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Ryan Dennis

Ryan Dennis is the son of a New York dairy farmer and a literary writer whose early essays were originally published in Progressive Dairy.

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The more one reads about agriculture in other parts of the world, the more it seems like the story of farming changes little country to country. From Australia to Belgium, farmers lament the volatile prices and narrow margins.

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After spending the last six months visiting Icelandic dairy farms, I’ve begun to notice many of the characteristics inherent to the lifestyle. They have coffee before and after every trip to the barn, they own an overly enthusiastic border collie and, without fail, wear blue coveralls called gallis.

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Our farm sits in the bottom of a valley. Because of it, we can’t get any reception. When I did have a cell phone, I had to climb to the top of the hill to use it. On winter nights talking to friends, I’d stomp around corn stalks to keep warm. Most conversations ended not because I ran out of things to say, but because my fingers went numb.

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As I write this, I am staying with my sixth farm family in Iceland while working on a book project about the island’s dairy farming. The people here have been overwhelmingly gracious. One of my biggest concerns before arriving was figuring out how to charm my way into the houses of people I didn’t know, particularly as a foreigner.

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Several months ago, comedian Louis C.K. appeared on Conan O’Brien’s show, explaining why he didn’t like cell phones. He describes driving down the highway when a Bruce Springsteen song came on the radio and evoked memories that made him feel sad and alone.

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After milking, we sat down to a plate of lamb, which is fairly common for lunches on Icelandic farms. Systa, the wife, decided not to prepare the slátur they usually eat on Saturdays – which, in simple terms, is sheep blood (or liver) mixed with fat and oats stuffed in the stomach and often let sit in whey for several months.

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