Farming can encompass many things, from family sustenance to farmers’ markets to grocers supplying, to flowers, bugs, birds, livestock, perennial fruits and annual vegetables, grains as cash and cover crops, watching for frosts, keeping to the routines of animals, harvesting and recognizing abundance . Homesteading and being a radical homemaker can encompass these things and beyond to include putting up enough food for the family and then some, building and repairing your dwelling place, sewing, weaving or knitting to meet clothing needs, family-raising, community involvement (and contra dancing!). The main thing is, farming and a life connected to the land is never static.
It’s all these things that can make your head spin and leave you fretting about not getting the 15 things done on your 14-item list, all of which need to happen yesterday. Take spring, for instance, when you’re coming out of the winter doldrums with hope taking the form of seed catalogs, preparing beds, finishing repair work that needs to be done before the season takes off, working around frost dates, planting new crops and finishing up the overwintered ones while also planning your full season’s itinerary – and all this when farmers’ wallets are the farthest thing from being green.
But it is also all these things that keep it interesting, broaden your spectrum and diversify not only your job, but your life, since with farming the connection between work and living hasn’t been severed. Instead of just one task or routine day in and day out that can make your life seem to roll like a short wheel down a long road, your attention and focus is exercised in multiple ways by demanding knowledge and being in many and varied situations. And the beautiful thing about this aspect of farming is that it’s all connected, inter-dependent and even cyclical.
Now, certainly the iron hand of the industrial revolution has left its heavy thumbprint on today’s forms of agriculture giving us fertility-stripping monocultures, chemicals from WWII aftermath and even genetically modified potatoes with frog genes. But even this type of agriculture brings with it its own various tasks such as continual tractor maintenance, chemical selection and a schedule of plowing, spraying, planting, spraying, cultivating, spraying (again) and harvesting. This proves to weaken the soil for future generations of plantings and farmers, relies heavily on petroleum energy and creates disease-resistance in pests and plants as well as unforetold health-risks to us (frog genes?). This type of agriculture seems to exit the realm of farming and takes on qualities more to the effect of exploiting, lab testing and stripping. It bullies its way into the cycle of harmony and breaks the rythm.
But living a sustainable mindset in regards to God’s creation and working with nature rather than against it to produce crops, health and a cleaner world are things more likely to be involved in a multi-tasking farmer’s life. Respect for the soil, happiness and health of plants, animals and humans, and creating and sustaining family and community and their harmony are all foundational.
In my WWOOFing travels I’ve found:
In Lawrence, KS, farming was about not disturbing the soil, recognizing “weeds” for their uses, strict rotation of both pasture and crops, listening to the sheep and being tuned in to their needs, volunteers coming together to have a part in the farm and developing strong friendships. It was also about farming in the dark with a headlamp because the farmer couldn’t support herself on her farm alone and had a full-time off-farm job.
In Golden, CO, it was about double-digging beds to prepare them each year, manually moving the solar-tray to pick up energy for the watering system, pulling out adventitious thistles by the root so they wouldn’t come back, covering small transplants with cloche’s at night for protection from frost, trying to get the community involved, trying to wrangle and hassle with drip irrigation specifics before digging trenches for the lines and using a south facing living and dining room as a greenhouse for starts.
In Canon City, CO, it was about a multi-generational family not stepping on each others’ toes as they went about their specific areas of farm management; grandma on the land, dad on the cows and daughter on the greenhouses, crops and markets. It was about ditch-style irrigation, deciding which markets were most profitable and worth making the drive, fixing falling-apart garden tools (note: ductape is not the answer in this case,) spending a good hour at least watering the entire 3-domed greenhouse, and also taking time for a cold one next to the river on a hot day.
In Hamilton, MT, farming included watering the in-ground plants in the greenhouse without crunching the tender ones with the back length of hose, mulching strawberries with straw as well as the rows between the beds (note: “guaranteed weed-free straw” is another way of saying: “I am soaked in herbicides”). It was also about picking out rocks from first-year prepared beds so the tractor could go through and root crops wouldn’t have to deform themselves to the spaces underground. Unfortunately it was also about having to re-do an entire row of pea trellising because the T-posts “weren’t perfectly straight,” spending thousands of dollars on a faux barn-front wall for the greenhouse and ill management of chickens by keeping them confined to too small a space and forcing them to hard pack the ground around them.
In Sorrento, BC, it was about weeding, weeding, weeding, picking un-trellised peas (not recommended), weeding, long and lavish feasts for lunch and a good mid-day break, weeding, drying food and herbs, going for cold, clear swims in Canada lakes on hot, hot, dry afternoons and weeding. It was also about 10 hour days and top-notch harvesting for both Urban Harvest food distribution programs and 2 quaint markets a week in neighboring towns.
In Mount Vernon, WA, it was about thinning and using all sizes of beets and green onions, providing to the co-ops in the area. It was also about taking produce to sell to the food bank even while being eligible to receive a food box in return. It was about who looks after the kids while the other goes out to spend time in the fields. It was about slow mornings, going out every 2 hours during the day to manually move drip-irrigation lines between beds of kale, evenings spent at the grandparents’ lake house eating burgers and whatever sides happened to come in the food box that week. Experimenting with cover crops or no-till wasn’t a viable option, there simply wasn’t enough time or money.
And in Chimacum, WA, it’s about morning and evening chores with the 500+ chickens and turkeys (watering, feeding, collecting eggs and having to wait until the very last remains of sunlight have escaped over and beyond the horizon before the birds will even think of retiring to their coops where they’re shut up safe and sound for the night – in the summer that’s 10:30pm, in the winter that’s 4:30pm), the 20 or so sheep and the newly acquired sheep-puppy in training, Becka (short for “rudbeckia”, the latin for black-eyed Susan’s.) It’s about building of infrastructure (a cold storage building for crops, travelling chicken coops and renovating an old trailer as housing for interns someday,) weeding and mulching thousands of blueberry plants, gleaning raspberries from their early crop while waiting for them to set their late crop, harvesting zucchini everyday at fat finger-size; that’s the way the cafe down the street likes to buy them. It’s about one spouse having an off-farm job to keep things financialy viable, specializing in off-season varieties of fruits, establishing apple and pear orchards, moving land into conservation easements and inserting permaculture practices they learned from over-seas agricultural work.
No two farms or farmers have been the same. None of the soils have been the same. Farming is a completely unique livelihood dependent on the sun, weather, altitude, latitude, organic matter in the soil, space, neighbors, city/county regulations, the saleable outlets, environmental care and the family demands. To weave these in to a person’s lifestyle is to recognize and honor life, the earth, it’s Creator, cycles, fertility, rest, indivuals and community. This is harmony, and it’s never static.