So You Want to be a Farmer

hoeing the fields closeup

Of course it's no secret that I want to be a farmer. Rick and I joke about it almost daily, and, very un-jokingly, we work hard putting up produce from the CSA, growing our own in the garden, raising the chickens and generally learning all we can about living on the land.

Getting chickens was a baby step. We started with four and moved up to seven. They eat a lot. And they poop a lot. And for the first year, we didn't get a lot of eggs, but spent a lot of money on building them a coop. Now we know more, and we're getting lots of eggs, and though they're messy and dig holes, we are glad to have them, and thinking of better ways to do things with them.

Part of the reason why we decided to be working members on Monroe's farm, was so that I could get a taste of what went into this pipe dream. Every week last year, Rick sent me off to Kersey with the admonition to pay close attention to what Jerry said, and to ask him about ______. He wanted me to pick Jerry's brain weekly. Did he grow Brussels sprouts? When did he plant potatoes? How do you know corn is ready to harvest?

A week or so ago, a working member friend, Tracy, posted an article about taking A Farm Vacation on her Facebook page. At the moment I first saw it, I was tired from processing food and working, and thought, "Vacation! What? Farming's hard work!" And it is. But after the trip to Palisade last weekend, I've changed my mind. I want to take this vacation myself.

Palisade was so beautiful. The Western slope of Colorado is sunny and warm and the towns charming. Rick and I saw an orchard for sale and picked up a flyer. Ah - we could live here, and we could grow this. If only wee had more [money, and] time to sit here and pick Buck's (the owner of the orchard where we harvested peaches) brain on how to do it all. If only we could stay here and give it a try for a while before investing in property.

Monroe piggies by Rachel Carlson Photography

I really love having Henry (and now Emmett too) out there on the CSA farm every week. While his biggest thrill is playing with the other kids, catching toads and feeding the pigs, I have the opportunity to remind him that those pigs will become pork chops, and those toads eat the bugs that destroy crops. He gets excited when we move from the barn to the fields, and he plays behind us in the rows, eating melons, catching "buggies" and pulling weeds. He is gaining an understanding of where food comes from. And this means so much to me.

A few months ago, I read a blog post called This Place We Know by Sharon Astyk. Sharon is a beautiful writer, and the post is quite long, but it really captures something. I want my children to understand where their food comes from and what happens on a farm. That a farm is more then a cutesy place where cows say moo and pigs say oink.

And I know, now days, I'm not the only one who feels this way. Here are a couple of articles that have appeared recently on people dreaming of the simple life: one from Utne Reader: The Organic Farm Fantasy Meets Reality and on Mother Earth News: Skills for Farming.

I envision my boys growing up in an agrarian life style. Being connected to the earth and to our food connects us with God. The Maker made this and made us. The grocery store has broken the connection for most of us. Seeing my boy pick a peach or nectarine and delighting in that sweet first bite before he's even taken a step away from the tree is amazing. There's no lesson about fruit coming from tree needed when he picks it himself.

In our home, we don't have many conversations about limiting candy. You're more likely to hear, "No, you've had enough carrots," or "Ok, but this is the last tomato before dinner." And these statements don't make me sad. Last night as Rick prepped green beans for going into the freezer, we worried about Henry eating so many beans that he'd spoil his dinner cooking in the oven. And he did! This is a good problem to have, we've decided.

For Henry, going to the garden to pick (and graze) tomatoes brings joy. The fruits of the springs labor is wonderful.

Henry in the orchard 2

When he sees us tilling the garden, he knows it's to get it ready for the plants. When he plants a seed, and then gets to see it grow into a plant and then the plant grows a flower, and the flower grows a zucchini, he gets it. There's not a lot of explaining to do. And compost is an opportunity to show him how we give back to the ground to keep the circle going. The eggs are a reason to be kind to the chickens. Sharing scraps with pigs makes the pigs happy and helps them get ready to be a delicious meal in the fall. Happy animals make better food. Happy chickens lay tastier eggs.

It's funny to think that just a few years ago, I had never gardened before. Rick was the one who wanted a place for a garden when we bought our home. He had grown up with it. I think he may have thought twice about that first garden if he had know what it would spiral into. :) I've always wanted to be in the country, to be on land. I grew up doing 4-H, wishing I had a horse. I even made Rick promise that I could have a horse after we got married. But I had never thought about farming or growing things until that first garden. Now I've gotten carried away. I want my own beehive, my own milking cow. Steers for beef, chickens and ducks for meat and eggs, a turkey to raise for Thanksgiving. And fields full of veggies and fruit, melons and squash. Fruit trees. Grain. I want it all!

I don't think Rick was prepared for the fallout of that first little veggie patch. Certainly not for the chickens. Sharon Astyk wrote another post to this affect. Rick and I could relate to her guide, "So You (Don't Particularly) Want to be a Farmer" on more than one account. It's a guide for the spouse/partner/family member of a person who has been bit (hard) by the farming bug. The post had us both laughing out loud, for it was so very true.

Despite planting the seed with that first little garden patch, Rick got dragged into this wanna-be farming thing against his better judgement. For example, the chicken thing was all my idea. I used phrases like "think of all the money we'll save on eggs!" to convince him. Our very first egg from our very first chicken had to be (ever so gently) pried from the vent of that hen… she was egg bound. And who did it? Not me… HIM! I was afraid of hurting her. He saved the day. And I’m sure he resentfully thought me a madwoman!

But most especially one line at the end of Sharon's post hit home for Rick and I and this crazy pipe-dream of owning a farm together:

"Sometimes there’s nothing more to dream of than being yoked together in the same harness, on the same land and doing the same good work for all the days of your life."

Rick and I continue to be members of the CSA because we are still learning things, and because we have become addicted to the beautiful food that comes from Jerry's land. We still ask questions, pick brains, read book after book.

We've so much to learn, although I feel we've also learned so much. Winter squash is harvested after the vines fall, melons are sweeter if you limit their water. This is how you store potatoes and canning isn't quite as hard if you're doing it with a friend.

Sweet Fruit

But the best thing we've learned from growing things together: Seeds sown in love produce sweeter fruit.

Excerpts cross posted at Schell Urban Homestead and


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