Friday, February 25, 2011

This farming life

The kids are on the school bus, the barn chores are done, and I'm getting ready to drive three-plus hours east of here to attend EcoFarm Day, a conference hosted by the Canadian Organic Growers.

I'll be attending workshops on the overwinter storage of fruits and vegetables, as well as food safety on the farm, but the one I'm most looking forward to is 'Decisions for the viable and sustainable farm', a presentation that might help me decide whether to take the next step on our farming venture/adventure.

When we first moved to our farm almost three years ago, it was to become more self-reliant, to live closer to and in harmony with the earth and to raise our children in such an environment. Those intentions remain, but over the past year or so, I've been thinking about ways to have the farm as my livelihood, and not just a way of life.

The thought terrifies and excites me. I'm already climbing a huge learning curve and sometimes my legs and arms feel so tired from all the scrambling. I have no illusions that this will be easy -- for instance, I know just how physically hard this life can be, especially when I'm not a very big person to begin with. (I'm thinking back to a time last summer when despite putting all my weight behind a broadfork, it stayed stuck fast in the dirt, only to have Lucas walk over to it, grab it by the handles and hoist it clear from the ground. And don't get me started on how heavy those big bags of chicken feed are!)

It means digging deep, finding courage and coming to terms with and accepting that regardless of how stubborn I am, I will need help. Lots of it. And it's not like I don't already have two other jobs -- one as a mama, the second as a writer and editor.

I don't expect to get rich this way, but there are financial benefits to having an income-generating farm; even a small-scale one. For one, Ontario farmers who generate a gross income of $7,000 are eligible for a Farm Property Class tax rebate, which means we'd only pay 25% of our property taxes.

More importantly, generating more income on the farm means spending less time generating income off the farm, and while we do our best to reduce as much spending as we can by buying less, growing more, doing with what we have, the list of things we need money for remains long -- mortgage, property tax, vehicle repairs & gas, insurance, dental bills, savings for the kids' education, and on and on.

But even $7,000 seems like a monumental amount of money, especially when our sole farm income right now is the eggs from our 40 hens, which we sell for $3/dozen.

So we'll see. I'm not expecting to make any decisions tomorrow, only to gather more information. Maybe I'll realize I'm crazy or idealistic, or this is something to put on our 'five-year plan.' But this idea of growing the farm and making it fiscally productive has got a firm hold on me. I'm not alone.

In Kristin Kimball's book "The Dirty Life, On Farming, Food and Love," a story of her leap from a thirtysomething Manhattan-based writer to a new life on a sustainable cooperative farm in upstate New York, she writes:

"I've learned many things in the years since my life took this wild turn towards the dirt... But one lesson came harder than any of those: As much as you transform the land by farming, farming transforms you. It seeps into your skin along with the dirt that abides permanently in the creases of your thickened hands, the beds of your nails. It asks so much of your body that if you're not careful it can wreck you as surely as any vice by the time you're fifty, when you wake up and find yourself with ruined knees and dysfunctional shoulders, deaf from the constant clank and rattle of your machinery, and broke to boot.

But farming takes root in you and crowds out other endeavours, makes them seem paltry. Your acres become a world. And maybe you realize that it is beyond those acres or in your distant past, back in the realm of TiVo and cubicles, of take-out food and central heat and air, in that country where comfort has nearly disappeared, that you were deprived. Deprived of the pleasure of desire, of effort and difficulty and meaningful accomplishment. A farm asks and if you don't give enough, the primordial forces of death and wildness will overrun you. So naturally you give, and then you give some more, and then you give to the point of breaking, and then and only then it gives back, so bountifully it overfills not only your root cellar but also that parched and weedy little patch we call the soul."

I often tell my kids, "do one thing every day that scares you" and "make the most of yourself, for that's all there is of you" -- at the same time, accepting that where you are right now is perfect.

You'd think leaving our lives behind and moving to the country would be the hard part. That was easy. It's what comes next that scares me. I'll keep you posted.

Have a lovely weekend, folks!


Amy L. said...

Wow, Fiona, I can totally relate. I dream of someday making a living on farm, too, so I no longer have to commute to and from work and farm mostly on the weekends. I look forward to watching you progress with your dreams!

mtnchild said...

You are in the right place at the right time! You know there are hard times, but you, and your whole family, will be the stronger for it. Going to this seminar is one of the best ways to learn the ins and outs from the best and experienced people. Not all thing they will talk about will fit your situation, but you really will learn bunches and bunches.

I will follow you along this path, and be proud to say "I knew her back when she was a struggling newbie farmer." You have it in you to make it work even if you do come across a few bumps.

Love your story!

Mr. H. said...

It is really exciting to hear about you possibly trying to earn income off your farm. While I don't really talk to much about it on my blog this is something we have been working towards for the past couple years as well...mostly selling a wide variety of plants that range anywhere from tomatoes to currants and everything in between. I wish you the best of luck in your endeavors and really look forward to hearing more about it should you take a walk down this path.:)

Mama Pea said...

Wowee! Another excellent, thought-provoking article/essay. Going to the workshop sounds like an intelligent thing to do.

Yes, being "of the weaker sex" is a disadvantage. In that vein, I always remember a single gal (in her 50s when I knew her and small of stature) in the first rural area hubby and I lived. She started and ran (by herself) a very successful feed business on the farm she inherited from her parents. She ran the forklift, loaded and unloaded sacks of feed by tossing them around herself. She had been born with only one arm. How much farther ahead physically are we?

I can't think of a better direction for you to be heading. For so many reasons really too numerous to list here. I have no doubt you can handle whatever you need to.

Erin said...

I am so excited for you! Change is scary, but can be so fulfilling, too! I can't wait to see things develop for you. Have a safe and fun trip to the conference!

David said...

Being on the backside of life, I have to be content where I've ended up. That's not a sad thing by any means. The backyard vertical raised growing beds give me plenty of dirt digging time in the garden. At the same time a project or two around the Urban Ranch keeps me busy enough. Through blogging those folks that live close enough find my skills useful and by volunteering to help them with projects, I find that the days are filled with satisfaction. After 40 years of technical repair, I have returned to my farm oriented roots and find it quite refreshing on a small scale.

From reading your blog for about a year, I know that you will succeed in what ever you put your mind to do. Small steps would be the key to success. Starting with information and training is the best way.

Have a great small farm potential income day. said...

Thank you all so much!!! said...

P.S. Ok, I realize my comment is a bit lame, but really, your support and kind words have left me, for once, speechless!

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