Greenthumb Greenhorns

There is an inevitable moment that occurs when the people we are talking to figure out how inexperienced we are. For the first five minutes we are usually able to pass ourselves off as seasoned farmers; “Oh yes, we have lots of starts already in our green house, and the seedlings in the hoop houses are coming along nicely!” “We trimmed our goats’ hooves yesterday…it was a piece of cake!” And then, “We’re going to have a few pigs on the farm soon!” It was this piece of news that made our new acquaintance (a truck driver for the mill who seems to have ample agriculture experience) stop short.

“Oh, so you’re hog people?!”

“Well, we will be soon!”

“Oh.” <pause> “You’ve never raised ‘em before?”

“Nope! But we’re doing a lot of research!”

“Hahaha. Hah. Haha. Good luck to you!”

In the end he recommended a book for us to check out, and talked a lot about how smart pigs are and how likely they are to escape. (Which is no problem, we are quite used to our animals escaping. This past weekend while we were away the goats seemed to learn that the electric fence really isn’t all that bad, and now wander in and out of the enclosure at will. Some part of me thinks Zephyr sneaks off at night to show them how it’s done).

The nice thing is, when people realize we are coming at this from ground zero they generally think it’s great, and are willing to share some bit of wisdom or tell stories about when they first started out. There is certainly a big difference between “book knowledge” and “practical knowledge.” We have a lot of books, and have been researching as much as possible, but the solutions in the books don’t always apply. More often than not when I mention I read how to do something to Eric, he will politely point out that whatever I read is in fact completely impractical and it should be done this way instead. I am hopeful that after a full season on the farm I will have my own memory bank of knowledge to draw from, so I can consult the books when I am stumped, rather than scanning through them every day!

Things have been progressing at the farm very rapidly, and I am anxious, excited, and nervous for the real “season” to begin. Our cute little chicks are now huge, awkward, fairly unattractive “teenagers,” and will be heading down to the farm this week. Eric also dropped off our egg layers down at the farm, so we now have around 150 little peepers to keep happy and healthy. This week our pigs will arrive, and pretty soon we will be getting ready to welcome some turkey chicks to the mix! On top of that we are still working on irrigation, mowing and tilling the fields, planting seeds and starts, weeding ad infinitum, and waiting for the weather to finally decide it’s springtime!

The tiny house project is coming along, and with a roof, windows, and a door it actually feels cozy and home-like! We (ie: mostly Andrew) have a few more major things to accomplish before we can move in, but we are hopeful that within a few weeks will be down there, falling asleep and waking up to the cacophony of animal sounds that abound on the farm. In addition to our livestock, we are frequently treated to calls and flyovers by the resident geese, ducks, bald eagles, hawks, herons, sparrows, robins, woodpeckers, (and more!) that call the farm home.

On a side note, in case any of you are wondering, my grandmother is doing exceedingly well down in Tucson. It was really hard leaving her, not knowing exactly how she was going to get along since her health wasn’t as good as it could be, but when I speak to her on the phone I am so relieved to hear how much better she is. She is walking (although often with a walker), is trying to make new friends, enjoys the pool in the retirement home (that I never knew existed while I was there!), and sounds genuinely happy and healthy. I am looking forward to celebrating her 90th birthday next January with the entire family… and what a year to celebrate!

Speaking of years to celebrate, April 28th will mark our first wedding anniversary. This has been the most unexpected, adventurous, momentous, stupendous, love-filled year of my life! From living happily with my sweetheart in sunny San Diego, getting married in Joshua Tree National Park, traveling 15,000 miles with a teardrop trailer, spending some difficult months apart, and moving to Washington to work on an organic farm, we really have done it all! And you know what? We’re just getting started!

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The Farmers in the Dell

A little over six months ago, Andrew and I were just starting off on our North American road trip. We were excited about the next three months, but had no idea what our “real” future would look like. Every time I tried to imagine where we would find ourselves at the conclusion of our freewheeling adventure, I suffered a bout of anxiety. Will I have to go back to work in an office so we can pay our student loan bills? Will our simplified, reduced-clutter, outdoors-oriented lifestyle be a fond memory once our travel funds run out? Somewhere along our 15,000-mile journey we decided to never return to “the way things were.” Our newfound freedom, untethered from superfluous possessions and a 9 to 5 workday, would forever be the norm.

So far, farming seems to fit the bill just right. We are still in the learning stages, and for me especially, the learning curve is steep. I have learned how to operate some semi-heavy machinery like the tractor, rototiller and weed whacker. I have learned how to sow seeds in a green house, how to fight blackberry brambles (although I still cannot seem to come out of a bout unscathed), and how to set up sprinklers. I have had the joy of welcoming 100 newly hatched chicks that are happily brooding in the garage next to our temporary housing. I have also experienced some remorse: this morning I unknowingly rototilled over a bunny nest, and decapitated a newborn bunny. The other two survivors had to be “taken care of” as rabbits are pests on a farm. That’s the way things go here…it’s time I get used to it. After all, the cute little chicks are going to be someone’s dinner soon enough!

The first few days on the farm were spectacular. The weather was a balmy 55 with blue skies and abundant sunshine. I marveled at the views of the Cascade Mountain range while I weeded around the rows of blueberry bushes, and even found myself stripped down to a t-shirt. I was told not to get used to this weather, and sure enough after those two clear days it has been cloudy, rainy, and cool. Although there is often the threat of imminent rain, mostly it is overcast and cool enough to make the work outdoors quite pleasant. The times when it really rains we can usually find work to do inside the greenhouse, hoop-houses, and other covered spaces. In other words, I am not complaining about the weather! Yet.

Every morning I roll out of bed and toss on old dirty jeans, a wool layer, and my new trusty Carhartt jacket. I throw my hair up into a messy ponytail and slap one of Andrew’s beanies on over my head. I stuff my feet into my rubber boots and away we go! It’s really nice not to have to worry about looking nice on the farm. That feeling I got while in Hawaii (this goes WAAAAAY back to one of my first posts!) also exists on the farm. There is no need for makeup or pretty clothes. And when I do decide to wear those things, “dressing up” becomes that much more special.

We have only done a little bit of exploring in the nearby town of Snohomish, but I’m hoping this weekend maybe we can see what the nightlife scene is like. Last week we found an excellent spot for lunch called Grilla Bites that even served gluten-free bread and vegan cheese, and you can imagine my joy and excitement at finding such a local gem. Another nearby dining spot, Mongos, looks like a mediocre takeout joint, but they specialize in pretty gourmet fair despite appearances. The other day I inhaled a pile of truffle fries that were served up in a cardboard takeout container. There is also a yoga studio in town that I am hoping to check out soon enough. My sore, abused muscles sure could use some TLC!

In the next month or so we will be building our “tiny house” on a flatbed trailer that Eric, our farmer/mentor bought. With his help we will construct a lodging that is approximately 12’ x 20’ with a loft for Andrew, Zephyr, Sake, and I to live in at the farm. This way we can keep an eye on our animals (we’re hoping to soon add pigs, goats, sheep, and turkeys to the mix), and it will be even easier to roll out of bed to get the morning chores done. I am looking forward to another opportunity to downsize, and without television or internet I will find a lot more time to read, paint, create art, snooze, and get to know my love a little bit more every day.

You Reap What You Sow

Boy howdy. What a crazy few weeks I have been having! First, there is a LOT of good news to be excited about. Andrew and I have scored a sweet partnership with an organic farmer up in the lovely little town of Snohomish, WA, which is about 30 miles northeast of Seattle with beautiful views of the Cascades. The farmer, Eric, is a wonderful man who has agreed to take us in as interns/ farmers/ laborers / brainstormers / marketers/ whatever-needs-to-be-done-ers.

Chinook Farms is a small side business to Eric’s main endeavor, a sawmill that has been in his family for three generations. His previous farm managers left, and despite our lack of experience he was impressed with our zeal and has agreed to take us on and plan this season around our abilities and interests. We are also going to be building some kind of shelter (a yurt or a tiny house) on the farm property. This is all extremely exciting for me! I am already getting emails from him about upcoming “Grower Round Table” meetings, and different marketing ideas and plans. Andrew has already put in two days of work prepping the farm by tilling and planting seeds in the greenhouse. I cannot wait to learn everything I possibly can about farming while putting my current skills to work marketing and selling healthy food! I am also really proud of Andrew and myself for being able to realize one of our biggest goals. Watch out world!

Naturally, since this is life and nothing ever goes exactly according to plan, my amazing piece of good news has been regrettably tempered by a slew of setbacks here in Tucson. The day after being released from a rehab center (after healing from a successful pacemaker surgery) my grandmother was rushed back to the ER with insanely high blood pressure.  She spent a couple days being monitored, and the doctors readjusted her medications before sending her back to her apartment.

We celebrated this small victory by taking her to get her hair trimmed, curled, and set at her favorite salon. We enjoyed a nice lunch at the assisted living facility, and I went home to relax. A few hours later I got a phone call: “Meesh, you won’t believe this. I fell out of bed and they are taking me back to the ER.” Two ambulance rides in four days. My poor grandmother should really stop getting her hair done. Last time she went to the salon she also wound up going to the ER later that day for an extremely high fever!

Fortunately this time she only stayed a few hours in the hospital. Her X-rays and CT scans were negative (she had also bonked her head on the side table when she fell). The bad news is that she did hurt her back and is in a lot of pain. She has trouble getting out of bed or walking by herself, which is making life very uncomfortable for her.

In the meantime, I took my “special,” neurologically impaired cat to the vet to get her caught up on vaccines before our road trip up to Washington. I thought it would be a good idea in case I needed to kennel her along the way. Big mistake! She wound up having a reaction to the vaccine, and her leg is incredibly swollen and tender. I thought it was broken so I rushed her back to the vet. I lost my marbles in the office right there in front of the vet and technician, and started bawling. They were nice enough to do an x-ray and exam without charging me and sent me home with some medicine for the cat. I joked that they should have also given me a prescription for a therapist! My figures are crossed that my silly cat recovers quickly and can handle the long drive to Washington.

In two short days I will be on the road. I have anxiety about leaving my grandmother in a situation that is less than ideal. I had hoped that in coming to Tucson I would help her transition to a fairly independent, happy life in her new apartment. Setback after setback has me thinking this might be the “new norm” for her. I have to keep reminding myself that she is 89 years old! She has the memory, clarity, and wit of someone much younger, but I suppose after a certain age your body has its own ideas of what it needs.

The emotional and physical toll of rushing between hospitals, doctors appointments, doling out medications, cutting through red tape at various medical facilities, and coordinating care has me bushed. Add a dash of cat-induced panic and I am ready to keel over in Andrew’s lap and sleep for several days. I will be leaving Tucson early Saturday morning to meet him at the San Diego airport for his arrival, and I can’t wait to squeeze him, hand him the truck keys, and let him take care of me for the next few days. Everyone needs to be carried now and again…and I’m ready for my turn!