I’ve found that along my path to someday be a true homesteader/farmer it has really helped to learn from people who are currently doing what I plan to do eventually.
It’s one thing to get a book on how to do something, and it’s another to learn it from someone, even if learning that skill makes you realize how much you don’t want to continue doing something.
For instance, I’m used to the idea of year-round farming through my work with KFF. Michael has given many talks on winter growing and I’m used to our farmer’s market which operates all year. Because of this I just assumed I would take the same path.
All it took was 30 minutes of cleaning the dirty roots of scallions in a very cold washing shed one Friday to realize I should reconsider. As my hands were wet, and bright red from the cold, all I could think was that I really wanted to cry….a lot. I was in pain and uncomfortable and really hoped that every bunch would sell at market the next day to make it worth it.
I can’t say I will never grow anything in the cold season, but I certainly have a different perspective on it now.
A similar thing happened while reading The Dirty Life by Kristen Kimball. She talks a lot about their dairy cow and the daily chores that go along with having a dairy cow. Being honest with myself I realize that’s not something I want to deal with.
Part of me wishes that none of this were the case. It makes me feel foolish and weak, but there are certain aspects of who I am that I fear will never change, at least not easily. Waking at 5a.m. to milk a cow in the dark and freezing cold of winter sounds like something I would easily get immensely frustrated with. I’m glad I can acknowledge that part of me.
At the NOFA NY conference I was in a workshop and at one point we broke into small groups and had to draw our dream farm. There were no parameters. You weren’t supposed to think in a logical sense, you were supposed to go with what you would want if there were no limitations.
So I put aside any thoughts regarding “what we could afford” or “where the land might be” and just went with my ideal situation. In the end half the land was going to be for pastured animals, mostly pigs. The other half would be filled with vegetables, flowers, our home, a barn, a commercial kitchen, orchard, bees, and more. The property would be flanked by water and have a forest in the back where I could cultivate mushrooms.
As we went around and discussed our farms it occurred to me that what I really want is like a homestead on crack. I want enough land and the means to fully sustain our family, with enough room for a small CSA operation, value-added products, and enough pork for charcuterie.
This was a very important exercise in “truthiness” (thank you Stephen Colbert!) as well. It showed me that I don’t necessarily want to supply 100s of CSA shares, I’d rather put the time and energy into Chris’ meat business with some other products on the side.
Obviously things do change and flux over time, and I know in reality the property we may get might not have water on either side, or a forest, and we may never be able to afford a commercial kitchen, but it’s nice to have a vision to work toward and a way to keep my wandering mind in check.
These are the kinds of things I’d really rather come to terms with now than to end up with a bunch of sheep I don’t know how to care for just because they are cute and I can make yarn from their fleece. Believe me, mistakes will be made, but I’m just hoping that being honest with myself will prevent additional ones.