This past week I celebrated my one month “farmiversary” in grand fashion – an ice cream sundae enjoyed in bed. With all of the hustle and bustle the last few weeks, a simple evening seemed like the perfect way to commemorate everything that’s been going on.
The laundry list from the past 30 days includes renovating nearly everything in the house, cleaning and repairing the barn and outbuildings, setting up portable housing for our pastured pork and chicken, and putting in a large vegetable garden. My days are full of such a diverse array of tasks, sometimes even I am in awe. All I can say is that right now, my favorite farm tool is my color coordinated google calendar.
I spent months and months planning for this season, for this farm, and still can’t believe it’s here. I have to continuously pause to remind myself this is my new life, to soak it all in. At first I was operating at full speed, filling as many hours of the day as I possibly could manage. But farm ownership means I’m in this for the long haul. While I’m focused on making the most of this growing season, my heart is really set on my long term vision for this piece of earth: a productive landscape that is bountiful and beautiful.
And already I’m seeing progress. The four feeder pigs are the workhorses of the farm right now – tilling and fertilizing the pastures to bring life back into the land. If you look quickly, it seems like they’re making a mess of the place. But in the sections that have had time for recovery, I’ve cleaned up all of the rocks and debris and the new growth is coming in thick.
My neighbor harrowed, plowed, and shaped a small field (just over 1/4 acre) for vegetable production. Because everything is done by hand, it’s planted pretty intensively using a mish-mash of seeds and transplants from fellow farmers. I’d love to say that I’m right on track with my 7 page excel sheet planting schedule (oh, the joys of winter planning), but it turns out things are much more “organic” than that. Tomatoes from my next door neighbor, onions from a friend across the river, herbs from a friend on the opposite side of the state all pieced together as they arrive. It’s a solid reminder of the community that’s come together to help me start this farm. Nothing like a crooked row of heirloom zucchini transplants to make you feel loved.
The meat chickens are growing like crazy. I’ve been brooding batches of 50 birds in the old horse barn and moved the first batch out to the pasture this week. I built a predator-proof (I hope!) movable tractor through a grant from Raising Organic Family Farms and plan to build a second, modified design this week for the next batch. I feel like a choreographer each morning, carefully planning where everyone will move. Turns out all of the dance classes I took when I was younger really did help with my farming career.
I also faced my fear of cats this month and adopted a kitten (named Leonard) to help with rodent control. Turns out it’s pretty easy to fall in love with something so fuzzy and warm.
I wish I could say with confidence that I’m looking forward to a stellar growing season – the farm is looking great and I’m proud of all that I’ve accomplished. But there is still so much work to be done. While most growers I’ve spoken with are 10-14 days ahead of schedule because of the mild winter weather, I’m about two weeks behind. Each day I’m reminded of how precarious each of the tiny lives, that in turn make up my life, are: I spot a red fox through the morning fog outside the brooder barn, or a hawk swooping over the laying hens, major insect damage on my lettuce heads or heavy rains that erode a portion of newly seeded pasture. But that constant challenge is what keeps me physically and mentally engaged.
The challenge also forces me to ask from help. I’ve never farmed by myself before and I’m learning that it takes a lot more planning when there isn’t a crew of interns or fellow farmers at the ready to lend a hand. Turns out asking for help feels really good once I get over the initial anxiety. The community of family, friends, and neighbors that have come together to help make all of this happen is INCREDIBLE.
Looking back over the past month of farm ownership, I have felt so lucky. Yes, there have been setbacks. Lots of them. The hardest part has been accepting that not everything will work out this season, but that that’s okay. I’m endlessly grateful for everything this farm has provided so far and looking forward to all that’s to come this season.