Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Idea of Farming

If I had a dollar for every grocery store clerk, airplane companion, delivery guy etc. that said they were hoping to buy a piece of land one day when I told them I lived on a farm, I would be one rich farmer.

Everyone loves the idea of farming.

Yet, there is something I’ve noticed too about how much folks like to outline all the ways in which a new farmer will fail before they even begin their endeavours. I have been guilty of the same thing when I hear of people starting up an operation. And many gave us that same look when we regaled our plans once we bought property. Turns out not only does everyone love the idea of farming, everyone seems to know all about the best way to run a farming business.

Once you make it through the bliss of the exciting planning stage, the real trip takes off when the hard work begins and things start to go wrong. People around you start giving you the “I told you so” look. But something in you hangs on.

When so much hope is built around something, it is impossible not to covet the hopeful when your hopes have turned into something altogether different from what you expected. Not worse, just different. Or worse. Depends on how much control you wanted over the outcome. This can be true of growing vegetables where you can get a bumper crop out of something you didn’t invest a whole lot in or lose the very thing you banked all of your time and energy on. So is the way it goes for us, anyway. Including everywhere in between. And when it comes to raising animals, it is hard to explain how heartbreaking it can be to lose one unexpectedly.

I was told I would become jaded and eventually think nothing of it when I came upon a dead chicken in the coop, or a foal or calf or new mother in distress, or a cat that has disappeared on a night that the coyotes came howling through the fog. Yet I have not been blessed with apathy in these situations. What I have gained is an incredible perspective on the spectrum between birth and death. It can be overwhelming to allow yourself to see the entire arc at once, like viewing a rainbow from one pot of gold to the other. It is much to take in, but breathtaking and very rewarding.

The traits that I have found most useful as a farmer include the ability to go with the flow, adjust your route as you go and be grateful for everything that you get trying not to focus too hard on the things you have lost. I also balance the disappointment and frustration with inspiration from others who manage to get through the days, months and years doing similar work.

I set a goal a while back to try to produce as much of our food as possible from our land for our table. I did this before I had children, before I had a plan for juggling farming with my career in the city. I’ve had mixed but continued success in some regard with this. This has meant learning to grow and raise a variety of meat, produce and milk and make dairy products. We’ve even tried out some grains, including rice, but none have ended up in my kitchen yet. One huge bin fed a slew of rats one winter at the barn once they figured out how to rip it open and other grains have made it to the horses or cows. But as of yet, I’ve not managed to grind any flour from our own grains.

I did shuck some kidney beans that we grew with my thumbs. This took about 8 hours for a 4L bowl full of beans. The act gave me a whole new appreciation for machines that clean beans and the bags of dry beans in the stores I can buy for relatively no money. Each year I have learned additional ways to be self-sufficient with our food. I am always trying to find new ways to preserve, roast, freeze or dehydrate something in an efficient manner that might otherwise have gone to the compost pile. And the road seemingly never ends.

Living with an abundance of food is an incredible gift. Having the opportunity to fill our table from our land is a privilege I realize. But I have to admit that there are many times when I’m in the middle of it that it just doesn’t feel so grand. Where the rubber hits the road is where the idea of farming actually turns into food (and possibly even profit from selling that food). But sometimes I might like to just sit and talk and write and dream about farming instead of actually doing the work. But I have frequently said that writing about farming is like talking about dancing. It don't mean a thing until you get to the doing.

I can tell you that at 6 this morning I was much, very much, more enthralled with the idea of milking a cow over actually doing it. If that stupid cat tries one more time to knock over my milk jars when I’m trying to fill them, I’m going to lose my mind. And thanks to dear Bonnie for sticking her hoof square in the middle of my bucket before we’ve even begun, I was really hoping to get that whole roll of paper towels used up. And she could not have placed that frozen manure nugget on her side any better for it lines up perfectly with my forehead. I also especially appreciate that my fingers become arthritic the second I take off my gloves. Did I mention how much I love my dog barking at the dark black figures eating hay in the pasture?

But I have milk. Incredible, abundant, fresh, nutrient-rich milk. I didn’t have to drive to get it. No milk bags, no label reading, no price comparisons or date checks. Just milk.

Welcome to my rainbow folks. As always, it will surely be a wild ride to the next pot of gold.

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