For years I have struggled against calling myself a 'farmer.' I'm sure if I went down to the local cafe and told one of the old seed-capped gentlemen that I was a farmer, he would crinkle his brows and frown at me and my claim. In this day and age in Minnesota, being a 'farmer' means growing corn, beans or wheat. If not crops, then being a 'farmer' means hundreds if not thousands of holsteins, angus, leghorns or chester whites. 'Farmer' means tractors, semis, grain bins and elevators. Lots of dollars and lots of land.
I have none of these things. Actually, I do have three white leghorns in my chicken coop. But I don't think the ten-eggs-a-day that they (and our other mixed-breed hens) provide qualify as a major egg-producing operation. Particularly in the fall when it drops down to three-eggs-a-day if we're lucky. So how, then, can I call myself a farmer?
I think farming is more about the 'why' than the 'how many.' It's more than how many acres you till, or how many rumens you feed, or how many engines you run. Farming is about how your heart leaps into your throat in the spring when the snow melts and the dark, cool earth bares itself to the sun. It's how you rejoice in the slime and blood covering your arms when you welcome a newly born calf, lamb or kid into the world. It's how you measure the passage of time by sunlight and temperature and gestations, rather than by months or weeks or holidays.
I do all of these things. So, that's how I can call myself a farmer.
Of course, I still wouldn't go into the local cafe and say all this outloud to the crowd of old-timers gathered there. I may be a farmer, but I'm not crazy. Not that kind of crazy, at least.
Our family lives on fourteen acres in the prairie of western Minnesota. We moved out here eight years ago from St. Paul, where my husband and I had been raised in very non-farming suburbia. Our house and farm were built in 1912. The original big red barn collapsed around 1980; we have built a modest pole shed in its place. The original hog barn, chicken coop and granary still stand.
We have five angora goats in our pole shed, and thirty chickens in our coop. We have a large garden, growing larger by the year as I get a handle on the weed problems that plague us. We try to use organic methods and local, organic feed as much as we can. We eat the eggs ourselves and so far have kept all the mohair from the goats. This summer we will start selling veges and homemade soaps at the farmers market, our first branching into the world of official farm revenue.
Our three sons help us out, as well as a ten- and seven- and five-year old can. Owen is mastering the techniques of pushing a heavily laden wheel barrow. Graham is learning the difference between weeds and seedlings in the garden. And Benjamin is learning how best to scoop grain from the storage bin into the chicken feeder. I don't force them to help--I want them to learn to love the farm on their own, not because I told them they had to. Farming is hard work, and learning to love hard work is a skill that comes later in life. Resentment is something you can learn at any age. They all love harvest time, though -- pulling tomatoes from the fine, digging potato from the soil, collecting eggs from the nest. Who wouldn't love that?
I do a lot of food preservation--canning, freezing, and a bit of dehydrating. We probably have five years' worth of jams and jellies and applesauce in our basement pantry. I am still learning how to eat more locally and seasonally, though. It is an ongoing process, like most things on this farm. And I am still learning how to juggle all of this, all of this farming stuff, while maintaining an off-farm job and putting three boys through school and balancing a tight budget. Every year we try new things; some of them work, and some of them don't. We are learning. We are farming.
And it's people like Tammy, the lovely host of this blog, who make farming so joyful -- she has such a wonderful heart, so willing to share her experiences and her love. Thank you Tammy! And thanks to all of the other farmers who have told their tale here on Fridays. Thank the heavens for the internet, where we are all neighbors and help eachother as needed. I have enjoyed reading about all of you, you are all inspirations to me. Happy farming!
Thank you so much for your delightful post, Joanne!
Joanne hosts a lovely blog called 14 Acres that you can access through this link.