Becoming a farmer isn’t just about learning how to grow vegetables and take care of animals. It’s about learning how to use your hands, how to toughen up your body, how to become more independent. It’s about problem-solving, tinkering, working under pressure, and reacting quickly when things go awry. For me it’s also about growing in ways that were unexpected. I am now finding myself in the plumbing aisle of the local hardware store, looking for PVC elbows and hose connectors. When I need to start a water pump or a generator, I no longer need to ask for help. I know how to fill it with gas, choke the engine, pull the cord, and close the choke. I can trouble shoot the inverter for the house by standing on the top of a ladder and poking at buttons with the end of a broom handle. I can light the propane heater for the chicks, I can drive a tractor, and can file a hoe to keep it sharp. I know how to relight the pilot on the hot water heater, which seems to go out at least once a day. These may seem like trivial talents to many of you, but these skills are miles away from anything I knew in “life before farming.” I knew farming would change me in a lot of ways, but acquiring these technical skills was not something I anticipated.
My body has changed in many ways as well. I am constantly stiff and sore, but it’s a soreness I have learned to accommodate and work with. I am stronger than I used to be. My hands are unrecognizable. My nails are short, jagged, and dirty. The skin on the thumb-edge of my right index finger (my weeding finger!) is comprised of dirt-stained crevices and cracks that don’t go away no matter how much lotion I use. My fingers are plump and muscular, and in the summer I have to remove my wedding band. My face is tan, ruddy, and often dirt-smeared. My hair is usually matted from wearing a hat, I shower a lot less often than I’d like to admit, and my tan lines are ridiculous. But through all of this, my smile is brighter and my spirit is nourished in ways I couldn’t imagine.
This time of year is a crazy time for us. This is really our crunch time, when we have to put our nose to the grindstone and get a million things done in an impossibly short amount of time. It’s exhausting mentally and physically. We often work until 8:30PM or later, thanks to the extended summer daylight hours granted by living in the north. Currently at the farm we are caring for 19 pigs, 14 goats, 50 hens, and 300 broiler chickens. We will be adding 100 turkeys and 150 more broiler chicks to the mix later this month. We have to stay on top of weeding, watering, and planting our seedlings out. We have to make sure we have enough seeds planted for each crop to last throughout the season. Andrew is currently building an intern shack for our new intern Sam, who will help make life a little less frantic. I work endlessly answering emails, phone calls, and managing the paperwork-side of owning a business. It’s very easy in the middle of winter when time is abundant to sit and plan for next season and decide that expansion is not only a great idea, but easily feasible. It’s another thing to put that plan into action successfully when the moment arrives, but we are doing what we can by putting one foot in front of the other and trying to remember to breath (and smell the strawberries!).
This week was an important one for us! We slaughtered and processed (or “harvested” as I like to say) our first batch of chickens last week. Two grueling days of standing on our feet, doing the same basic movements over and over really take a toll on us, but we are so proud of the way we raise and slaughter our birds that it is really a blessing to be so involved in the whole process. There is nothing better than a returning customer who is as excited about our chickens as we are. Our first batch was comprised of mostly roosters, and those bad boys weighed an average of 8 lbs!
We also attended our first farmer’s market (twice now) and virtually sold out of produce (both times!). Our first CSA customers came and picked up their boxes at the market today, and we have more coming here to the farm tomorrow for theirs. So several days of chicken harvest followed by several days of produce harvest means I am running on fumes (and coffee!). Tonight I have decided to take a little “me” time to get this blog posted and maybe crawl into bed before twilight is over, which still gives me until 9:30 at least!
Farming is not a job; it’s a lifestyle. Fortunately the “return on investment” is huge. I absolutely love the smiles I receive when I give a bunch of delicious beets to an excited customer. I love hearing from people about how amazing their first pastured chicken tasted. I savor the days we have young people come out to work on the farm and how inquisitive and eager they are to participate. I genuinely enjoy falling into bed exhausted and satisfied at the end of a long hot day in the fields. I am so grateful for the way my relationship with Andrew is growing and changing into a true partnership, where communication and compromise mean everything. These are the pearls I try to remember when the stress becomes overwhelming, but when all else fails, there is always the strawberry patch!