Sunday, June 19, 2011

Leave Your Troubles at the Barn

Our first two years on this farm felt like a test. Things were going wrong at rates that seemed far more frequent than normal. Or were we just not used to coping with having so much to repair, care for, build and get a handle on? I’ll never know the answer to that question. But it seems after almost eight years on this piece of land we probably run into as many snags as always, but now we are better equipped to deal with them.

It seems the practise of farming is all about investing in something when you can’t know what the outcome will be. You seed and care for thousands of plants and lose many while gaining surprising successes in corners you never expected to. You breed and raise animals gaining more animals for milk or meat or money (or heartache and trouble or all of the above!) It involves far more ‘letting go’ than this type A, control freak has ever been comfortable with. But in time, I have learned that the best thing to try to control around here is my reaction to the things that go wrong.

Further it is outstandingly important to count your blessings and take great notice of the things that DO go well because there is always something in need of more work waiting around the bend. And everything has a silver lining somewhere if you are patient and look for it.

For example, yesterday at market we didn’t have as much to sell as we had hoped so there was a serious absence of income from the day. We were also a bit nervous about the fact that there were no grandparents there to distract our kids. But beside us a free pancake breakfast tent was erected and our children were ecstatic with unlimited pancakes and syrup to snack on. They also took quite a liking to climbing around the empty van for hours on end – a place where they were safe and cool. New organic vegetable growers arrived beside us who are expecting their first child later this summer. It was fun to share growing ideas and talk about the balance of family and farming. In the end we had one of our favourite days at market so far.

This morning we awoke on a lovely Father’s Day to find out that our cows had escaped to another farm. We have a heifer who must hit the road in any direction every time she is in heat. Her mother was exactly the same and we called her Houdini. I happened to have spent the week fixing fence posts, putting up new gates and restringing new electric fence where the new packing shed had changed the outlay of our pastures. After all of this work to keep the cows in, to learn that they had escaped was a real blow. Our gracious neighbours who called to let us know they had visitors said that our cows had damaged some of their new hay bales and fairly wanted compensation for it. Sometimes it seems that no matter what we do, we can’t stay on top of things.

It was hard not to feel ashamed that after all of the work we had done for the past few weeks, late into most evenings until the sun went down and often beyond into the wee hours of the morning. How could it be possible that we still had nothing to show for it in market sales or animals that were properly contained?

But this is just what spring is about. It is about the promise of something to come (including those ‘hormonal’ heifers waiting to be bred!) It is about trusting that your efforts now will result in a bounty in the summer and fall or later. I reminded myself of the squash deliveries we were doing well into January and how in those months we invest nothing in our fields yet gain a continuous return on last spring’s hard work. Or the beef that we usually get in our freezer come the middle of winter. The frozen vegetables, milk, berries, chickens, pork are all gifts from our past endurance.

Further, if I put my head up and look around here is what I see: romping pigs that are successfully confined in an outdoor pen with net, electric fence; forty chicks that are thriving in their new halfway house in the barn before they head out into their mobile pasture pen; a dozen or so productive egg layers of various ages stomping around; a greenhouse half full of the rest of our healthy transplants ready to go out to the fields; two productive raised beds of greens under cover, tomato and pepper plants waiting to burst into fruit in the greenhouse, a field almost full of thriving plants (except for the lot of tomatoes that literally blew over in our wind storm), excellent help from local folks to get our harvest out of the fields, irrigation pipes down and trellis up, equipment that mostly works when we need it…and on and on I could go.

In those early years, we had endured some heartbreaking losses. Our family of draft horses was continually suffering or dying of colic one after the other – two of them still quite young when they died. While we searched for a cause, there was no common thread except for their genes. One old girl had even been boarded at another farm at the time. A mare rejected her foal at birth and we were left bottle-feeding a filly when we had a 3-month old human baby waking up every three hours in the night inside.

We also lost our first strawberry crop to a hard frost in the middle of June our first year. There had been a lot of heat in April and early blossoms, meaning many of these potential berries were killed before they could become. After spending days setting up an overhead irrigation system to ‘warm’ the plants on these cold nights, our old pump would not start. I recall listening at 2am while Rob made repeated attempts to get it running without success. I felt so helpless as 5 acres, some 50,000 plants, along with our hopes, were dying and there was nothing we could do about it. These are only a couple of examples of how we were being tested – if I told you the whole story you would think I was making it up to be dramatic.

It was during this sequence of what seemed like unusual bad luck that I realized that underneath these events was one important truth. The people in our family were blessed with their health and strength and we were all immersed in love and unlimited opportunities for happiness. Our troubles were staying at the barn and in the fields.

It seems twisted to be grateful for misfortune, and this definitely does not mean I don’t value the non-human living beings that we raise and care for. But if we were going to have to ‘pay’ for our share of troubles – we must feel blessed that these troubles are not in our home.

As Nanci Griffith so aptly puts it in her song: “there’s still a lot of love here in these troubled fields.”


  1. Ok, so I just realized you are not only Canadian, but from the same town as my favourite college room mate.
    Is this a coincidence or do you know Jenn Russell/Judd?
    Glad you found me anyway :)

  2. Oh Yes I do! I hope to be seeing her Canada Day! She is one of the first people I met around here - she helped me out a lot. One of my favourite people by far. Very cool! I am new to your blog - found you thru Knitty Gritty but loving it so far.

  3. Oh wow!
    What a small world!
    That is so neat. Tell her I say hi...I never chat with her lately, but I know when we see each other it will be like no time has passed.
    She is wonderful.


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