Living thrill: At Autumn Olive, farming brings science to life

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Lauren (left) and Maran have had hands-on experience dissecting the hearts and livers of goats and hogs to learn in-depth anatomy. Photo: Norm Shafer Lauren (left) and Maran have had hands-on experience dissecting the hearts and livers of goats and hogs to learn in-depth anatomy. Photo: Norm Shafer

For decades, Linda and Clay Trainum had dreamed of creating a sustainable business that they could run as a family with their now-grown sons (Logan, 26, Tyler, 25, and Luke, 20). In 2008, the Trainums moved from North Carolina to Clay’s family farm in Waynesboro and began the daunting task of cleaning up the overgrown property. The solution? African Boer-Bok goats. They aimed to turn the farm into a productive resource, and today Autumn Olive Farms is thriving and growing. They provide artisan meats to high quality local and regional restaurants and butcheries, and to Richmond’s Belmont Butchery.

It’s clear that both generations of the Trainum family take great pride in the products they provide for their clients. Said Tyler, “They have an empty canvas—they don’t want to use a pack of crayons to make their art.”

Logan, Tyler, and Luke enjoy running the farm together as brothers, but agree that, as Logan put it, “It can be difficult. We know how to push each other’s buttons.” They point out that living and working on the family farm may sound idyllic, and while it’s a deeply satisfying way of life, it is also hard work with very little down time. Essentially, they say, the crowing rooster is their work whistle and the animals in their charge don’t accommodate requests for vacation time.

While the immediate Trainum family runs Autumn Olive Farms, it has also become something of an outdoor classroom for young extended family members and other youth in the community. In particular, Linda and Clay’s homeschooled great-nieces, Lauren and Maran Baker (11-year-old twins), who spend each Friday on the farm and say the experience “brings science to life.”

Linda’s background as a veterinary technician makes her well-equipped to teach the girls practical lessons in this living laboratory. With the Trainums’ guidance, Lauren and Maran have dissected the hearts and livers of goats and hogs in order to learn in-depth about the anatomy and systematic health of the farm’s livestock, and more broadly about mammals in general. Without flinching, the girls describe how they also sometimes “gather poop to look at under the microscope” in order to perform fecal analysis of farm animals for diagnostic and preventative purposes. This requires that they learn about exactly what they are looking for under the microscope (for example, worms or evidence of disease), hypothesize based on other symptoms and/or background evidence, and form an educated opinion about next steps based on their findings.

And the girls have had hands-on experience with treating sick and injured animals, too. They’ve given numerous shots, and have even helped their uncle perform a surgical procedure on a very infected goat hoof in order to relieve swelling.

The twins’ farm-based education isn’t all veterinary science, though. They work in the farm’s greenhouse as well, which is a vibrant and daily lesson in botany and plant management. And their understanding of agriculture, sustainability, and ecology is both broad and deep, due to Clay’s substantial knowledge in these fields and his steadfast commitment to best practices. Lauren and Maran can give a detailed description of their uncle’s unique method of invasive plant management, complete with reasons behind its effectiveness and benefits for crops, animals, and the eventual human consumer. Recently they were given the opportunity to demonstrate this and other knowledge to peers when they led a tour group of other homeschoolers around the farm.

While the girls are tender and loving with the animals and spend much of their educational time devoted to the required daily tasks of feeding and handling them, they have a clear understanding of their fate and purpose in this environment—and they enjoy the end result, to boot. In fact, Lauren and Maran won’t eat store-bought meats or eggs because they “just don’t taste as good,” and they enjoy helping make bacon and stuffing sausage casings.

That’s not to say that life on the farm is all science and pork. Linda points out that it’s important to have a good deal of humanity to balance the business aspect of their trade, and that occasionally farm animals work their way into the family as pets. “Naming an animal is a bad business decision,” she said, but of course it happens sometimes—and often it changes the fate of that animal. Some of the family’s beloved bad business decisions include roosters Foghorn and Leghorn, and hogs Pete, Sass, and Mia Ham.

Asked about their favorite aspects of the farm life experience, Lauren and Maran simultaneously exclaimed, “It’s fun!” To which Lauren added, “…and I love the bacon.”

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