Come along on our crazy journey as we search for connection to food, place, and community!
Our life here feels really crazy sometimes. These past few months in particular have been so intense- so filled to the absolute brim with love and loss and deep connection- and finding answers to some really big questions in the most painful ways- but still- finding answers.
The biggest "answer" that hit me like a ton of bricks- is that despite all the crazy, all the work, all the heartache that farming and homesteading can be- I am truly living the life I want, which is a life of deep connection.
If you stick with me on this journey- I will tell you some the most absurd, crazy, good and bad and everything in-between stories of our wild journey on the farm. As our 85 year old neighbor says to me in her lovely English accent, "It's never a dull day at your place!"
-I promise I will tell you the story of Ella May, our gorgeous Jersey milk cow who fell through the ice on the pond Christmas eve, and how we tried to save her;
-and I will tell you about my naked cattle herding by full moonlight on a lovely 2 am summer night (lovely for the cattle- not so much for me!);
-and the late September evening when Nate stepped on a hornets nest while herding the sheep;
-I will tell you my thoughts about why I think it's ok sometimes to eat your livestock friends,
-and I will share my 25 years of deep pondering and study about food and agriculture and how I think we can heal our communities if more folks started raising their own food-
But for now, I'm going to tell you about my crazy day yesterday, and what good can come out of so much heartbreak.
It just dumped over a foot of snow on the farm. At late February, after months of feeding the animals hay, hauling bucket after bucket of water down the steep driveway when the pipes freeze, losing animals unexpectedly in the most heart-breaking ways- I sometimes wonder if choosing to farm 40 acres on the top of a mountain was such a good idea.
I just had to call our neighbor Will for the SECOND time this month to help us out of a pickle. (The first time was the end of the worst month of my 25 years farming- but that story is still too raw, so I promise I will tell you all about it in another post). Derek was bringing a round bale for the cattle, llamas and alpacas, when the front wheel fell off the tractor! On the damn road!
And we had another one of those farm moments when you realize you are positively un-equipped to deal with the current situation you have found yourself in- which means that after you swear a few times- you call your neighbor!
Will, of course, because he is awesome, but also because he is rural, (more on this in future musings), came straight away to our aid. He skewered the round bale with his real tractor, and then hitched up our tractor and towed us home, and THEN, not because we needed him to, (but let's get real, probably because he thought we might be slightly incapable of doing it ourselves), he ran back home to get his truck and an impact wrench and got the tire off so we could fix it.
OK- I am leading up to the part where it was STILL snowing a day later, our driveway was impassible, the tractor was out of service (Derek had the tractor wheel in the pick-up to take to Les Schwab) and I got a distressed call from our neighbor about a goat that had originally been my goat (but was sold to a friend who then sold it to this friend).
Julie, the goat, is 5- and absolute love of an animal, and was in serious trouble (as I write this I don't know if she will make it, but so far so good). This is the first time my friend has raised goats, and I swear that almost always goat births go off without a hitch, but poor Julie had been breed to a gigantic buck, and had three huge babies.
My friend managed to pull the first two- which is heroic- because she has never, ever, done anything like this before, but when we fall in love with our animals we figure it out and do what needs to be done, because it turns out that in the world of today- when so few of us choose to farm or homestead, the fabric of real, knowledgeable, affordable, large animals vets had fallen apart (more on this in another post). There is no vet to call when shit goes wrong on the farm- at least not here! So myself and my farm mentors Mike and Linda have sort of become the on-call rural vets (ok, of course you have to know us to call us!)
So- our driveway is impassible, its snowing- AGAIN- my poor friend and Julie the goat are freeking desperate for help- and I got the Subaru stuck! oh, and it is now noon and Nate, our 8 year old, hasn't eaten yet and I need to get to my friends NOW. F**%#$$*K!
A few frantic moments later Derek was driving Nate and I across the snowdrifts to get to my friends. After lots of goat mama kisses, I gloved and lubed up, and slowly pulled a now dead baby goat out. I think in the process of delivering the first two, perhaps the third got pushed around and could not come out the birthing canal. Her first two babies were happy and healthy, and we all breathed a momentary sigh of relief that maybe we had managed to save mama.
So why in the hell do we live this life.
Farming can be so raw, so real, so insanely joyful and nourishing, and so insanely insane and heart breaking. But, at least for me, I think we live this life because it is REAL. I used to tell people that I milked goats because it got me out of bed in the morning- but as a city kid who suffered through so much depression as a child- it all started melting away when I started farming- because I realized, I was depressed because I felt such a lack of connection to anything that felt REAL.
Farming and homesteading by its very nature and essence CONNECTS you to place- roots you to place (sometimes in the most annoying of ways when you really need a vacation! um, Hawaii please...) It binds you to the animals and the plants and soil- your physical work literally nourishes you.
And yes its hard, and sometimes ghastly boring (weeding anyone?)- and it is glamourous for the first 15 minutes and then mostly it is just hard work- and sometimes raising kids on the farm is not so peachy either- such as when I just about got into a fight with Nate, our 8 year old son, who was sure he did not need socks (ok, he NEVER wears socks) or a jacket to go outside in our current 25 degree day. Arggggg...mamas and papas, you know what I am talking about!
But, like most wintry days- once he was out and into the woods, homemade staff in hand, I was overcome with knowing how special it is to raise our son on a 40 acre farm in the woods. He was bounding through the snow, climbing through downed trees, scaring off whatever wildlife mom was hoping to see- but having fun. He was having unstructured, uncontrolled fun while connecting to this place.
Perhaps I am most proud of a strange realization that recently came over me- that Nate, by eating the food grown and raised on this land, has a soul connection to HERE in ways I never could have imagined as a child (I grew up in Washington D.C., in the city).
He is so in love with this place- mostly with the sticks (I'm actually serious- he ADORES sticks)- but with the creek and the forest and THE LAND. Mama, that's me, is in love with the animals, and Nate likes the animals- but his connection is to this PLACE. So much so, that during the harder times when Derek and I have talked about selling the farm and moving somewhere we can actually afford, Nate goes ballistic and cries and tells us that THIS IS HIS HOME AND HE IS NOT MOVING (I put this in all caps because it typically comes out in a yell.)
He is bound to this place from hours and hours of time spent really being in the forest- building forts, finding animals of all kinds, really seeing this place how this place wants to be seen I think (and yes, also getting all sorts of scratched and bruises and getting pissed off to all hell at us half the time for not having enough play dates to endless "boring" hours in the barn).
But my crazy realization was that he is also bound to the land because he is literally nurtured and fed by the animals and plants that have also connected deeply to this place- animals and plants that have eaten of this place, walked on this place, and explored this place- just like Nate. They are truly family, Nate and the animals and plants and the water of this farm.
Derek and I were so nervous about little Nate's reaction to eating our first batch of homegrown pigs. We had been clear from the day we brought the piglets home that these little cuties were for eating, but still, as the slaughter date grew closer we were sure Nate was going to pull a Charlotte's Web on us and start writing messages to try to save them. But when we asked him how he felt about the whole thing, he just looked at us, licked his lips, and said, "Bacon. Yum." Our kid is such a farm boy.
So in my moments when "the farming" seems too hard and I wonder about my life choices, I just need to look at this picture and remember that I choose this life because my inner child dreamt of it, yearned for connection to place and food, and most of all, community. I am fumbling through trying to give that gift to myself, and to our sweet, wild, earth child, Nate.