By Elizabeth Gracen:
Sometimes you just get lucky—even when it's a hotter-than-the-hinges-of-hell type of day and you're strolling through an Arts Fair in the middle of Missouri, sweat rolling down your back as you try your best not to pass out from heat stroke. That was me in late May of this year, delirious and grumpy, my thirteen-year-old daughter dragging me through the park to an art booth, her enthusiasm palpable enough to distract me from my "hot house flower" tendencies.
I could see the gorgeous, high-contrast black-and-white images of whimsical alpacas and comical farm animals in the distance, and within seconds I realized that I'd found something different and, dare I say, special.
Kim Carr's photography is art with a purpose—a niche dear to my heart. Her photographs are exceptional and her mission to bring awareness to Heritage Breed farm animals in threat of extinction is a perfect fit for Flapper Press. I am honored to feature her art and writing on our site.
Please meet Kim Carr!
EG: Kim, I can’t tell you how lucky I feel to have met you. We are always looking for new writers, and I have been particularly keen to expand our Animals section on Flapper Press. When I saw your photography at the Art's Festival in Columbia, MO—and I read what you were doing to help raise funds and awareness regarding the extinction of Heritage Breed farm animals—it was kismet. I’m thrilled that you want to come on board to write for us. Please give me the basics of who you are and how you discovered your passion for photography and animals.
KC: Well, I have always had a love for animals for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I devoured every educational book on animals that I could. It was my summer with my grandparents just before my tenth birthday that I decided I would become a farmer and have lots of animals to care for when I grew up. When I turned sixteen and could drive, I went to the St. Louis Zoo every weekend with a notebook and pencil. I copied every Fact/Information sign about animals in the zoo. I have continued to nurture that love of animals and thirst for knowledge about them, throughout my life.
As for my photography, my mom was a single parent, so when she gave me a little Kodak camera when I was ten, she made me buy my own film and pay for my developing. It didn’t take me long at all to be very selective about what I photographed. My eye for photography is a direct result of not wanting to waste my allowance money. I needed to buy hamster food and other essentials for my pets. Even though I shoot digital now, I still shoot in the same manner as I did as a kid. I eye something up and take that one shot. This has been very beneficial to me now because I am too lazy to spend hours at the computer editing and sorting tons of images; I’d rather get that shot right then and there the first time . . . sometimes I succeed, sometimes I don’t.
EG: Most people hear about animal extinction and think of exotic creatures on the brink, but very few people, including myself, consider the loss of what most of us would consider everyday animals. Tell me about Heritage Breed farm animals and why they are facing the danger of extinction. Why should we care about this subject?
KC: Currently, I am working on a photo series of Heritage Breed farm animals. They are much like Heirloom Veggies. These are old-fashioned breeds or varieties that do not meet today’s agricultural standards. Many of your heritage breeds are slower growing or do not grow as large as most breeds that are used in commercial agriculture.
On my farm, I raise Irish Dexter’s. They are an old-fashioned breed of cattle. The Dexter’s were known as a good dual-purpose family cow. They are docile, so families would break them to do oxen-type work such as plow the fields. The Dexter is also an excellent milk producer despite its smaller size. Then when it came time to feed the family, you could cure the meat and keep the family fed through the winter. With the invention of electricity and, over time, deep freezes, the agriculture standards started shifting. The Dexter is a small type cow. You cannot make them grow bigger or faster, and due to the shift from small family farm to large corporate, commercial farms, many of your heritage breeds have been left behind because they do not fit into modern agriculture practices. Breeds have become more specialized; cows are no longer dual purpose, they are raised for beef or for milk. Many of your modern breeds have lost their hardiness. They are more prone to disease and lack flavor and vigor.
In the race to feed the planet, mankind did not act wisely, and the dollar often affected decisions that have hurt our planet overall and have watered down and eliminated some of our animal diversity.
I am not sure why the exotic animals get all the attention and funding, which they are certainly worthy of—but so are the domestic animals.
Extinction is forever; once the Milking Devon cattle, the Arapawa goats, and Mammoth donkeys of the world are gone, they are gone forever. If I can lend a voice to this and raise awareness, then that is what I will do.
EG: What is it like living in the Midwest? Have you ever considered living anywhere else? What makes Missouri so special to you?
KC: As a kid I envisioned myself a farmer/hermit. My goal was to live in the mountains with my dogs and a mule, coming to town once a month for necessities. When assigned to write about our future careers, I gave a detailed account of how I would live, and a teacher handed my paper back to me and told me to write about being a veterinarian. I’ve never forgotten that teacher . . . and not for good reasons. While I never made it to the mountains, I have lived at the end of a dead-end road out in the country with my mule and numerous dogs for almost thirty-one years now. With having a farm and livestock, I’ve not done much traveling and haven’t really thought much about living somewhere else because I would never leave my animals. If I could magically pick up everything and move it, California is gorgeous and the average temp where I visited ranged between 40 and 80 degrees. I loved that. While I enjoy the four seasons of Missouri, as a farmer, the extreme high and low temps of summer and winter can be very trying. Overall, I think Missouri is a very pretty state, and if I ever get to travel, we are pretty central to everything. It would be a dream though to live somewhere that I could see the mountains or the ocean, but I really can’t complain. I have a pretty decent view right here on the farm.
EG: Are you vegetarian? Do you have any thoughts regarding animal husbandry and farm factory animals and our treatment of animals in general?
KC: I personally am a meatetarian, but I have plenty of friends who are vegetarian or vegan. I have a great amount of respect for them and try to be sensitive to their feelings. I can fully understand where they are coming from and support their choices 100%. As an animal lover, I am sickened by the conditions that commercial agriculture has taken the industry. This is one reason I myself am a farmer; I know exactly what is on my plate and how it was raised. I could really go off on a tangent here about the treatment of animals in factory farms, but I’d rather stick to the positives. This is one reason I am so invested in my heritage breed photo series. It is giving me the opportunity to visit with Missouri farmers who are raising these old-fashioned breeds the old-fashioned way: on grass with plenty of room to roam, sunshine, fresh air, and free of stress.
Small farmers are everything good that factory farms are not. I know this may seem odd, but if more restaurants would serve heritage breed meats, you would see an increase in the small farm population and a greater increase in these rare breeds being raised on these small farms, thus improving their chances of being removed from the endangered list.
An animal being raised on a small farm under normal conditions has one bad day in its life compared with being raised on a commercial or factory farm where every day is a bad day.
By getting to know your farmer and the conditions for which your food is raised, we can truly make a shift in agriculture standards. There are little guys out there, everyday people like you and me who care about the animals they raise, and they care about the food they put on your table.
I think Farmers' Markets are the wave of the future. We need to know where our food comes from and how it was cared for. I believe there is a right way and a wrong way. So, while I am not a vegetarian, I think they have helped make us all more aware and thoughtful about the food we eat.
I think positive changes in our food industry have come about because vegetarians and vegans have forced us to take a closer look at the meat industry. While it has not been a pleasant look, it has been much needed and is resulting in a much more educated consumer.
EG: Tell me about your new book!
KC: I have been writing since I was a kid and even have a few books almost ready to go to print. Fear and self-doubt have kept me from taking that big leap toward being published. In 2017, I stared the Heritage Breed Photo Project with the intent that I would publish a book of my images and stories collected of the farmers raising rare and endangered breeds of livestock and poultry. I envision that this project will take me another 3–4 years before I gather enough images to put together a book worthy of publication. In the meantime, I was presented with an opportunity to contribute a chapter for an Anthology of Living Well. My chapter is titled “From the porch to the garden, into the woods.” It gives a little insight as to the things that have helped shape who I am today. The Anthology is a collection of stories from several female writers. The official launch date is June 29, 2019. I will have the book available on my website and at some of my upcoming art shows. It is my hope that this is the first of many books to come.
EG: Finally, please share what you’ll be writing about for Flapper Press. I’m really looking forward to your “Around the Farm” series.
KC: Mainly, I will be sharing stories from “Around the Farm.” These little stories are generally recapping my everyday life here on the farm. Sometimes they are intriguing, sometimes educational, but mostly they are just entertaining with a twist of humor as I tend to look at the bright side of life even when standing knee deep in . . . let’s say mud. Occasionally, I might throw in a story from my adventures “Beyond the Farm Gates.” I look forward to sharing a bit of my life with you. Hopefully you’ll be as amused by it as I am.