Student Research Conference Presentation

Here’s my presentation at The College of Idaho Student Research Conference. It details my initial findings at the farm in Idaho.

Thanks to Ricardo Osuna for the video!

If you want to follow along with the visuals of the presentation, you can find the Prezi here.


Ho bisogno di praticare il mio italiano e mi piace molto i capri

Ho bisogno di praticare il mio italiano e mi piace molto i capri (or, I need to practice my Italian and I love the goats!)

The last week has been an interesting one. Last Sunday was the 22nd of April, exactly a month until I leave for Italy. Now it’s one week less! Tuesday was my Italian lesson through Boise State, though I have started taking private lessons to practice having conversations. I have had two lessons so far and we spoke Italian pretty much the whole time and I could understand the majority of it. Progress! Though, I still have a ways to go.

In the meantime, I’ve been working as much as possible at the farm in Idaho to learn their ways. It’s been pretty crazy and full of a lot of new experiences. Last I wrote, I had been helping feed the kids. Since then, my job has expanded to helping with the various other tasks of caring for the kids. I’ve helped band (or castrate with tiny rubber bands) the bucks in preparation for selling at auction or to others on craigslist. I’ve also learned how to give a vaccination for E coli, how to determine whether or not a doe is about to kid, and how to de-horn and tattoo the kids she is keeping. What I’ve learned is that baby goats sound like crying children when they are in pain and it is quite heart-wrenching. Unfortunately, de-horning, tattooing and castration are necessary evils. Jane (again, her name is changed for privacy) doesn’t like doing it either, but she knows she has to.

The last couple weeks I’ve learned a lot about the animal side of things. Jane has a hard time distinguishing between whether her goats are livestock, pets or something in between. She has a lot of respect and love for her goats and she hates seeing any die or sold for meat, but she also knows that they are her livelihood and it’s either “them or her.”

I’ve also been able to start work in the cheese-room again. Last October when I first started to work, Jane had another set of employees and they taught me. Now that Jane is back in the cheese-room and those others were laid off, the atmosphere is much different and I have learned a lot more. It’s much different to be working with someone who puts all her ideas into action and who has been doing it for 25 years.

On April 21st I gave a presentation at the Student Research Conference at my school and presented some of my initial findings from the Idaho farm. I will be posting the video soon, so you all can hear in more detail some of the research aspects.

Today also officially marks two weeks until I leave for Italy. I received an email from my host family this morning giving me their number to call them from Rome. I can’t believe this is really happening! The next time I post it may be from Italy!

Kidding Season

It’s been almost four months since I was on the farm in Parma and I was very excited to be back. My excitement escalated as I stepped into the barn and saw sixty little faces ready to be fed.

Jane (her name is changed to protect her privacy) was busy in the milking room filling old Ace Hard Cider bottles with colostrum (or new milk, the milk mammals produce full of antibodies and protein for the babies). We put the ten bottles into buckets of hot water to warm them up and walked out to the barn. All the kids were anxiously awaiting their meal. Both sides of the barn were sectioned off into pens and two newborns were wandering in the isle between the two. We carefully walked past the two to the very end pen on the right. On the right side of the barn, the pens are made of straw bales to keep the kids inside, while the ones on the left have wire cattle fence. The kids are rotated according to their age; the kids in the straw pens are bottle-fed and the kids in the other pens are put on what is called the lamb bar, a bucket with ten nipples attached.

Bottle-feeding kids is not as easy as it sounds; there is definitely a learning curve. Jane expertly grabbed a kid and got the nipple in its mouth and it started suckling. I picked a kid up and attempted to get it to suckle. It just kind of chewed on the end and swirled its tongue around, trying to figure out how to get the milk out. In the process, I spilled milk all over my lap. Jane had to show me how to get their mouth open and hold their head to get them to learn how to suck the milk out. By the end of my weekend working there I had pretty much figured out how it was done; just in time for about twenty more kids to be born. Each one had to be fed right away, given a shot for E coli, and given a little bit of Lamb and Kid Paste full of vitamins.

While we worked, Jane and I talked. She has had a rough couple years. A few years ago her husband, who she had built the business with, passed away from cancer. Since then, she had to attempt to run the business by herself. Along the way she had to hire and rehire multiple times, trying to find the right employees. When I returned from my four month break, I found that three of the employees I had worked most closely with had been laid off. Jane was back to running the farm pretty much by herself, with one helper in the cheese room and one helping with the milking and the herd (who was volunteering his time). But she told me that she was getting back to her old self again, back to being active and excited about new things on the farm. She has sought out new opportunities to increase revenue and grow the mission of her farm. Her most prominent idea at the moment is to pursue agritourism. Agritourism is a growing market, as more and more affluent “city-folk” want to see what its like to live on a farm. Jane is renovating an old trailer house on the property for guests to stay in. They pay to come visit the farm and perform some of the tasks on the farm.

We also talked about goats. How the animals are viewed is one of the biggest things I am looking at in my research. How people view the animal is directly related to how they view food and both are largely affected by cultural perceptions of the value and meaning of the animal. The way the goats are treated on the farm is very interesting. The farm is not organic because if an animal is in pain, they are treated. The goats are not viewed as pets, they are producers, but the people do get emotionally attached. One of the days I was working, Jane told me about a doe she had to help deliver a baby. Neither the doe nor the kid lived. “It made me sick,” she said. “It’s something you never really get used to.”

Over the next couple months, I will continue working on the farm 2-3 days a week, up until I leave for Italy on May 22. I’ve made a section for my photos, so make sure to keep watching those. I will update them as I take more pictures. I’ll also continue to post here about my adventures on the farm.

Le Quattro Volte

One of my recent contributors suggested I watch this movie and I’m very glad I did. Not only is it just a beautiful movie, but it is set in the mountains of Calabria (where I’m going) and it has goats. It explores Pythagora’s idea that the soul passes from human, to animal, to vegetable to mineral so it has really beautiful images of nature.

Check out this trailer and if you want to watch the whole movie, I would highly suggest it. It’s on Netflix Watch Instantly.


I recently discovered some rather wonderful news about my project.

As part of the research process, any researchers proposing to be in contact with human participants must send in an application to the Institutional Review Board (IRB). The IRB reviews the application and attached research methods proposal and determines whether the research proposed will have “minimal risk” on the participants. The IRB is mostly for psychology and medical experiments, so most of the questions on the application were geared more toward this type of research. In finishing the application for “exempt” status, I had to fill out seven pages and was a little disconcerted. What if I didn’t explain myself well enough? Would they be able to understand that I wouldn’t pose any risk to the participants? All I want to do is study cheese. If they didn’t approve, I couldn’t do my research. My professors assured me that they would, but I always worry. Lo and behold, I got my approval the other day and was congratulated on a very interesting project.

Anthropology is a very interesting field of study. Though it is a social science like political science, sociology and psychology, it sometimes has a bad rep for being “unscientific.” For this reasons it is sometimes underestimated in its contribution to knowledge. It is sometimes seen this way because of the way that human culture can’t really be quantified. Sure, you can do surveys and collect data that way, but does it truly represent culture? How much can you really know from the numbers? The argument against this is that, in anthropology, everything is up to the individual researcher’s interpretation rather than on hard data.

I add this seemingly pointless rant for a reason, I promise.

Though cultural anthropology is, much of the time, based on observations, this does not discredit the contribution such research can make. I spent last semester in a course entitled “Seminar in Social Research.” In this class we learned about both quantitative and qualitative forms of data-collection and analysis. Though my research primarily focuses on qualitative research, I discovered some very cool ways to quantify some of this research, making it more palatable for some people. It’s still not “hard science”  as some would define it, but I think that anthropology and all social sciences contribute to the world of knowledge in wonderful ways.

With that being said, as a part of this course we had to pick a project to apply our newly-learned methods to. So, of course, I did some initial research on the farm in Idaho. I’ve added a new page to present some of this initial research for people to peruse. It will explain some of my methods and experiences in doing my first big research project. Visit the page here.

Learning the Language

An economist once told me that the only way to speak Italian is to run everything together and talk like I’ve had at least five cups of coffee. If that’s the case, then it’s going to take me a very long time to speak the true Italian language. In the meantime, I’ll stick to my flash cards and slowly-mispronounced sentences.

In high school I took three years of Spanish and at the end of it felt like I’d learned nothing. Not until I came to college and was immersed in my boyfriend’s Spanish-speaking family did I realize I did, in fact, learn something from my three teachers. Now that I’m back to square one in a different language, I feel so much more grateful for the time spent in the classrooms I despised.

People had been informing me for months that I need not worry–everyone in Italy speaks English. I informed them I wanted to learn the language anyway so I could more fully communicate and understand their culture. It turned out all those people were wrong. Everyone in Italy doesn’t speak English and it so happens that the farm that I am staying on does not have anyone that does. This is both extremely exciting and terrifying for me. Exciting because now I absolutely have to learn the language and terrifying because, well… now I absolutely have to learn the language.

Fortunately for me and unlike some other anthropologists, I’m going to a country where the language is spoken in many places and understood and studied in many others. So, I have a wealth of resources at my disposal: dialogue CDs, Instant Immersion (the cheaper version of Rosetta Stone), flash cards, The Idiot’s Guide to Italian, Netflix movies with subtitles and community classes at Boise State with a native speaker. There are days I feel like everything will be okay. There are other days I freak out a little bit. I really love learning other languages and I really love being able to blunder my through a sentence. But there’s always a part of me that feels bad. Both Italian and Spanish are beautiful languages and I don’t want to mess them up with my crummy American accent. Every time I express this fear, people ask me if I feel that way about people in the U.S. with accents. No, of course not. So my fear is completely unfounded.

I know that once I arrive in Italy I’ll be surrounded by helpful, friendly people who have enough patience to deal with my slow speech. Plus, learning through immersion is the best way to learn the true meaning behind the language. Until then, I’ll continue to repeat emergency phrases like “Parla inglese?” (Do you speak English?) and “Dov’è il formaggio?” (where’s the cheese?) in my attempt.

Until We Eat Again Kickstarter Project

Until We Eat Again Kickstarter Project

As much as I hate technology at times, it’s really a great way to discuss and share things with so many people in one fell swoop. Kickstarter is a website that helps people with creative ideas get their projects done. I was approved and have posted my project on the website and now just trying to get contributors! There’s a video and some more information about the project on that site, so check it out.

What can we learn from cheese?

Because this is my first post, I feel I should introduce myself. My name is Katy and cheese is my favorite food. Something about its versatility and the way it’s made fascinates me. Plus, the production  of it is intricately entwined with human behaviors, attitudes and culture, which is my other passion in life. This blog is dedicated to a project I will be doing my junior and senior years at The College of Idaho, where I am currently pursuing my undergraduate degrees in Anthropology and Environmental Studies. So, thank you for showing your interest in my project and make sure to read my “About Me” and “About the Project” pages to learn more about me and my cheesy project.