Running Down a Dream
“Yellow with birdfoot-trefoil are the grass glades...Earth in her heart laughs looking at the heavens.”
~ From Love in the Valley
by George Meredith (1828-1909)
There are at least twenty-five different kinds of birdsfoot trefoil. Lotus corniculatus is one of those amazingly useful plants, native to Europe but a long-time resident of this country, having most likely been brought here by some of the Colonials as a fodder and forage crop. It fixes nitrogen in the soil, thereby making it available for use by other plants. It has some medicinal value. It adapts well to production on poorly-drained and low-pH soil. It can reseed itself. It serves as a crop for cutting, as livestock forage, and as a cover crop. It doesn’t cause bloat in animals, it is anti-parasitic, and, while it does not yield as well as alfalfa, it is happy to grow where alfalfa doesn’t.
Silly you, who might not yet count it as one of your favorite plants, but Shon Seeley counted it as one of his. That’s one reason Bradford County artist and farmer Sadie Allen, famous for, among other things, her paintings of euphoric, dancing cows, incorporates birdsfoot trefoil into the logo she creates each year for the Dairy Dash 5K and 1-Mile Memory Walk, an event that benefits the Shon Seeley Legacy Fund for Sustainable Farming Education. This year’s race is Saturday, September 1, at Mansfield University’s cross-country course at Lamb’s Creek, just north of Mansfield’s downtown off of Business Route 15.
But let’s backtrack a little. Shon grew up on Milky Way Farms (yes, the one where you can get that amazing chocolate milk) in Troy. His dad, Kim, and his mom, Ann, made the decision a couple of decades ago to change the way they raised cows and produced milk; Milky Way’s subsequent transition to a grass-based farm that focused less on inputs, and more on using what natures provides and supports, was made with help from the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture.
“The Seeleys are like the first family of PASA,” says Lauren Smith, PASA’s director of development and the Dairy Dash organizer. “Kim has made a huge investment in PASA over the years.”
When it came time for Shon to go to college (Penn State), Kim says he and Ann encouraged their son to get his degree in agronomy. With the support of a mentor, Kim continues, Shon returned to the “home farm” with a renewed focus on sustainable practices that included raising healthy animals on grass, native pasture grass management, livestock genetic preservation, and value-added dairy processing. Then, like his dad, he set about sharing what he was learning and what he believed about farming sustainably.
“He was excited about helping other farmers figure this out,” says Kim. “It really made him tick.”
In 2012, Shon was twenty-nine years old. He was on his way to the hospital to see his wife, Jess, and their new daughter, the couple’s second child, when he was killed in a car accident. The family—both the immediate and the PASA family—“was beyond grief,” says Lauren. There was no public service or memorial and, anyway, what do you do with that kind of pain?
“Life is not predictable, not guaranteed,” Kim concedes, but he and Ann and the rest of Shon’s family wanted to be able to show Shon’s children “how to move forward.”
“This life is still a short part of the whole deal, and faith in a strong spirit is the only thing that makes it work,” he asserts.
Within a few months of Shon’s death, Lauren says, the Seeleys had developed the idea for the legacy fund. Then an MU graduate who happened to be a runner approached PASA about a 5K as a fundraiser. The inaugural Dairy Dash, in 2013, became Shon’s de-facto memorial, and drew a crowd of about 600.
“It was heartwarming to have so many people turn out to launch the Dairy Dash, and to honor Shon and his commitment to agricultural sustainability,” she says.
Attendance hasn’t been as high since, but, with a few races under their belt, they’re better prepared these days and are hoping for a big crowd.
“It’s really a lovely event,” says Lauren. “The course is so beautiful—it’s MU’s cross country course. We really appreciate the support of the MU athletic department. This year we’d love to top 200 for the Dairy Dash.”
“It’s very encouraging to see,” says Kim. “MU has been extremely positive.” He notes, too, that all the sponsors over the years have been “pretty special.”
“I go every year,” says Jessica Seeley, noting that she helps as a volunteer and also participates as a runner, as does her oldest child. “My son is seven, and this will be his second year of racing. It is a special way to remember Shon.”
So, are you ready to run? For the uninitiated, a 5K is just 3.1 miles and is the shortest of the common running event distances. This race starts at 9 a.m. Water stop and post-race food/ refreshments will be provided—treats include, of course, Milky Way Farms chocolate milk. The course is National Collegiate Athletic Association certified and is the host site for the Atlantic Regional Cross Country Championship. To register, or to get more details about the race, visit PASA at www.pasafarming.org or call (814) 349-9856.
Oh, and where else does birdsfoot trefoil fit into all of this? Kim explains that the time of the Dairy Dash is the time when the plant goes to seed (the name, birdsfoot, by the way, is a nod to the way the seedpods resemble a bird’s foot). His plan is to have seeds on hand to give away to the attendees, to have the seeds spread, to maybe help the Earth, in her heart, to laugh, and to believe that Shon is laughing, too.