Terra Madre Dispatch: Mickey Clayton of Dot Ranch
// by Mickey Clayton //
We asked Mickey of Dot Ranch to share her experience at this year’s Terra Madre & Salone del Gusto, which took place in Turin, Italy, in October. You can read more about Mickey on our Terra Madre delegate page. Here’s what she had to say:
There’s something about sheep people that’s quite a bit different than other folks, a mixture of natural reserve and fierce pride, salted with a great sense of practicality and woven through with a hidden weft of joy.
Like my sheep, I’m often less than friendly with strangers, although I’m quick to share happiness with those in my circle. Despite this, I was deeply honored to be selected as a Slow Food USA delegate, and I meant to make the most of the opportunity to meet other shepherds. Worried about the language barrier, I went out and bought myself an iPad mini to take to Italy, then loaded it with photos of our sheep, and an Italian language app. Feeling somewhat guilty about not spending that money on hay, with this and a camera loaned to me by a friend, I was now armed for Terra Madre and Salone del Gusto.
I may have thought I was armed and ready, but my arrival in Torino quickly disabused me of any such notion. The sheer press of people at the event was such that it required the resolve to physically push past people to make it down the aisles, and for an introvert with an aversion to touching strangers, the first day was daunting, tiring, and overwhelming. Between jet lag, an overdose on the press of people, and a serious case of homesickness, I was left wondering what on Earth had possessed me to volunteer for this.
Then I saw the Ark of Taste display, with beautiful photos of rare sheep and cattle from around the world. Heartened by this display, I forged on in search of sheep people. When I would find a booth that had photos of sheep up, I’d whip out the iPad and show the startled booth owners a photo of my sheep in deep snow, coming down from the frosted forest in a meandering line.
If they smiled, I would show them more, photos of my 4 horned Navajo-Churro rams, photos of the jewel box of colored ewes on green grass, and of course, photos of leaping lambs. Usually, by this point, the bemused look has turned to shared joy, and hands are waved, a polyglot babble of languages is exchanged, and the person waves over their spouse, siblings, or friends to come see as well. Magic, in a backlit electronic photo book that documents passion.
I took a friend along with me on a search for sheep people, repeating my charades game and show-n-tell ritual. She watched the looks of slight irritation turn to huge smiles and exchanged hugs between myself and two brothers, cheese makers from the deep country of Italy, as we flipped through photos of my sheep on the iPad. Soon, we’ve been invited into a special circle of heartfelt camaraderie and happiness. Blushing furiously, I exchanged hugs with the brothers, both of whom are so big that I felt like a doll in their arms (pictured at top).
As we walk away, my friend comments that watching the joy break out on their faces as they shared lamb photos of their own with me was amazing, and left her feeling energized as well. She didn’t hesitate when a day later I introduced her to a different set of brothers. This time we were invited behind the counter for rounds of homemade wine, poured from an impossibly sized jug kept behind the cutting counter covered in massive rounds of hard cured sheep cheese.
Once again, a special recognition that transcends borders, and languages has been formed over the love of wooly beasties. Bolstered with laughter, off color jokes and wine, we both comment on what a clever, great investment the iPad was. Guilt dismissed, cue happy smile.
At the end of the week, I’ve made a handful of new friends the world over. They range from a woman in Bulgaria who raises endangered sheep that are amazingly similar to my Navajo-Churros, to invitations to learn cheese making from brothers on Sardinia, and a host of invitations to visit sheep people all across the globe, from France to Kenya, with brief stops inviting me here and there in Italy, the Virgin Islands, and even Eastern Europe.
I came with my own agenda, and I left with a real sense of my place in the global community, a sense that included more warmth and happiness than I ever expected. I’m looking forward to keeping up the impromptu connections that I made on this trip.
Sheep people, after all, know the value of flocking together.
Mickey Clayton is the owner-operator of Dot Ranch, a small sustainable ranch that specializes in products and breeding stock of rare heritage breeds of livestock. She raises Navajo-Churro Sheep, Irish Dexter Cattle and Mottled Java Chickens. Dot Ranch produces wool, fiber and taxidermy items such as hand tanned trophy quality pelts, skulls, horns, and bones, and of course grass-fed, pasture-raised meats.
Thanks for sharing