the Ranch. The yellow building on the left is the “Com-shack,” the volunteer community building where potlucks, game nights, etc. take place.

The Dan West Visitor Center and Gift Shop is where a visit to the Ranch begins.

Volunteer Aly Pagano from North Carolina welcomes visitors and gives them their first introduction to the Ranch.

Volunteer Susan Bigler from Little Rock sold me a few things!

Three-year farmer apprentice Michelle Michalek from Michigan prepares the chicken nursery for its next batch of chicks.

Volunteer Marie Berniere from France and three-year gardener apprentice Tradesha Clark from Boston tend the garden on a hot day.

Year-long Brethren Volunteer Service worker Bob O’Neill from Pennsylvania spends much of his time mowing the lawns.

My husband Rex uses his building contractor background to design and construct a new electric house for the RV area.

When not needed on the mower, Bob helps Rex finish the electric house.

Mission accomplished! Much to the satisfaction of those who bring their RVs to live in while volunteering.

Nearby Petit Jean State Park is one of our favorite places to go on weekends to soak up the beauty of the Arkansas Ouachita Mountains.

But we needn’t go much further than out our apartment door to enjoy stunning views and absorb the peaceful surroundings to the accompaniment of bird songs.

A wonderful benediction to our two-month stay.

We ended our time at the Ranch June 8. We’ll be back!

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Touring Heifer Ranch with the Heifer Foundation Trustees

Following the Heifer International Board meeting two weeks ago, the Heifer Foundation Board of Trustees also held their meeting at the Heifer Ranch. I sat in to hear Heifer USA/Ranch Manager Perry Jones bring the Trustees up to snuff on the work of the Ranch and tagged along on their Ranch tour. Perry told the Trustees, “You haven’t arrived at just any old moment. This is a moment of evolution.”

That evolution stems from the merger of Heifer Ranch with Heifer USA last year. Heifer USA has moved their home base of operations to the Ranch, joining its mission with that of the Ranch into an emerging social enterprise. Perry told the Trustees the new Heifer USA’s mission is “to create job opportunities in rural America by bringing farmers together to build socially and environmentally responsible and profitable businesses, and to educate the general public about sustainable agriculture and Heifer’s work around the world.” So the previous educational purposes of the Ranch are now intertwined with the agricultural work of Heifer USA, bringing the Ranch full circle to its beginnings as an operational agricultural enterprise.

For a closer look at Heifer USA and Ranch operations, the Trustees climbed aboard the Ranch’s trusty tour wagon “The Lyle & Berta,” named after longtime volunteers Lyle and Berta Riebe from Minnesota who conducted the tours for many years. While covering about a sixth of the Ranch’s 1,200 acres, Perry, along with Education Director Rebecca Roetzel, and Farm Manager Donna Kilpatrick, helped us understand the impact of the work here.
Heifer USA is a social enterprise in that “both profit and social good are generated,” says Perry. All of the work done at the Ranch complies with the mission of Heifer International “to work with communities to end hunger and poverty and to care for the earth.” Currently three social enterprises make up Heifer USA: a Livestock Co-op called Grass Roots (you can order their pasture-raised meat online!); the local and sustainable fruit and vegetable sales and distribution company and farmer-owned co-op called New South; and the Ranch itself, which operates as a working farm to model the sustainable and profitable methods Heifer teaches.

Sheep, chicks, goats, cattle, pigs, and a few rabbits are raised at the Ranch.

Garden produce is used in the Ranch dining hall and supplies CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) boxes for subscribers.

Along with these three enterprises, the Ranch will continue to expand as an educational center, hosting groups of all ages from all over the country with the goal of becoming “a world-class destination with provocative and impactful education programming,” says Perry. This runs the gamut from walk-in visitor tours, to school day trips, to overnight immersion experiences in one of Heifer’s global villages, all with the focus of acquainting guests with global issues of hunger and poverty and Heifer’s response to it.

Donna Kilpatrick gives a personal tour to visiting volunteers from the former Heifer Farm in Massachusetts.

 

A school group does a garden service project as part of their educational experience.

Some groups stay in one of the Ranch lodges…

Hersch Lodge

others rough it in the “Heifer Hilton”…

and others choose to experience the way people in under-developed countries live by staying in one of the Global Villages.

Global Village #1 enters at Guatemala house on the left. Thailand and Zambia houses are along the lake.

The education function of the Ranch is expanding in other ways, as well. The Ranch will become an on-site training center to “engage and prepare diverse farmers to succeed in agriculture,” says Perry. “We will engage more low-income, and minority and women farmers in profitable agricultural value chains.”

An exciting apprentice program has also been started. “Through strategic recruitment, this is an opportunity for us to be intentionally inclusive, reaching out to young people–especially women and minorities–in search of the opportunity to get a start in triple bottom line farming,” says Perry. “These apprentices train [for three years, ed.] under real farmers using the same methods that we use in the field; preparing them for success as commercial-scale sustainable farmers.”

With a lean staff, the Ranch, as did the Heifer Project in earlier years, depends on volunteers to accomplish its laudable goals. More about them in my next post.

Sharing the seagoing cowboy and Heifer Project history at Heifer Ranch in Arkansas

This post will be more personal than my normal posts. My husband Rex and I are currently nearing the end of a two-month stay at the Heifer Ranch in Perryville, Arkansas, where I’ve been sequestering myself to work on my book-in-progress about the first decade of the Heifer Project (today’s Heifer International) while Rex has been volunteering in the maintenance department. Quite by coincidence, and fortunately for me, the Heifer International Board of Directors and the Heifer Foundation Board held their meetings at the Ranch this week. The Heifer Board invited me to sit in on Monday, and I am filled with admiration for the incredible talent of Board members and staff alike, appreciation for the work that Heifer is doing both here and abroad, and anticipation of the wonderful things to come.

A highlight of the meeting for me was hearing Senior Vice President of Marketing Christy Moore tell of the marketing team’s visit to Honduras to see for themselves the impact of Heifer’s work there. Today, Heifer is so much more than just giving an animal to recipients, as it was in the beginning. It’s about building sustainable communities, achieving living incomes for community members through their small farms. At the dairy plant the team visited, Heifer has assisted a small business on the verge of closing by providing the owners with help in how to market the cheese they were making, teaching them good manufacturing practices, and providing capital for needed equipment. Heifer’s signature “Passing on the Gift®” value is achieved when the owners are able to pass on the knowledge of hygienic dairy practices to their small farm suppliers. The business has become so successful that families who had migrated to the United States for work are able to move back home because there are jobs for them there now, from the supply end to the marketing end of the cheese business.

Heifer International mission statement guides the Board’s deliberations.

In front of every Board member during the meetings, on the back of their name card, was Heifer’s mission statement. Another highlight for me was hearing of Heifer’s plans to expand their efforts in working at the last part of that statement: taking care of the earth. They already teach the sustainable methods of agriculture to small holder farmers in areas being affected by climate change, methods that help to reclaim, replenish, and protect the soil and water sources. The next step will be to partner with green investors to be able to expand this work to a scale that will help cool the planet.

Heifer President and CEO Pierre Ferrari (on right) addresses environmental impact issues of Heifer’s work. Photo credit: Peggy Reiff MIller.

The third highlight for me was to hear the Board begin their planning for a major global celebration of the organization’s 75th anniversary next year. It seems like only yesterday that we were celebrating the 70th! I’m looking forward to seeing what the planning committee comes up with this time around and to participating in whatever ways I’m asked and able.

Heifer’s Senior Vice President of Marketing Christy Moore (second from right) introduces the 75th Anniversary agenda item. Photo credit: Peggy Reiff Miller.

Together again with “Sister” Jan. Photo credit: Jessica Ford.

The culminating highlight of the day for me was to share the evening stage with Heifer founder Dan West’s daughter in what was billed on the Board’s agenda as “An Evening with Jan Schrock and Peggy Miller,” or as Jan likes to call it, “The Jan and Peggy Show.” This is the fourth time we have presented together, with Jan sharing stories about her father and how he became Heifer’s founder and me sharing the history of Heifer’s beginnings, including stories of the seagoing cowboys and Heifer’s legacy. A bonus was having longtime Heifer Executive Director Thurl Metzger’s daughter Kathleen McNamee present to share about her father’s role in purchasing the Heifer Ranch. The Ranch staff created a very festive atmosphere in an outdoor pavilion and served a delicious meal using Ranch-raised meat and produce that set just the right tone for a delightful evening with the Board members, Heifer International’s Leadership Cabinet, and Heifer Ranch/Heifer USA staff and volunteers. A night to be long remembered.

Jan West Schrock tells how her father’s service in World War I set him on a life-long path of working for peace. Photo credit: Peggy Reiff Miller.

It was an honor to share the history of Heifer’s beginnings with the people who carry on its legacy today. Photo credit: Rex Miller.

Next post: A tour of Heifer Ranch with the Heifer Foundation Board.

The Seagoing Cowboy Storytelling Project

My work of fifteen years now has a name: The Seagoing Cowboy Storytelling Project, with thanks to the family of seagoing cowboy Alvin Zook for coming up with this title. The start of a new year is always a good time to look back and ahead; I’m adding a first Friday post this month to do just that.

Seagoing Cowboy Al Guyer and Peggy Reiff Miller

Seagoing Cowboy Al Guyer and I reunite, October 25, 2014. Photo credit: Rex Miller.

It was fifteen years ago this month that I made my first seagoing cowboy interview with a former pastor of mine, Albert Guyer. I knew he had gone to Poland with livestock, and I wanted to know what my Grandpa Abe’s trip might have been like. Al’s story hooked me in and got me started on a journey that culminated this past year with the publication of my first book, the children’s picture book The Seagoing CowboyThat event pretty well defined my professional year, first planning for its release the end of March and then promoting it throughout the remainder of the year.

A highlight of my year was a 3-day visit to the Maple Ridge Bruderhof community in Ulster Park, New York. Many older members have long ties to Church of the Brethren, Heifer Project, and seagoing cowboy history. Vonnie Burleson's (left) father and Marlys Blough Swinger's (right) brother were seagoing cowboys. Martin Johnson (top right) was my delightful host. Photo by Reuben Mow (grandson of Anna and Baxter Mow.

A highlight of my year was a 3-day visit to the Maple Ridge Bruderhof community in Ulster Park, New York. Many older members have long ties to the Church of the Brethren and its Heifer Project and seagoing cowboy history. Vonnie Burleson’s (left) father and Marlys Blough Swinger’s (right) brother were seagoing cowboys. Martin Johnson (top right) was my delightful host. Photo by Reuben Mow (grandson of Brethren icons Anna and Baxter Mow).

 

A local book signing and release party was followed by speaking events and signings for all ages that have taken me from coast to coast, with stops in Indiana and Iowa, Arkansas, California, North Carolina, New York state, Maryland, Virginia, back to California, on to Arizona, and Texas, often connecting with seagoing cowboys. I’m grateful to my many readers for the warm and enthusiastic reception of my book and the seagoing cowboy story. It’s been a whirlwind of a year, and I’m looking forward to a different pace and focus for 2017.

Sharing the story with Maple Ridge Bruderhof upper elementary students. Photo by Reuben Mow.

Sharing the story with Maple Ridge Bruderhof upper elementary students. Photo by Reuben Mow.

I’m excited about the year to come. It will start with a trip next week to Germany, where I will be able to visit the seagoing cowboy exhibit at the Upper Silesian Museum in Ratingen. Then my focus turns to the writing of a book about the first decade of the Heifer Project, including the seagoing cowboy story as it relates to Heifer. I plan to sequester myself for six months during the year at the Heifer Ranch in Perryville, Arkansas, to that end. Three months in the middle of that will be spent in “Oma and Opa time” assisting our daughter in Ohio with child care while she tests the waters of running a friend’s market garden for the summer.

If all works as planned, the year will end with another trip abroad — this time to Finland for the 70th anniversary commemoration of the S. S. Park Victory and the ten sailors who lost their lives in the sinking of the ship off the coast of Finland in December, 1947. The Park Victory had been one of UNRRA’s livestock ships, making six trips prior to its demise while shipping coal. It’s a famous ship wreck in Finland, but the livestock portion of the ship’s history was unknown there until one of the men working on the commemoration found my website.

I will only be taking a limited number of speaking engagements this year. I’m looking forward to being the speaker for a Heifer International event in Michigan April 8, in being the featured author to kick off the children’s summer reading program at the Goshen, Indiana, public library in June with the theme of “Build a Better World,” and in being a keynote speaker at the Church of the Brethren National Older Adult Conference (NOAC) in North Carolina in September. Aside from that, my plan is to write, write, write!

Many wonderful pieces of seagoing cowboy and Heifer Project history happened in 1947, so look for lots of 70-year commemorations in my blog posts throughout the year. I’m looking forward to a great year, and I wish you one, as well!