I think we were in 5th or 6th grade when we took a class trip back down the entrance way to Ralph R. Smith Elementary to visit a classmate’s family farm. Charlie Gilbert was quiet, but carried himself with an easy confidence. His family's farm was right next to the school. I think this simple visit did more to inform and form my opinion on the value of family farming then all the rest of the media and national news opinions of the next 50 years put together.
This trip took place at just about the same time the Gilberts were expanding from a simple dairy farm into processing their own milk for retail sale. Charlie’s dad took us through the barn where he showed us the milking stalls, and explained how the cows would come in twice a day to be milked. In the process he talked a great deal about how the cows were cared for and grown. He told us how important it was to keep the milking machines clean and sanitary, or the milk would be contaminated and the cows would get sick.
He then showed us the big blue silo they had recently installed and talked about how they harvested the corn to turn it into silage so they could feed it to the cows all winter. The new type of silo was supposed to be glass lined which I assume kept the silage fresher and the cows happier.
Finally, we toured the newly installed milk processing plant where they could pasteurize the milk before bottling into the final container. The funny thing was, this was my second trip to a milk processing plant. Way back when I was just a kid in third grade, going to school at Violet Avenue Elementary, we had a trip to Wayne Fitchett’s family dairy to see how milk was made. Of course that had been an up and running affair, taking in the raw milk and turning it into a variety of products they would sell through either direct delivery or as wholesale products to the supermarkets and stores in the area.
In the course of those few hours Mr. Gilbert taught us how farms worked, the importance of proper care and feeding of the stock, how raw material was transformed into finished products, and how much hard work goes into a successful farm. In small and simple ways that trip taught me a lot about how important individual initiative and pursuit of a passion is to success in life.