Monday, December 21, 2009

Cold Feet?

"Why farm?" We get that all the time.

We have full time plus jobs, three young children, long commutes, crazy expenses, a house that requires the chopping of wood for heat and a hundred other chores, all sorts of creative, political and social obligations etc, etc and I can't tell you the number of times folks, hearing about our jam-packed lifestyle shake their heads and call us crazy.

We used to laugh it off. Sure, well. Yeah...

But lately, we are wondering if perhaps we ARE a little crazy. Too crazy.

It all started with the hay. We don't have any. Our farm is small, and so, like many other unfortunate farmers we are forced to buy our hay from those with the land and equipment to produce it. $4.75 a smallish bale-- if we take the seats out of the minivan, load it ourselves and drive it home-- untold extra dollars if we have it delivered. This year, due to other obligations-- kids' birthdays, family, etc etc-- it snowed before we got the hay in. Now the driveway down to the barn is an ice slope with little hope of thaw, and we are stuck with 70 bales of hay (about a month's worth) in our garage. And many trips to pick up hay ahead.

In addition, Dan spent precious time he should have devoted to grading finals on fixing the fence Charlie bashed in trying to get a few more ewes "under his belt". And the water hydrant in the barn broke so we have to tote buckets a little farther over the treacherous ice. And it is cold, in the single digits in the mornings.

All just everyday stuff. But it's stuff that might seem more worth the trouble if we could eke a little profit out of the livestock. We can't. Haven't. And won't in the forseeable future.

You see, the jobs and kids and other obligations keep us from focusing on the selling part. We should be out there pushing yarn and pelts and meat and every other scrap of "by" and "value added" product". The selling needs to happen in order for "farm" to be more than the landed equivalent of "boat" (as in: a hole in the ground you pour your money into.) As it stands, the money we pour into the livestock could be our childrens' security or education or maybe just a breather in our constant financial juggle.

Part time farming really is a losing proposition.

I don't mean to sound grouchy. Or whiny. Or even glum. I don't feel any of these things. I am just coming to the realization that maybe... just maybe... I will regret that I haven't had time to teach that felting class with my kids after school or concentrate more fully on the half written novel or just play a few more rounds of "Fundomino" without having to truck on out to take care of the animals. Also, there is all the money to be saved.

On the other hand. Our sheep are family. I would miss the expensive little beasties, and mucking around out there in the cold, too. And watching newborn lambs. And figuring out breeding groups. And all the shearing days and unintentional "sheep rodeos". I would also miss feeling that deeper connection to the seasons and cycles and the inimacy with birth and death, joy and sorrow, that farming sort of is.

It's winter on Maggie's Farm, and I guess you could say, I've got cold feet.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Belated Thanks

While Thanksgiving has come and gone, I am still very much in "thankful mode".

Our group (16 strong, this holiday!) sat around the table and created "Thankfulness Pictures" to share before dinner. (This is a tradition that took on a life of its own a few years back.) And aside from appreciating the family connections, the aspects of place and plenty that are a consistent theme, we thanked the animals that made our meal possible.

We had a very real sense of gratitude to the critters in our lives, owing to the bounty before us: The 30 pound turkey that had been free ranging about the orchard just a week before, the ham from our very own pigs, the sausage apple stuffing, homemade cider, blueberry pie, & apple pie-- all harvested with our own hands. These things felt different somehow, owing to our relationship with them.

Honestly, I am still wrestling with that relationship. Thoughts of the pigs (our three affable "Daves") continue to give me pause and-- although the ham was absolutely deliscious and I was very proud to provide it to our friends and family-- I ate it with reservations, with each bite totally mindful of the sacrifice it entailed.

The kids don't have the same reservations. At the holiday table, they thanked "The animals that feed us" and meant it, but to them, it seemed the natural way of things. Is this better than my agonizing and introspection? I just don't know. But I do know that time will give me more perspective on this, and time (relentlessly) marches forward.

We've had the year's first "snow day" and are moving headlong into the holiday season.
We were unable to harvest the TONs of apples out in the orchard this year and although we invited every friend, neighbor and acquaintance to load up, peeled and froze bushels full, made cider, brought apple crates to work and school, fed the sheep daily snacks, and donated a bunch to the food pantry, our orchard is still a mess of unpicked fruit. The deer will enjoy them at least... And Luka will enjoy barking at the deer and running them off with gusto.... And we will enjoy (not!) rushing out into the snowy night to call our bravehearted little dog back home. And so it goes...

The farm seems so quiet without the pigs and turkeys. The sheep are in their breeding groups and the chickens snowbound in their coop. Maggie-- although she'd sit hip-deep in the snow all day for the chance to watch over her flock-- is in the house much of the time.
The kids are building snow forts and perpetually losing gloves. Dan is plowing snow and chopping wood and worrying over hay bales.

Winter has happened.