Chris Austin, Gal-A-Tin Acres
Chris Austin and Gal-A-Tin Acres
“Where else do you see this?”
The comment stuck as Chris Austin and I walked away from his hog pasture. Alone, this utterance is merely candid; however, after watching Chris save a trapped and squealing piglet from inside its makeshift horse trailer home, his words were poignant. Think about it…where else can you watch several monolithic sows bask in the late morning sun with hordes of piglets roaming across a large fenced pasture? Certainly not in Chili. According to Chris, “People don’t realize that I am down here. They see the hogs, and ask me what I do with them. What do you think? Do I stand there and throw a Frisbee to them?”
Nor does he throw a Frisbee to his beef cows and chickens. The barley and hay are not grown to beautify his back yard either. Chris is a farmer, and every animal and crop is part of his operation. However, most, if not all of the products he raises on his 120 acres is channeled directly into the bellies of local consumers. “We raise basically meat,” Chris described. [We sell it] either by word of mouth (people come here) or…the North Chili Market. We just got into the Victor Farm Market.”
Here is another interesting fact: Chris maintained a full time job as a tool maker for fifteen years in addition to tending his farm.
“I did that full time, and farmed here pretty much full time,” Chris asserted. “When I wasn’t working, I was farming. I now have another job in the evenings….I need the paycheck. And still, the farm has never been this big, we have never had this many animals…and I am working full time. Before, it was doable. Now, it is doable, but I don’t want to give up what I got, cause hopefully I can farm full time…it is all I ever loved since I was five years old, it is all I have ever wanted to do.”
It is apparent that Chris is deeply attracted to agriculture, a bond that most of us would fail to fathom. Besides his innate affinity, there are other positive aspects that we can conceive, and probably appreciate to a limited extent. “You don’t have a boss, you don’t have to punch a clock, we eat good stuff, we know where everything comes from…we don’t have a lot of money and a beautiful house, but we’re all pretty happy.”
Place makes Chris pretty happy. As he mentioned earlier, the lack of money and a fanciful palisade does not bother him. His ambitions are a bit different from the typical American’s. Instead of seeking a secure lifestyle, he intends to live off of the land entirely as soon as he can – a risky endeavor at best, but it’s his natural inclination. He cannot be separated from Place.
“Out here, we see things people don’t see or wouldn’t see,” Chris described for me. “It’s just nice to walk around and see…hawks flying around…the wildlife…stuff that you would not see [anywhere else]. We have fifty pigs across the street, and people don’t see pigs anymore….We just had two litters, you walk across the street and see a litter of pigs all together walking around. They are doing what they are supposed to do; dig and play, and be outside. You just don’t see that…”
Unfortunately, we may see less and less. When farmland disappears, the pigs disappear, and the wildlife usually vanishes as well. However, it is not sufficient to bemoan the loss if we fail to understand the underlying causes. For Chris, “They’re building all these houses…not doing anything to keep the land for farmland. If you don’t have farms, you don’t eat…people don’t seem to get that….I feel like we don’t exist out here…I don’t think they value what we have to say….If they make it hard for us to stay here and we move out, they will ultimately build houses. That is my biggest fear.”
And he has every right to be afraid. The loss of farmland is more than the disappearance of pigs and corn; it equates to deteriorating a distinguished heritage, undermining core values that Chili flourished upon. Without the fields, we sacrifice our independence and our identity.
For Chris, the farmer is being lost in consumer decadence and predominate ignorance. However, we can do something, we can save our Places if we come to understand their value. “[The] farmland, any land that could be farmland…the creeks, anything that nature put here, God put here, anything that’s here and was created not by us…should be preserved and kept here.”
To preserve, we need to understand – understand what Place means to others, understand the pain of its loss, understand the responsibility of good stewardship. “I’m not saying they should put us up on a pedestal…but knowing, at least, that we exist out here would be nice,” Chris expressed.
“This is my life, this is all I wanted to do.”