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Commentary

Forging An Unexpected Path Through The Pandemic

 

It’s 8 a.m. in Romance, Arkansas. I slide my feet into a pair of hand-me-down boots and my fingers into insulated gloves. It’s 29 degrees outside. My breath forms a fog in the air as I head to the barn and scoop two buckets of feed for a herd of sheep: a mix of pellets and powder packed with vitamins and minerals. It’s lamb season. Lots of babies means momma sheep need nutrients for milk to feed hungry little mouths. The bleating from the herd overwhelms any thoughts I had before, and I shuffle through the bodies of wool and tiny hooves with buckets in hand. Chaos ensues when one sheep sees me dumping the feed into a trough. If I’m quick enough, I can escape the onslaught of the herd before I get caught between them all and survive to feed another day.

I never imagined myself making my way through the muck to feed a herd of sheep this time last year. I'm Abigail Megginson and I didn’t used to be a farm girl. Instead, I was a city girl, hustling in Washington, D.C. as a production assistant at C-SPAN. Shortly after graduating from the University of West Florida in 2019, I applied to a fellowship in Germany and a Fulbright Teaching Assistantship in India. I was accepted to both programs. But when they were cancelled courtesy of COVID-19, I started spiraling. My job had left me feeling burnt out, and the pandemic made it worse. I often felt alone, stuck, and on the worst days, helpless. I hadn’t been fired like many journalists, and I was thankful for that. But being grateful didn't mean I was doing the right thing for myself. 

I finally stopped making myself feel guilty for being unhappy with where I was. Instead, I started looking at my options. I joked with my friends that working on a farm would be “cool.” I had never hated manual labor, and I loved animals as a kid. The more I thought, the less crazy it sounded — ya know — quitting my D.C. media job to work as a volunteer farm hand.

After haggling with myself for a few weeks I gathered up the gumption to quit my job. I found a ranch to work on for the first month of 2021 through a website called WWOOF; also known as world wide opportunities on organic farms. The site aims to connect farms with volunteers like me who are looking for farm or ranch experience. I found a ranch in Arkansas that specialized in horses, sheep, and goats that I liked. Then, I pulled the trigger and made the move shortly after the New Year. 

Nestled in the foothills of the Ozarks, I spent a month and a half on a ranch with more than 50 horses, 20 goats, and 30 sheep. The days start at 8 a.m. feeding and watering the animals. Daily tasks include mucking stalls, repairing fences, driving a tractor, and training young horses. The workday is sometimes long and other times short, as life on a ranch is unpredictable. A goat might unexpectedly have a baby, a horse could escape its paddock, or a tractor might break down. These all actually happened. 

It’s a big change from last year in D.C. I know more about the prices of livestock feed than I do the latest Washington news. I wear overalls and boots instead of slacks and a pair of dress shoes. But since that first day on the ranch, I’ve found contentment in the quiet exhaustion each evening from the workday. It’s a kind of fulfillment that makes me question whether humans were meant for sedentary lives in an office. The one thing I’m sure of is that the decision to quit my D.C. media job and work on a farm was the best “crazy” thing I’ve ever done.