Famous sustainable farmer and author, Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms, has a quote that goes something like “when it comes to farming, good enough is perfect.” This is a piece of advice I am desperately trying to take to heart, although it is hard for me. Historically I have had an overachiever, straight “A”, quasi-perfectionist mentality, and when I see weeds growing amongst my vegetables I have an urge to pull out every single one. Which is completely ridiculous, because by the time I finished weeding the whole farm, I’d have to start all over again. And that would be fine, if the only job I had to do was weed all day. Thankfully, there are a million other things to be done, so I am learning how to best prioritize my tasks.
Every day we get to the farm in the morning and start with animal chores. Usually this involves moving the chicken “tractors” to fresh pasture, a process we now have down pretty well (although occasionally a chicken or two sneak out and we have to do some wrangling). We feed all the chickens, give them fresh water, and feed and water the pigs. We check on the goats to make sure they are all accounted for, something we never worried about much until one of our wethers (young, castrated male) went mysteriously missing, which just about broke my heart. Then we set about starting our other farm tasks, which usually means weeding in my case, and working on the tiny house in Andrew’s case.
Other than the daily animal feeding, our schedule is pretty varied and loose. Usually what happens is we discover something that needs fixing right away, and all of the things on our “to-do” list get bumped. For example we might discover that the goats’ hooves need trimming, and so we’ll spend a couple hours catching them and trimming hooves. Recently we decided that the pigs had outgrown their pen, so Andrew spent two days building them a “pig palace” and a new enclosure, putting our own abode on hold. There’s a kind of feeling on the farm that we’re always putting out fires, or staying one step ahead of imminent disaster. At first I worried that this was due to our novice status, but I’m starting to see that this is the nature of farming. You are at the mercy of the elements, trying to harness nature and encourage the “good” parts while avoiding the “bad.” Sometimes there’s not much to be done but panic, scramble around fixing things for a few hours, and then stand in front of a patch of overgrown weeds, wheezing while silently cursing your aching back.
Our farm operates as “CSA” based, which stands for Community Supported Agriculture. What this means is that people pay up front for a weekly box of produce, and that box is expected to be varied and plentiful. It’s wonderful because it allows community members to become a real part of the farm; in our case all boxes are picked up at the farm so people can come meet us and see where their food comes from. The pressure is on to make sure we are providing high-quality produce with a good variety in order to keep our members satisfied. I was beginning to have some anxiety about the approaching deadline when our farmer neighbors stopped by to have a chat and see how we were doing. They were impressed by how far along many of our vegetables are, and reassured me that we were going to have very happy customers. I feel relieved about that now, although we will have to work hard to make sure the weeds don’t strangle out some of our younger crops before they have a chance to get established. Part of the challenge of farming is timing; you need to ensure that you have harvestable crops every week throughout the season, and that you always have a good variety in rotation.
Our other impending deadline is our first chicken slaughter, which is only one week away. We have been talking to lots of experienced people, watching videos, reading books and blogs, and learning as much as we can about the process. Unfortunately the only real way to know what it’s going to be like is to actually do it, so we mostly just have to wait until the day comes and then dive right in. For the most part I am excited about this. I believe that it is important to understand that a chicken breast is actually a piece of meat that came from a living creature, and to be able to slaughter the chickens we raised from the day after they hatched is something I will take pride in. Although I do think that pulling intestines out of a still-warm carcass with my bare hands may take some getting used to!
In the meantime, we will keep chasing our goats, laughing at the pigs, enjoying the delicious young zucchinis and beets, and marveling at the scenery. Oh, and when the rain lets up long enough for the ground to dry out, we will get back to hacking at those weeds!