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The Family Cow (Share)…

Two weeks ago, I received this email from a woman named Marnie:

Hi Paige,

We have this 21 person local cow share going on in Nicasio, right above the Nicasio Resevoir. We are all getting together to have one of our cow share meetings. We talk about our cow and share products we have made from her milk in a kind of pot luck. Everything from butter and cheese to moss artwork! We were wondering if you would want to take a photo of all of us with our cow up here on Black Mountain?

I had never heard of a cow share before, but after living on a farm with two Jersey cows for a year and a half, I know how much work (and milk) is involved in caring for a cow. During my time on the farm, I had countless, seemingly endless, milking sessions, by hand, with two Jersey cows, so I know that even one Jersey cow produces way more milk than a single family can consume.

There were many mornings when I would have paid someone to come and take over my milking duties… those were usually the mornings when Barbra, the cow, kicked over the full bucket and I watched my hour of warm, white, liquid, labor spread across the dirty barn floor. So I thought the idea of a cow share was brilliant and I couldn’t wait to document the gathering.

I learned that the cow share initially started off with five families. But with two milkings a day, seven days a week, sometimes people couldn’t make their designated milking, so another family would be brought in to substitute and eventually the cow share grew to 21 people.

Unfortunately not all of the 21 people were able to make it for our photo shoot. But of the people who were there, I was excited to see many familiar faces, in addition to an absolutely gorgeous backdrop for our photo shoot.

After the group photo, we came back and had a picnic of all the yummy products people had made with Rosie’s milk…

Including feta cheese…

And ice cream…

The group was clearly proud of their girl Rosie…

…they had baby pictures to prove it.

As we were picnicking, more people showed up, and even though we still didn’t have all 21 people, we had more people than the first photo. So we decided to do another group photo, because the more people in the photo, the more effective the message of the cow share.

But as we were trying to encourage some of the reluctant members to be a part of the second photo shoot, as well as to move quickly, because Rosie’s dinner time was rapidly approaching and she was getting antsy, it became clear that 21 people is a big group of people. And big groups of people are hard to manage, especially when technically there isn’t a manager.

As we stood on the hillside, after the second group photo, the group had an impromptu talk about the future of the cow share and the challenges that it presents, especially for Marnie, who ends up spending the most time worrying and caring for Rosie because she owns the property where Rosie lives. She confessed caring for Rosie and managing all the milking schedules was a lot more time-consuming than she thought it would be, so she felt like Rosie had to go to a new home.

The group seemed surprised and disappointed by the news, but not discouraged. Challenges and hurdles are inherent when working with large groups of people… and cow shares, as wonderful as they are, are no exception.

Sharing anything takes lots and lots of communication, and sharing a giant living, milk producing cow… probably takes even more communication. So it seems Miss Rosie will most likely lose her glorious view overlooking the valley, but hopefully this cow sharing, milk loving, community will continue to go on, and with good communication, it will only grow stronger with time.

About the author paige green

Paige Green is a documentary and portrait photographer, whose storytelling approach to photography frequently addresses issues involving agriculture, land use, and food. Her work is featured in nine books and has been published in Glamour, National Geographic Traveler, New York Times Magazine, Conde Nast Traveler, GQ, Country Living, House Beautiful, and Culture. Paige lives in Petaluma, CA with a house full of boys.

All posts by paige green →

10 Comments

  1. What a lucky cow, that Rosie! I think that all cows should be as appreciated.
    Brilliant idea indeed!
    What a gorgeous field of golden grasses too ..

    Reply

  2. LOVE this post! What a beautiful cow!
    xoxo

    Reply

  3. This made me tear up! Lots of love in their efforts and your words. xo

    Reply

  4. This is a great story and you were so lucky to be part of it. Lovely folks and gorgeous country. Nice job Paige

    Reply

  5. A Cow Share! Brilliant! Really Brilliant! Of course, your photographs grow and amaze me. Thank you!

    Reply

  6. You captured our concept beautifully! Thank you.

    Reply

  7. Paul and Valerie Ackerman September 29, 2010 at 3:29 pm

    What a wonderful experience for all those involved – the Cow Share Gang, the Jackson family and, last but not least, Rosie Belle. Duncan and Ellierose have had a unforgettable, first-hand experience -learning where the milk and milk products on their table come from. They will never see a carton of milk, a tub of butter or a bucket of ice cream in the super market again without thinking about Rosie Belle. What a fantastic education it has been for them!

    Reply

  8. Thanks Paige for writing and photographing the story of our cow so well. We welcome anyone interested in starting a cow share to give us a call 415 662 1050 or email Marniejkn@gmail.com Thanks

    Reply

  9. wow, you lucky.
    what an amazing day.
    and so well put!

    Reply

  10. Hi Cow Family! I just ran into Tammi Salas in Bodega, and was talking about my dream to do exactly what you are doing. She shared your site with me, and the news that you are looking for a new home for your pretty cow. We have just started a 4-H club in Bodega Bay with hopes of working up to exactly this. I live on a big ranch in Bodega (see website) but no experience with cows…Would you be interested in mentoring us to the ultimate possibility of adopting your cow? It’s looking like we can collect a lot of excited kids and parents.

    Reply

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