I first saw her at our Saturday morning farmers’ market.
It’s where people come and sell their produce – everything from Swiss
chard to goats’ milk body lotion.
Olivia was attracting a crowd of children, who
could pay five dollars – or their parents could – for her to paint a picture
for them. She had considerable talent; her
sample oeuvre, a funky abstract, looked better
than most of the stuff in the Tate Modern. This was remarkable considering we were in rural western New York and even
more remarkable considering Olivia was a pig.
Intrigued by this
porcine Picasso. who painted with her
snout, I stopped to talk to her owners, John and Jessica Policastro.
Their farm stall
sold, among other things, pork chops but
Olivia, they hastened to tell me, was a family pet, a “teacup pig” as they’re
called and perfectly behaved and housetrained.
We got chatting and
I took up their invitation to come and visit the farm.
It was called “Flanigan
Farm”, after the steep Flanigan Hill not that far from us. As I walked down the precipitous drive (“A bit
intimidating – better leave your car on the road”, John had warned), three
small brown-and-white piglets chased each other across my path and into the
John and Jessica were in there with their
ten-year-old twin daughters, Keely and Noella, who were seeing to Dahlia the white
goat, Keely’s favourite. “The animals
are like our friends,” she said,
scratching Dahlia’s head.
was a Jersey-cross calf called Baby. Both girls had won prizes for their
animals at the County Fair, “The hardest part”, Noella confided, “was getting her to stand with the legs right,
so the judge could see all of them”.
The Policastros have
had animals for about ten years but recently started a more commercial
It was partly, John
said, to do with the girls getting old enough to help out. “It’s really
confidence-building for them”.
let them do all the work and I enjoy the
animals!” Jessica quipped.
At last count they have 20 turkeys being raised for Thanksgiving, two
calves, six piglets, including three older ones, “The Three Amigos” (two named Hamilton and Bacon Bits, so they
don’t get too sentimental about them; the third, Spot, might get a reprieve)
and Poppy the matriarch sow, “We had a
boar but he’s in the freezer”.
Then there are the
goats and the chickens for laying eggs and eating.
It’s not all
storybook stuff. They lost nine piglets to a mystery illness, a raccoon once decimated the chickens and the
laying hens are currently “on strike”.
Plus it has rather changed their lives. “It’s
hard to go on vacation!” said Jessica.
But they’re rewarded by their customers’ enthusiasm. They like the idea that the animals are free
to roam. After all, not every chicken can
boast its own private Cresta Run – in winter, the girls take them sledding down
“I can tell our customers that I know what’s gone into those chickens since the day
they were born”, said John, “I didn’t know how much it would matter to people
but it does.”
It’s a challenge as the Policastros both have day jobs, John in
marketing and Jessica as office manager at the local Catholic school, which the
twins attend. Various Policastro animals
are called into service at Christmas for the school’s live Nativity scene.
“And the values of
the school are reflected in everything we do,” added John, “Being Catholic isn’t just a hobby.”
As we stood in the yard, bathed in evening
sunshine, someone called out, “Look!” A wild
crane, a large stork-like bird had landed on the Policastros’ car. The girls
rushed to take pictures.
I could think of worse places for animals – or
kids – to grow up.
never a dull moment. The animals’
free-and-easy life does have its drawbacks. John told me the tale of how their
first pig escaped and he went out in the car to fetch it back. He ended up
heading home with the pig trotting behind the car. A woman driving by braked
and gaped, “ I just have to hear this story!”
And I thought you should