Ed and Carol Gulley are my Bedlam Farm People Of The Year, the first of what I hope will be an annual tradition.
I was thinking of this even before I read Carol Gulley's very powerful message of courage, love and passion on the Gulleys' very real and compelling farm blog, the Bejosh Farm Journal.
"Some day," Carol Gulley wrote on her blog this morning, "I wonder why we keep going in this business..we both are feeling our age more than ever before..seems like there are few ups and more downs..breakdowns aren't cheap or easy to deal with sometimes..BUT more than anything else, milk prices are predicted to go down beginning with our next check!"
Carol and Ed take turns writing on their very popular blog, it is read all over the United States and much of the world. The piece today was called My Farmer And Me…Working Together. It is a poignant and polished piece of writing, written from the heart and reflective of the Gulley's, they are life-long dairy farmers.
The Gulleys are close friends of ours, and the more I know them, the more I admire them.
A year ago, they started their own blog.
Carol has taken up writing, Ed has begun making farm and folk art from used and abandoned tractor and engine parts. He sells his sculptures at our Open Houses and all over the country.
Ed and Carol work unbelievably long hours in every kind of weather.
They are often engaged in brutish physical labor. As they age, they grow tired and sometimes live with pain. They know it, and it is written on their faces at times. The complexity and difficulties and challenge of farm life stagger me, just from watching them and getting to know then.
Ed and Carol know who they are and where they are. And they stand behind their choices.
There is much that is heroic about them. They are committed to their life, for all it's difficulties, and live the lives of free individuals, a dying and seemingly doomed breed in our corporatized country. Their love for their farm never wanes.
Every other week or so, we lure the Gulleys' out to share a hamburger with us at the bog or come over to our farm (I am no farmer, but a writer with a farm) to get away from their grinding chores.
It is always a gift and a pleasure. Each of them has an artist inside of them kicking to come out, and as if they don't have enough to do, they are busy setting their inner spirits free. They are soon planning to self-publish a book of blog posts that chronicle the life of a farm through all four seasons.
The thing is, the Gulley's love what they do, and are committed to the life of the small farm, a sadly vanishing world in our culture of box stores and bigness. More and more, the deck always seems stacked against the little guy, the individual, by business, government and politicians.
And no deck is stacked higher than the one that towers over the small family farms, which historians believe are what really made America great.
Ed Gulley in particular is a spectacular dinosaur, a big, powerful man who stalks his farm in camouflage and beard, clinging to what is now clearly a sinking ship, the small family farm.
Children don't want to work on farms, and the government only supports the big and the powerful. Family farms don't have lobbyists, that's basically why milk prices keep coming down. The Gulleys chose their life, and they stand by it, without complaint or lament.
We saw them the other night, in the midst of a brutal cold wave, and we once again saw the toll working all day in frigid weather takes on them, it is written all over their faces. I asked Ed how he was doing, and he said by late February, the day will be more than 30 minutes longer than it is now, that's what he focuses on.
They are not quitters, they are determined to stick it out to the end, and if there is a just God, that will be a long time, even as milk prices drop and drop.
Blessed are the people who love what they do, Ed Gulley and Carol know that a life lived only for money is just another form of slavery.
Trying to stay civil can be a challenge on some days, Carol writes with her hallmark directness and honesty.."he yells, I yell…he cusses, I walk away..putdowns fly freely and I do my share of that too. I can cry…more out of frustration…he just gets mad and that makes me sad because sometimes I feel like he doesn't realize how much I do to help keep this farm going..and he says the same regarding his work ethic. However you can't really list much that he doesn't do, so that is lame and I am fully aware of it. There are laughs over animal antics..something really crazy that one of us says…talking most things over regardless of the seriousness and trying to come to a mutual decision are all in a days work when in it together."
No family farmer can survive alone, this has always been a family enterprise, and Ed and Carol work together, every day of the year.
They are very much in it together, as Carol writes on their blog. Neither Ed or Carol has ever written before, but their account of the life of a small family farm is as good as anything Willa Cather wrote.
The Gulleys are up before down and working well into the dark. Their days are marked by tractors breaking down, manure freezing to the ground, cows calving, bulls through the fence, barns needing repair, roofs leaking, two long rounds of milking, fences needed repairing, fields need ploughing or planting.
In the other world, they might be thinking of retiring by now, or scouting condos in the warm states. But that is not the life of a small family farmer, they work harder than ever, and there is no talk of retirement or moving to a warm place in the winter.
Ed calls me his brother from a different mother, and I think he may be right about that. He is a master story-teller, in between his endless harangues about the price of milk and the myopia of dairy farmers.
We both are committed to our lives, we both stand in our truth, we both celebrate the creative spark.
I think that is the connection between us, all of us, Maria as well. We come from different places, but we are in so many ways the same thing.
Maria spotted the artist in Ed, and encouraged it in him. He listened. And his art is wonderful, I hope when his knees finally give out, he will open his own gallery. I nag him about it all the time, and he just might.
You might have seen the charismatic Tin Man in my photographs, he is the new symbol of the farm, and the talk of the town. When anyone asks directions to the farm, I just tell them, "it's where the Tin Man is," and they know. Ed Gulley made him.
Ed is the brother I did always want, the one who will come running when you are in trouble, he doesn't wait to be asked. And he is never to busy to help anyone in need.
The Gulleys live with enough disasters and challenges to discourage an Army, and they are an Army, I suppose in their own right. The blog sometimes reads like an agricultural drama, cows being born, cows dying, tractors freezing up, tractors getting fixed by hand.
I am grateful to live in a place where i can meet and become friends with such people, And all the while milk prices, now controlled by giant corporate farms and feckless bureaucrats in Washington, drop and drop and squeeze their very life out from under them.
I see that they are what made America great, the historians are correct.
I am mindful of the Gulley's every time I walk into a supermarket and see acres of food. People like them put it there, we are a luckier nation than we know.
In between all this, these two good people never lose their humanity, their love of their children and grandchildren, their sense of humor, their loyalty to friends and family, their deep love for animals, and especially their cows (they rescue hawks, birds, raccoons, cats, even moles and baby turkeys), their writing and their art, their blog and their community.
You don't have to face down enemy gunfire to be a hero, you can just live your life faithfully and honestly, with an open heart and soul. That is heroic too. Carol and Ed have overcome more than one tragedy, they bend but do not break.
Sometimes on a farm, you have to kill the animals you love or send them off to market. It takes something out of them, but they do it, it is part of the bargain.
"Rewards, drawbacks, fullfullment," wrote Carol at the end of her lovely blog post today, "and keeping the faith is all part of our togetherness in this world of agriculture, Gulley style. In the end, neither one of us would trade it for the world (most days) and we are grateful for our …yup…togetherness."
I'm happy to choose Ed and Carol Gulley as my People Of The Year, 2017.