But Why Sheep?

When we talk about our “herd” of livestock, we’re speaking generally about the group of goats and sheep that roam the farm, mowing down any stray weeds and entertaining our guests. Often they get lumped together when we talk about them, but the goats and the sheep are actually very different from one another.

In our experience, where the goats are playful, the sheep are more standoffish and reserved. Where the goats eat the tops of all the grass and weeds, the sheep tend of mow clear to the ground. Where the goats flock to people for attention, the sheep seek out other sheep. This reserved nature is where we get the expression “sheepish” in the English colloquial. Sheep tend to hang back, to hide out. But over the last three years these quiet creatures have become some of our most beloved animals.

Most often sheep are raised on farms for meat or for wool. Ours provide neither of these two things. We are home to a varietal of sheep that molt their wool with the seasons and do not need to be sheered. While this saves us a considerable amount of time, it means that we don’t reap the rewards of their naturally occurring assert. But we find value in the sheep in other ways.

Because we are primarily an educational farm, we find that having different varieties of livestock in our herd helps to broaden the scope of what we can teach.

When it comes to the sheep, we are able to teach guests and campers that female sheep are called ewes, male sheep are called rams, and baby sheep are called lambs.

We can teach that, although we usually use the term “herd” to refer to our livestock, a group of sheep can also be known as a flock or mob.

We can teach that if you feel like the sheep are always watching you – you’re probably right. Sheep have a 300-degree field of vision, allowing them to see around and even behind them without turning their head. This helps them to be aware of their surrounds and of any predators that might be sneaking up on them.

We can teach that like goats, sheep are ruminant mammals which means that their stomachs consist of four chambers, with which they digest their food

We can teach that the sheep gestation period is 152 days, so once we breed our sheep we know that we have five months to prepare for the new arrivals.

There is a lot that campers and guests can learn about our sheep, and that is why they happily make their home at Luther Glen!

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Pepper

We have an exiting new addition to the Luther Glen Farm!

We are very excited to introduce Pepper! Pepper the miniature horse is the newest member of the Luther Glen Farm herd, and she has been a great addition. Pepper is a beautiful dark brown horse with a smooth coat, a lot of energy, and an amazing spirit. She has moved into what was previously Chuck’s stable and a portion of the goat pen next to her has been renovated as a stable for Chuck. The two are quickly becoming friends. They can almost always be found at the fence line, getting to know each other.

Miniature horses are a great introduction to large livestock for kids. They are approachable and generally very calm. Campers are able to feed and brush them and they are always a favorite among our guests!

 

Sermon Notes

This week we have a special opportunity to share with you the sermon notes of a dear friend of the Luther Glen Farm. We are blessed to share this message of hope, given over the weekend by Mary Shaima who is a Candidate for Deacon in the ELCA.

Sermon Notes – Spirit of Peace Lutheran Church, Big Bear Lake, CA.

Fourth Sunday of Easter, April 22, 2018

What does it mean to be the good shepherd?

What is “good” anyway?

Is “good” a quality that only Jesus has?

Or is “good” how he models for us a life of discipleship, a life of service?

What does it mean to lay one’s life down for others? We have studied examples of this from the past, but we have also seen examples of this all too frequently in the last few years – the coach in the Parkland school shooting, the young female activist in Charlottesville, and people like Martin Luther King Jr.

These are not examples of an ego-driven show, but of acting on a passionate belief – something that drives one to choose the greater good over the individual’s safety.

Have you ever done this – risked your own safety or security, be it physical or status-wise, for something you believe in?

Before we jump to any conclusion that this can only happen in life-or-death situations, let’s think about what it means to simply feed the hungry.

In many cities, ordinances have been enacted forbidding churches to feed the poor and the homeless.

And those churches have basically said, “yeah, no” and gone ahead and done it anyway.

Because as shepherds following the Good Shepherd, we lay down our lives, even if figuratively, for the sheep. Even if it means standing up to an unjust law.

Not for recognition – and not for notoriety – but because this is what it means to follow Jesus.

At the camps of LRCC, they have a program called CIT – counselors in training.

These young people are apprenticed to the work of leading other young people – they are learning what it means to be a leader. Maybe another name for them is “shepherds-in-training” especially as we consider this broader idea of being a shepherd.

The hired hand is the one who turns away and says, “I don’t want to get involved.”

But we shepherds-in-training lean in – and even in our most fumbling of efforts, we find that the blood runs more soundly in our veins. We breathe this mountain air more deeply. Because when we lay down our lives, when we stand up for what Jesus’ words and actions tell us is real justice – we find ourselves in that place that he called “abundant life.”

Our shepherd story is from John’s gospel – one of the texts from what is known as the “Johannine community.”

This community of Christians was in existence about 50 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, and they were trying to live out what it means to follow Jesus.

Their hallmarks are their writings – this gospel, which takes a significantly more poetic and philosophical direction than the other three, and the letters of John, the first one of which we’ve been reading in this Easter season.

The letters are some of the most beautiful writings of the Bible, and they get at the heart of what Jesus outlined as the greatest commandment: love the Lord your God, and love your neighbor as yourself.

This IS the gospel, dear people. Love.

So if we are shepherds-in-training, it gives us an opportunity to consider a specific line in this gospel: “other sheep.”

John’s gospel is so rich and full that some of these lines can get lost in the richness. And when Jesus says “I must…” we might make the mistake that sees that line as a signal that we haven’t got any responsibility here, that Jesus will handle the whole thing.

If only.

Do we come to Jesus on our own? No, Luther reminds us in the Small Catechism, in the explanation of the Third Article of the Creed, that “I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel…” and so on.

But we also know that the Holy Spirit is fond of working through the most unexpected people and experiences, no? To bring Jesus’ message of love and grace into generally unexpected places.

But sometimes, the Spirit works to bring that message of love, of what it means to be a shepherd and lay down one’s life, in places where it’s already present and understood – but in ways that demonstrate a new dimension of the gospel.

At Luther Glen Farm, as we have heard and will hear more about, the mission of LRCC has expanded beyond camp and retreat center to include a working farm. Not only does the farm provide produce for everyone, it provides eggs in copious amounts. You can buy some after church! Fresh eggs!

But the farm is also home to more animals than the chickens. Now there are two pigs, two horses, several sheep, and lots of goats.

And three Great Pyrenees dogs.

Great Pyrenees are some of the best protector dogs there are. They are big and affectionate, but they are also vigilant when protecting livestock. The matriarch dog of Luther Glen Farm, Annie, proved this last fall.

Fall is a somewhat quiet time at the farm. The gardens are still producing, but the days are getting shorter and only the tomatoes are making a last stand. Camp is done for the summer. Aside from some retreats and the Brew Boldly weekend, it’s a time for preparation for winter and planning for the upcoming year. The leaves are turning. Offsite business can more readily be done in the fall.

Both Lauri and Pastor Glen were off the property on business. Nate and Anthony and the others were done with their day’s work and were in their quarters. Pastor Glen arrived back at almost 10 PM, and as he got out of his car, Annie jumped the fence at the retreat center with a rattlesnake in her mouth.

It was still alive.

Pastor Glen raced to dispatch the snake – relocation was not an option. Annie was barking ferociously at it and had certainly fulfilled her guard dog duties of protecting the herd.

But no one realized what she had really risked until the next day.

The next morning, her face was horribly swollen, and she was having trouble breathing. Lauri raced back from El Camino Pines, and the vet confirmed their worst fears: Annie had been bitten by the rattlesnake, more than once.

She had had the anti-venom vaccine, of course; this is standard procedure in the back country and the mountains for dogs. But being bitten more than once compromises the effectiveness of that vaccine, and Annie was struggling. Even with steroid injections and all the anti-venom follow-up that was safe, she was likely seeing the foot of the Rainbow Bridge in the distance.

It was a very frightening several days. When I arrived with women of my home congregation for a retreat, Annie was still sequestered, only allowing Lauri to be with her. We had been praying for this sweet, brave dog, and she seemed to be holding on.

At the end of the weekend, I stayed on for a few hours to absorb the beauty and the calm energy of Luther Glen. Lauri brought Annie up to the retreat center, and she was doing better. “Don’t touch her face, though,” Lauri cautioned. Understandable.

Annie and I sat out on the patio in the fall sunshine. And after a time, she got up and walked carefully around the fenced perimeter, nose to the ground. I followed her, and we explored the area together. Eventually she laid down under the big oak tree and went to sleep. I took that opportunity to help out by pulling some weeds that were coming up through the bark cover.

Not fifteen minutes later, I came back around the corner of the retreat center and Annie was gone.

“You had one job!!!” I yelled at myself as I grabbed her lead and went tearing down the hill.

But I didn’t need to be afraid. Annie had jumped the fence and was back down by the herd, checking on their welfare and making sure her younger cohorts were doing their jobs.

She, along with Jesus, is the good shepherd of Luther Glen Farm. She quite literally laid down her life for the sheep. And goats, and pigs, and chickens, and so on. Today, she is as healthy as ever. And if I were a rattlesnake, I’d stay far away from Luther Glen!

Dear people of God, I tell you this story as a reminder that following Jesus is not a path without risks. Perhaps not as risky as what Annie endured – but risky all the same. Every time you host a Simple Supper, you take a risk to live as shepherds-in-training and disciples of the resurrected Christ. To make a choice not to live in fear. To believe passionately in the in-breaking peaceable realm of God, that feeds hungry people.

Every time you make a choice to love and not suspect. To love and not fear. To love and not be compromised.

It is said that following Jesus is a profoundly counter-cultural thing. Listen to these words from the first letter of John: “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us – and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need, and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”

The culture says, security at all costs. Jesus says, welcome the stranger. The culture says, if you share things you won’t have enough for yourself! Jesus says, feed my sheep. The culture says, be afraid of the “other.” Jesus says, love one another.

What distinguishes followers of the resurrected Christ is love. Love that pursues justice, abides in kindness, and walks humbly with God. Love that is exemplified in the selfless action of a big white dog named Annie, and the selfless action of the people of Spirit of Peace every time you open your doors.

May we continue to walk the path of love, and widen it as we go. Amen.

 

 

But Why Goats

We often get asked ‘why’ when it comes to plants, animals and different areas of the farm. The general answer is, “One of the goals we have when planning the farm at Luther Glen is that everything has a purpose.” This leads us to get certain animals and grow certain plants in the garden based on how they will serve the farm and the community. For the next few weeks we will dive into some of the frequently asked questions about parts of the farm and some interesting things that we have found out along the way.

Today we start with goats, the first livestock to be raised on the farm and the first animal that was ever herded by humans! Our herd currently consists of 8 goats. There are 210 different breeds of goats and we have three of those breeds at Luther Glen: Nigerian Dwarf, Pygmy, and Nubian. Our goats are led by Esther, the queen of the herd, who has 3 offspring.

Here are some of our favorite things about our goats:

  • They do not have any top teeth, the roof of their mouth is just gums.
  • When they drink water they submerge their bottom lip and suck in the water as if they were drinking out of a straw.
  • Their pupils are rectangular.
  • They show affection and communicate by head-butting each other.
  • Their love for alfalfa is unreal sometimes!
  • Male and female goats can have horns.
  • They recognize the metal bucket that holds oats as guest come up to give them treats.
  • They’ll stand on just about anything or anyone to eat leaves off of trees.
  • Goats do not have the chemical that signals their brain that they are full. They will just keep eating and eating until they get sick.

So why do we have these creatures on our farm?

Besides being very photogenic, we use them as a part of the ‘lawn mower crew.’ Goats eat the tops of foliage helping keep weeds, grass and other plants at a minimum! Considering the acreage of Luther Glen this cuts down considerably on staff upkeep so that we’re able to focus our time and attention on other matters. We also use the goats as a teaching tool for the guests that come to camp. Over the years our campers and retreat guests have been able to follow our goats on their journeys of pregnancy, birth and caring for their young. We’ve shared the beauty and the struggles of this process and have been able to teach about it. Once newborn goats have weaned from their mothers, we use their milk to make soap.

Another huge plus is that all of our goats have been raised with people and have extremely friendly demeanors – especially when you have oats and alfalfa. Their gentle ability to interact with people of all ages makes them invaluable to the farm.

We see our goats as multifunctional and a prime part of this farm’s heart.

Spring

Spring has begun to peek out from the chilly, snowy days of winter! We are seeing plants waking up and animals enjoying the sun. The Lenten season ends with the joyous account of Jesus raising from the dead and we can’t help but take notice of all that is alive around us – the blossoms in our orchards, green in our garden and our animals enjoying the vegetation that is sprouting up from the ground. We see the resurrection of Jesus and God’s promise overflowing in these early spring days at the Luther Glen Farm.

Easter is a celebration, a time to experience the promise that God has upheld. This season gives Christians everywhere time to go back to the roots of this faith and look at the promise of future we have when we believe in this death and resurrection. This season allows us to look at our roots here at the Farm. There is no doubt that we have been guided down this path with the hand of God at the center of our work.

To really remember what this farm started as we look at old pictures, and tell stories of when this first started. One of the things that we did this past week was look back at old blog posts. The very first post “But Why a Farm” is a post filled with  questions that encompass the beginning parts of this farm. As we are in this season marking new life, hope, growth, renewal of faith, and promise, we have decided to address some of the most common questions that we get about the farm. Questions like:

Why do you have chickens?

Why do you have dogs?

You have pigs! But why?

So for the upcoming weeks we are dedicating time to addressing all the different parts of the farm. With information, explanation and the idea of promise and new life we will share details with you about the elements of the farm as they are today and how they have changed from the start of the farm and where we hope they will go in the future.

Next week we will be talking specifically about our goats, so stay tuned!

If you have any questions about specific parts of the farm let us know and we will be sure to address them in the blog!

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A Day in The Life of The Farm

The Luther Glen staff works collectively on all elements of the farm – from daily maintenance to dreaming of what the future holds.

Some days we are driven by comments like the one we got this week from a high school student seeing the farm for the first time. She said that after spending time here she wants to get into farming.

But often, in-between these big and powerful moments we are driven by the day to day. The first things that come to mind when we think about the farm are the mundane things that we do, the morning and afternoon farm to-do lists and all that is in-between chores and tasks. Because you are all a part of the farm too, from the big moments to the small, we wanted to give you a little glimpse into a day in the life on the Luther Glen Farm.

Mornings on the farm, with the recent time change, start at 7:00 a.m. when we feed the goats and sheep. They eat first – mostly because they make the most noise and let us know that yes, they are up and yes, they are ready for their morning alfalfa. Next is Chuck who greets us with a friendly head nod and the occasional hungry horse sound. Once Chuck is fed and happy we can tell that George and Fred are ready to eat by their oinks and snorts and the pitter patter of their little hooves excitedly running back and forth. We head over to the chickens with two buckets of feed and open the doors to a rush of chickens. As this is being done we are scanning the farm to make sure that there is nothing out of place or broken. We then make our rounds on the water dishes, filling up, cleaning, and taking chunks of ice out to get down to the drinkable water. The last thing we do before meeting as a staff is let the animals out of their pens to roam.

Then, depending on the day we do one of the rotations for maintenance, whether that be cleaning out the pens, checking Chuck’s hooves or preparing our green house with spring transplants. There is never a shortage of tasks, or repairs, or new projects. Some of our greatest ideas have come while cleaning out pens and tending to our garden. These long days of labor keep our minds focused and our eyes open to the needs and the growth of the farm.

Two hours before sun down we start the livestock routine over again. Goats and sheep, who let us know when it is 4:01 p.m. and we are late, with their alfalfa flakes. Chuck hopes for some oats to be snuck into his Bermuda grass, while the pigs start their pacing. The chickens stand at the fence line looking like a group of people waiting to be let into Disneyland.

We use the last bit of daylight to shut the farm down and get everything ready for the night. Then as the sun sets the chickens go back into their coop, the goats and sheep huddle up in their structures and the dogs get ready to guard for the night. We close gates, lock doors and tuck the farm in for the night, hoping that the night will bring rest and peace to this bustling place.

Our days here at Luther Glen Farm range from the feeding, to the maintaining, and then onto the dreaming. We are grateful for the moments when we can show the farm off and watch as a high school student finds their passion while collecting chicken eggs, in the chicken coop that all of our staff cleaned out two days before. We notice our hearts being filled with gratitude and perseverance through the day to day in times like this. We know that if we do not stop to be grateful for early mornings and late nights, dirty hands tired backs that the dreams would be as lost as a herd without a shepherd.

If you are curious about any of the day to day stuff and would like more information, do not hesitate to comment below with you questions! Until next time, we are headed out to check water levels, give some love and attention to our herd and start our afternoon project of maintenance on our irrigation system in the garden!

 

A Winter of Engaging

This weekend we closed our Winter Retreat season with Elementary school campers. With the help of the Synod Youth Team this retreat was another huge success. As we’ve been seeing over and over, one of the biggest highlights of the weekend was the campers on the farm interacting with the chickens, feeding the goats, sheep, pigs and Chuck, our miniature horse. We talked to the campers about how they felt they were Engaging with the farm and some of the things that they said were:

“I was engaging with the animals when I got to feed them out of my hands.”

“When one of the goats put its two front paws on me.”

“I got to talk to the animals while petting them.”

“I got to pick up a chicken and hold it!”

“When I was holding a chicken their wings were would hit me in the face.”

A member of the Synod Youth Team was beaming over how different the farm is now from when she last saw it. She reminisced about watching the farm begin year ago, and was amazed at how it has evolved so much since then. Seeing the herd and garden grow and being able to be apart of that was a highlight of her weekend. And seeing her joy and investment in the farm was a highlight of our weekend.

This weekend we saw, once again, a community coming together on our farm. As we end this season of talking about ways to Engage our youth, we look to the farm that has been put together by many staff, countless volunteers and constant prayer. We are thankful for it to be a representation of ways that people can engage with their food, animals, and other people. As this winter chapter closes on the farm we find so much hope in looking towards the ones opening. New chapters revolving around the barn and Outdoor School. We hope that you are ready for what is to come because we couldn’t do it without your support.

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