Thursday, October 7, 2010


So, I've been referring to our little homestead here as a "farm" -- with quotation marks. Even when I speak it, you can hear an ironic, self-deprecating inflection in my voice. And more often than not, if I am present when John refers to our home/hobby/animals/garden as a "farm" -- I usually add a comment to undercut it.

Now that we have been raising chickens for eggs and meat for over a year; and now that we have bought registered animals for purposes of breeding [as opposed to just accumulating farm pets]; and now that we have actually canned our own food for two years [with even me rolling up my sleeves and joining in]; and now that John is actually planning to market our pigs and goats and has launched this blog... well, it is time for me to confront the quotation marks and figure out exactly why I am keeping this endeavor at arms' length, minimizing it for myself and others.

There are a couple of issues at play, I know.

a question of intention
When we moved out here, we deliberately chose a more rural life: slower, more connected to the earth and its natural rhythms. We did not, however, have an overt plan to actually farm. Ok, we had discussed maybe have a joint communal garden/orchard as a hobby with friends/neighbors. But not ourselves alone. So I am not sure how we ended up with all this. Yes, I was the one that came home from a country drive to tell John that a farm over the bridge was selling pygmies and could we please, maybe, go look at them? But this was merely whim, to have as pets. (When I traveled in Africa in my early 20s I became enamored of the little goats I saw everywhere and I always fantasized about having some. Same with the guinea hens. And when the house we ended up buying already had a fenced yard for goats with a goat house, well it just seemed natural...) I don't know what mental process John went through, but I certainly never said to myself, "Hey, let's have a farm." We just seemed to end up at this point where the pets and domesticated animals outnumber the people by more than 4 to 1 -- and where our lawns have been converted to animal pens and vegetable garden, and goose poop covers our drive. Surely you don't end up being farmers by accident?

a question of effort and priority
This is a biggie. I'm 43 years old and I'm big and brave enough to face some truths about myself. And one of 'em is that I do NOT like physical labor. Heck, I don't like exercise at all. I will work very hard -- and enjoy it -- on things I feel passionately about, but most of the effort is usually mental or creative or things you can do around a table or desk. (I do enjoy giving a kitchen or bathroom or floor a good occasional scrub down -- but unfortunately not often enough to keep up with the reality of a household of six humans and 4 critters.) Not only that, but I left my "type A"/workaholic tendencies behind over a decade ago. Knowingly and willfully. I have learned that I am at my best when my life has plenty of down-time: to reflect, to be spontaneous, to be creative, or just plain putter. I am pretty sure the above description is pretty much the antithesis of the personality traits one would ascribe to someone one would call a farmer. Yes, I love the animals and the fresh veggies but I wouldn't say I've made the commitment to the effort they require.

John, one the other hand, thrives when faced with a good amount of rigorous and productive physical work. John willingly and regularly takes on more projects than I feel up to. John enjoys chopping the wood and tending the garden, and feeding the animals. [Okay, I really like feeding the animals too, and have offered to take that morning chore off his plate for some time, but he likes starting the day with his farmer hat on.] After a busy day at work and then with the kids, he doesn't seem to mind staying up until 2 am to can the tomatoes. He finds it gratifying. So, John has the temperament and [yes, I'll admit it] work-ethic one associates with the responsibilities of farming. The issue there is that he works 50+ hours a week away from the farm. Out in corporate America. Making our living.

which brings us to:

a question of humility
We have under 8 acres -- most of it wooded. We have a little gardening shed, a tool shed, and a ride-on mower. We live in an area that is mile after mile of pasture and field and that has been primarily agricultural since it was settled over 200 years ago. An area where people farmed not as a hobby but as their livelihood. An area now known for horse farms and vineyards, and where new small farms are being established every year, and where there is a vibrant local agricultural economy with farm markets and CSAs. Where people are committed to farming and trying to make money at it. Where people have acreage and serious farming infrastructure like barns and tractors. In contrast to that, I am a kid dressed for Halloween in overalls and straw hat, holding a pitchfork and singing, "E-I-E-I-O." I told myself we are dilettants, playing at this. Who are we to call this a "farm?"

And yet, my husband does.

I looked up the definition of "farm" when I sat down to write this post.
Farm (noun)
1. a tract of land, usually with a house, barn, silo, etc., on which crops and often livestock are raised for livelihood.
2. land or water devoted to the raising of animals, fish, plants, etc.: a pig farm; an oyster farm; a tree farm.
I don't know whether we are doing this for "livelihood." I do know that increasingly I buy less produce and meat and eggs because we are eating what we grow. I do know that we now plan to breed the pigs and goats to sell to others as breeding stock [and yes, for meat too]. I do know that we have devoted much of our land to raising animals and vegetables.

I do know that my husband thinks of this as a farm.

So I will too. At least I'll try.

1 comment:

  1. I used to use quotes as well. Then the guy at Southern States told me it was definitely a farm by federal standards and now we're exempt from sales tax when we buy feed there. Loudoun County also would consider us a farm because we definitely exceed their "Animal Unit" per acre measure. So I guess if the government says so it must be true.