No Bother At All
May 21, 2013 § 10 Comments
I was thinking the other day – always dangerous, as Penny is ever-keen to remind me – about how most folks probably come to this site because they’ve read one of my two food-related books. And how it might be sorta confusing that, once here, what they find is primarily anti-establishment ranting about parenting and education (as if the two should rightly be separated) and money and not really all that much about food or food systems or any of that jazz. Which is not to say these things aren’t all connected on some level or another, because of course they are. They very much are.
Still and all and because I’m working on a section in the new book that’s about our place, and because when I’m out and about people often ask me to describe our homestead-farm-smallholding-whatchamacallit, I’m going to do what I often do in this space, which is use it as a ceiling upon which to hurl the imperfect pasta of my thoughts and see what sticks. Wow… how’s that for an extended metaphor?
As I’ve mentioned, we bought this place as 40-acres of bare land in ’97. The first farm-related endeavor was the planting of 100 bare root blueberry plants. This was before we even had a roof up, and I thought it was pretty much insane to be planting blueberries before we even had a dry, warm place to lay our heads, but as usual, Penny was wiser than me and the berries got planted and ever since about, oh, 2001, we’ve gone hardly more than a day or two without eating blueberries either fresh or frozen. As an added bonus, the plants have paid for themselves many, many times over with what we’ve sold as pick-your-own.
We also got laying hens right around this time, as well as a couple of piglets. We had Melvin till up a couple of nice-sized gardens. Not too terrible much later, we got the cows. More pigs. Another garden. And so on.
Our primary intent for our place is not so much for it to serve as a means of income – we do realize a few thousand dollars in farm-related income each year – but as a cornerstone in our personal economy. And by “economy,” I do not mean the portion of our life that relates to money, but a more holistic sense of the word (the origins of which have nothing to do with money, by the way) that relates to how we manage our lives. Of course, money is a part of this, and given that we raise the majority of our food on this land, and given that if we weren’t doing so, we’d be spending a whole heck of a lot more on groceries, there’s no question that our food-related endeavors impact our financial bottom line.
But the truth is, that’s not really a motivating factor. Primarily, we’re motivated by the fact that both Penny and I enjoy the process, as much as the outcome. In other words, we like the work. This morning, I was up and out by 5:20 or so, preparing a fresh paddock for the ever-hungry cows, when a thunderstorm came in fast and the sky got lit by a flash of lightning of a color I’d never before witnessed. It was pink, or nearly so, and for a moment, the whole place – even the cows, waiting impatiently by the single strand of poly wire separating them from their breakfast – was awash in that strange light for a half-second and it was… hell, it was amazing. I love these little moments; they happen at least once or twice a day, and almost always in the context of some farm-related task or another.
I am glad that we do not have to farm for our primary income, although there are times when I can imagine it, or at least some form of it. But because we do not live under the onus of meeting profit expectations, we are able to run our place exactly as we wish, with all the absurd diversity that gives us so much pleasure. Right now, we have 7 cows, 9 sheep, 15 or so laying hens, 2 pigs, and of course the boys have their goats. We have the 100 blueberry bushes, 3 extremely large and productive gardens, and 3 unheated hoop houses (1 for tomatoes, 1 for melons, and 1 for winter greens). We tap about 70 sugar maples. Every summer, we raise 100 meat birds on pasture, although given the grain those little buggers go through, we’re probably going to cut back. We prefer to consume meat that eats grass, or in the case of our pigs, primarily waste milk. Which of course is mostly grass, having been produced by ruminant animals. We have been planting large quantities of fruit and nut trees. We do quite a bit of foraging: mushrooms, nettles, fiddleheads, and so on. We make kimchi, sausage (fresh and dry-cured), bacon, and gobs of butter. Penny make a nice soft cheese and though every year we promise ourselves that we’ll figure out how to make a decent cheddar, it never seems to happen. Our guiding nutritional philosophy is that high quality saturated fats and fermented foods are crucial to good health and that pretty much anything that comes in a box or can is best avoided.
Reading over this list, I’m struck by how it might seem as if all this is a whole heck of a lot of work. Inconvenient. And I can see how, from a certain perspective, this is true. But it has been our blessing to have arranged our lives in a way that does not make any of this seem like work, or like an inconvenience. There are trade-offs, of course. There always are. But in a strange way, even those are a reminder of how much we value this life. Because if we weren’t willing to give up anything for it, how much, really, could that be?