The dining hall was buzzing with the usual lunchtime energy, tables full, people excited for the gorgeous meal that lay before them. Our leader of the day got up to tell us what was for lunch, said a quote and then turned the stage over to Lisa, one of the farmers. It was Lisa’s turn to give the food fact, a tidbit of information at the beginning of every meal that tells us something about our food, farm, or kitchen. Today’s food fact, however, was out of the ordinary. She gave a big smile and prefaced it with a “don’t all get too excited, but…” and went on to tell us about the newest edition to our farm — a tiny, Jersey calf. This five day old cow, set to become part of our dairy herd, had come to us from a nearby farm earlier that day. Lisa told the room full of grinning faces that she would need a name.
That night, Lisa made another announcement. She asked the students on barn check, including myself, to meet her after the meal. The four of us walked to the farm together where she showed us how to bottle feed the new calf, which was a new addition to our nightly chore of feeding and watering the dairy cows who spend cold winter nights inside. The calf, seeing us enter the barn, stood up shakily and walked toward us. She was a light brown color, almost tan, and very small. She looked a tiny fawn as she moved closer to us, obviously ready for her dinner. Lisa showed us how to warm up the bottle and how to angle it as the calf drank every drop of milk inside it. After she finished it was all business. Resisting the urge to pet her, we ushered her out of the feeding pen and left the larger pen that she spends her time in, teaching her that there was no more milk coming. We left the barn that night, knowing that this would be our responsibility for the nights that followed.
By the end of the next week, the time to figure out a name for this little cow had come. Once again our farmers, Hilary, Megan, and Lisa, took the floor during food fact time, telling us about their plan to include the entire Chewonki Community and our families in naming this cow. During lunch that day, students staff and faculty would write down name ideas on pieces of paper and put them in a box. The farmers were then going to narrow it down to five, and from there, semester students, faculty, and families would vote on the final name during our upcoming family weekend. I was filled with anticipation when I wrote down Poppy, a name one of my fellow barn checkers had come up. A few nights later at our family weekend lunch, Megan read out the five names we could vote on. Poppy was one of them. She explained that in choosing this name we would not only be choosing a name, but we would be choosing a letter, as we give each of our dairy cows a name beginning with the first letter of their mother’s name. I wrote down Poppy once again, not before trying to convince my entire family that this was the perfect name.
That night, the farmers opened our family weekend ceremony with a thank you to the students for all their work, during which they slipped in the name of our new baby cow. The cow that I had fed every night for the last two weeks now had a name, Poppy. After the ceremony we headed through the freshly fallen snow to the barn, where we gleefully said hi to Poppy. We were filled with excitement as we warmed up her bottle, excited to use her new name! When we finished we headed back through the snow, sad to be leaving the farm for Thanksgiving break, but excited to see how much bigger Poppy would be when we returned to campus in a week.
-Franny, Lehman Alternative Community School, Ithaca, NY