It takes two to tango

pesto, around the farm 017

I have a quote taped to the inside of one of the kitchen cupboards:  “You cannot walk in your own strength”.

Joel Salatin has commented more than once, including in his book “You Can Farm“, that one of the most common reasons that beginner farmers fail is because their spouse and/or family is not on the same page with them about farming.  Farming is a lifestyle as well as a livelihood, and it is really not for everyone, blood related or not.

My family does not share my deep desire to farm. They are supportive:  they all do chores when I am at work, they cook meals, undertake maintenance projects etc.  My husband in particular has developed his interest in farming over the years, partly through an appreciation of just how much better our eggs and chicken taste compared to what we had been eating, partly because he’s in a “if you can’t beat them, join them” kind of situation with me.

As parents and spouses we have always had to deal with some tension due to our differing levels of passion for farming, careers, children’s activities, etc. and have had to do some give and take about family goals, plans, direction, etc.  One result of that is that the girls have developed non-farming interests.  They are great kids, turning out to be fabulous adults, but not farmers.  And I’m fine with that:  our goals as parents were to raise kids that would be good members of their community, contributing to the welfare of where they live and who they live with, living their values with integrity.  They are capable, responsible, smart, have wide interests and know how to laugh.  What more could we ask for?

I need to be respectful of my family’s different interests, desires, goals.  While they support my desire to farm, I need to support their love of adventure, travel, their goals for financial security etc.  We have to find a balance that allows each of us our thing, while still supporting all the others.  It’s not the way I hoped farming was going to shake out for our family – I had pictured us working together on a common passion.  But it is what it is, for whatever reasons, and so our common passion is being family, supporting each other.  While I still have goals in farming to develop production and diversity, and things I want to do with the land,  my family will always come first.  In return, they will support me when and how they are able (as long as it doesn’t involve manure, apparently!)

With regard to the physical side of farming support – yeah.  That’s an issue too.  Building projects are difficult by yourself.  So much stuff needs to be lifted and/or carried.  Catching loose chickens is faster with an extra person.  Working off farm really requires assistance from someone to be around during the day.   It’s lonely and sometimes scary in the dark, it’s great when someone is out there with you.   We don’t have a lot of equipment, no truck or tractor, nor very many useful skills (like carpentry), and we have relied heavily on neighbours over the years for tractor work, construction work, transporting things/critters and advice.  I’m not good at asking for help, and my husband was raised to value independence. So we’ve had to develop some humility in this regard.

The emotional side? I’m female, I’m middle aged, my tear ducts get a work out.  I can be knocked down pretty easily by small challenges, like weather or broken doors or sick animals…it may be why I was put in this place, to develop some resilience and strength to cope with the curves life throws.  I have a stubborn streak that gets me back on my feet most of the time, but I could not do it without my husband there to pick up the pieces of me at the end of a bad day, dust me off and come help me build an emergency fence in the dark and the rain.

Something not often mentioned when successful farmers speak about their success is that someone is “keeping the home fries burning”. The vast majority of them have someone cooking the meals, keeping the bathroom clean, making sure the mud that gets tracked in also gets swept out.  I’m not saying that has to be gender specific, but it frankly often is.  Especially when there are small children in the picture, there are routines to the day that are kind of relentless:  meals have to happen, and someone has to cook them, baths, story time, bedtime routines.  It is very difficult to make headway on a project when you are only able to give it an hour before naptime ends or you have to pick up kids from school or take them to swimming or…  There is nothing more depressing than coming in tired and dirty on a wet, cold night to the prospect of a cluttered kitchen and no dinner till you figure out what it’s going to be.

I read a lot of farming blogs.  If there is one single thing that successful farmers have in common, I think it would be that none of them are farming alone.  First of all, farmers, especially beginner farmers cannot afford to be independent.  They have to rely on the farming community around them for knowledge, skills, help.  They need customers (what Joel Salatin calls his cheerleaders) – I know from experience that a bad day can be made wonderful when a customer phones to say “I just wanted to tell you that was the BEST chicken we’ve ever had!”.  They might be a couple of partners, they might be spouses, or siblings or a family or a single person with apprentices or employees, but NONE of them do this alone.

My parents farmed with a network of support around them, from the hippies next door, to the dairy farmer down the road, to my grandmother coming every Monday to vacuum and dust so my Mum could get stuff done outside.  In the 15 years since we’ve moved back to the farm where I grew up, it’s probably taken me a decade to realize that this farming thing of mine – it cannot be mine alone.  If I’m going to make it work, I’m going to have to get better at engaging in the network of support that is all around me. Change that me to we.  Somehow.

Goodbye summer….tonight’s forecast from the government weather website:

Winds will ease this evening however even stronger winds are forecast for Sunday evening when gusts could approach 100 km/h.

This is a warning that potentially damaging winds are expected or occurring in these regions. Monitor weather conditions..listen for updated statements.

A strong early season cold front crossed the South Coast late this afternoon accompanied by heavy rain and strong winds. In its wake heavy showers and gusty winds will gradually ease this evening.

A second storm is expected to impact the South Coast Sunday evening. The associated low pressure centre is forecast to make landfall along Central Vancouver Island in the evening. While there remains some uncertainty in the precise track, storms with this trajectory have resulted in significant wind damage in the past.

The current forecast indicates that strong southeast winds of 60 to 80 km/h ahead of the low will shift to very strong westerlies with gusts approaching 100 km/h in its wake.

We’ve already had 5 mm of rain (about 2″) today…the farmer’s market next to my work was a sad, sodden sight – about 3 customers, and very few vendors.  On the plus side, one of the vendors was a young trio selling chanterelle mushrooms, a rare delicacy only around this time of year (and in this kind of weather) – I bought a couple of pounds, and we sautéed half in butter tonight for supper with bread and salad.  Oh my…

The pigs are not crazy about rain, it turns out.  They go out to do their necessary business, but otherwise spend rainy days snoozing in their straw.  I think they’re like small kids, though – not getting out for exercise makes them a bit cranky.  Good thing there are windfall apples galore in this kind of weather – definitely cheers them up.  The hens seemed to be divided into two – the wet group and the dry group – which equates to the adventurous, find ways through the fence group, and the meek, stay out of trouble group.   All were on the roosts early tonight.  The field across the road is full of seagulls, a sure sign that wind is coming – they come inshore before storms.  I’m not sure a wide open 50 acre field is the best place to hunker down in a windstorm, but it probably beats the raging surf down at the shore.

I’ve propped pallets against all the barn doors, shut the chicken house windows, put buckets away, brought in the wind chimes and generally battened down all the hatches.  We will just have to cross our fingers about the barn roof.  When I was about 10, we had winds like this from the north (in the spring though) and my playhouse, made out of 8 sheets of 4 x 8 1/2″ plywood, was blown head over heels from one side of the yard to the other.   It stayed intact, except for a gaping hole in one corner – and subsequently became an ersatz tool shed for a few years, complete with gingham curtains at the windows.

This is the weather to be thankful I’m no longer in the Navy, where battening down hatches is a whole nother thing, and instead can be grateful that this is the weather for a good book or two, a purring cat and a hot mug of tea.  If only the purring cat was dry…

Wind warnings

The Good Old Days

Jerry AppsAuthor, retired professor of agriculture, former farm kid.

I kept trying to write a post that explained how much I’ve appreciated his writing, his insights into his past, not just his own life, but how it was typical of how North American agriculture was shaped over the last century.  After a few unsuccessful drafts, I realized:  Jerry speaks pretty well for himself.

Go find one of his books at the library or online, check out his PBS series, buy one of the DVDs if you feel so inclined, and let his gentle way with words seep into your mind and heart.  It’s uplifting and realistic at the same time.  Enjoy.