Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Dark Sides

When this blog started I shared everything. Every victory, every failure. Every single stupid mistake I made learning to farm as well as every happy little triumph. Posts about first eggs laid by hens I raised from chicks were side by side with stories about being thrown off horses or a sheep dying of some unknown disease. 

I mean, that is what farming is, folks. It’s a gamble of hard work, luck, loss, and hope. You go out there and try your best but regardless if you are raising sweet corn or Cornish Cross - shit happens. I didn't censor myself. It felt important to tell the whole story. 

When this blog started I was a new farmer, a single woman, and without support of nearby family and friends. I thought sharing my trials would be helpful to others trying to learn as they go, just like I was. And you know what? It was. It clearly was! I got such an outpouring of support and care and did everything from hosting workshops and farm festivals to publishing 5 books about my farm and animals over the past decade. I regret none of it. I made lifelong friends, learned from every mistake, and now looking back the farm I have in 2020 is beyond the wildest dreams I had as a hopeful traveler after college. The pasture is the healthiest it's been in memory. The animals are so healthy and well. My freezer is full of food I raised with my friends and partner. My cabinet stocked with preserves, candles, tinctures and syrups from friends that barter and share with us. It's a small economy of trust and mutual respect and worth between neighbors and farmers. This place is so good, and while it can always use improvements and repair... It is so, so good.

This past weekend was so magical. The kind of magic no adult can really comprehend. The kind of magic this farm rarely sees. My sister, her husband, and two young children came to the farm in all its October Glory! They played in leaves and carved pumpkins. They held baby chicks, met a hawk, went on pony rides and hikes. We told scary stories and ate smores around the campfire, all bundled up as the sounds of distance sheep and horses played background ambiance to our legends. They ate bacon and eggs I raised, and pancakes fried from the same recipe I have always loved. Seeing my work of years reflected in the eyes of a six and eight year old was amazing. Like seeing my farm for the first time again. My home was a place of natural wonder. And my heart was so full a flash of light from a struck match could've split it open. With my girlfriend beside me, my family all around me; I can’t tell you the love and happiness I felt for my life at that moment. I didn’t think about money. I didn’t worry about bills. I just felt the love and the light of having made it through (and to) a place worth fighting for. I’m 38, in love, doing what I love. Not a bad life. Not at all. It's all any of us can ask for.

But there’s a real dark side to all of this. And over the years it has torn me apart. It has made me scared of inviting strangers back to the farm. It’s had state agencies and police at my door. It’s had me up all night with anxiety. Emails and threats and weird letters sent to my home from anonymous online trolls who have convinced themselves this farm is a horrible place and I am a horrible person. 

And even though it is just a few individuals they have made me want to stop writing entirely. They made me want to disappear because of how afraid I became of them. Which is of course, what they want. They want me and my farm to go away. 

So now I try to share what is going on here without going into too much detail about my personal life or the farm’s animal life, which is the opposite of how this farm and blog started. It’s got to the point where if I post any image of any animal, in any season, trolls look at it for any reason to call the authorities on me. Here's a list of recent reasons my town’s tax dollars had to be wasted to send police or animal control or other state agencies to my door. 

I am “garbage feeding” my swine. What was the evidence of this? I posted that a friend that bakes weekly donates day-old donuts they can no longer sell from their stand on the side of the road. This happens once or twice a month, tops, and is one flour bag of donuts. The state was told (anonymously) I was feeding trash to my pigs and so authorities were sent to do a swine feeder check. When the Veterinarian came for that surprise inspection he and his partner apologized profusely and were upset as I was they were called to the farm. Garbage feeding means literally opening bags of plastic-wrapped breads and foods from supermarket dumpsters or restaurant waste also filled with napkins, plastic utensils, styrofoam, etc. I was feeding a sack of day-old donuts by hand once a month and since I wrote about donuts online the state was at my door. Fun.

I posted a picture of my older black horse, Merlin, on Instagram. He was laying down in the snow on a sunny winter day with his gray face showing. These same trolls called animal control saying my horse was sick because only sick horses will lay down in the snow. The gray on his face - not white hairs from a 26-year-old gelding, but rain rot from my nefarious neglect. The animal control and state police showed up. 

Trolls also told these same officers that my horses didn’t have a shelter since one wasn't in the picture. (They do, a pole barn 40 yards from where the picture was taken.) And that since there was a fresh pile of manure in one corner of another picture I was turned in for  "feeding my animals food on top of their own waste" - Horses poop. It happens. In winter they don’t graze and walk around as much as summer and instead eat hay out of one feeding station near the gate so their waste area is more concentrated. Imagine posting a picture of your horses with a poo in the corner and having the authorities at your door. That is my new normal.

I once posted a 10 second video on my Instagram stories of one of my dogs with its head out the window while an Avett Brothers song played. We were on a backcountry road in Shushan, NY going 10 miles an hour. Later that week a police officer approached me in town and asked if I was Jenna Woginrich? She told they got an anonymous call I was driving around my town videoing people’s property?! Oh, and it’s illegal for a driver to operate a device. I explained to the officer what actually happened, and why this was happening. She was so sorry to hear it and have bothered me. 

I’ve had complaints to the DEC about my hawks because sometimes I post pictures of them inside my home. That is because falconers often bring their birds indoors for short stretches to get used to being hooded around the fuss of human voices and animals like dogs padding around or barking. On very cold nights, like below -10° I always bring a bird indoors. They complained to my my hunting license department I was conditioning my bird to be used to indoor temperatures and therefor hurting its chances to survive in the wild.

Online stalking has risen to the point where certain accounts of mine need to be private. If a fellow friend or farmer publicly shared they liked me, my farm, or my work or animals on social media an anonymous email would appear from a fake name explaining how I am actually a horrible person with links to "proof" of my scandals like a blog post where a pig got shocked by an electric fence. I guess these people don’t know about electric fences on small farms? I don’t know. 

When I started dating someone serious even she got this email. She's a private person with private social media accounts. Trolls still found her contact information online and explained to her (the woman that loves me!) why she shouldn’t. So this isn't about animal welfare from zealous animal rights activists. This is about hate. It's about making sure I am not happy or safe in my home. 

This is all just the tip of the iceberg. It’s exhausting. The local authorities are exhausted and sick of this. Animal control has actual animal abuse to deal with. And it doesn’t matter that Google had to remove one hate blog about me for harassment or that every single time the authorities are sent here nothing happens because there is nothing wrong: it will keep happening. And you know why?

Because I’m a woman living the life she wants publicly.

I don’t know if other farm bloggers or authors deal with this? I don’t think so. I think the combination of being one of the early big farm bloggers and a young, single, naive woman was the perfect storm of attention and parasocial relationships. I was telling people I never met my every thought, dream, desire, and hope. People felt they knew me. But that relationship was entirely one-sided and not real. But it felt so so real, because like turning the page of a diary people learned so much. And when that same attachment and one-sided care feels betrayed - like I made a choice they didn’t agree with, or spent money the wrong way, or didn’t know what to do in a situation they would - people felt angry. It wasn’t like watching a movie with a character they no longer liked. Their “friend” Jenna had become a villain not listening to their advice as they screamed shaking their computer screens from another state. So a small group of fans turned into stalkers. And they haunt this farm every day, and have for years.

I don’t know what the future of this blog or farm will be, I never have, but I do know that I am not going to stop writing. I am working on a book that is about what happened to me in the ten years between 27-37 that changed me so much for the better. That turned me into a woman that no longer hears those critics I never met but strongly heeds the advice of friends and neighbors. And when that book comes out it will deal with a lot of what fear and anxiety strangled my heart forcing me to want to quit every day. But that never won. Anonymous fear can not beat real human connection, love, support, and work. This weekend proved that to me. This doesn’t have to be a place constantly worried about the next officer showing up at my door. It isn’t a fortress to protect. It is an open-gated home where a scared girl became a strong woman. 

And I will carry on. And I will farm. And I will write.

P.S. If you have ideas or thoughts on this, please do send an email or messgae on social media about how to best deal with it. Or simply a kind word of support would be so welcome at this time.