agrarian

When in Doubt…

When in doubt, sit and have a cup of coffee.  There are times when we are stumped, misled, in a conundrum about how to do, how to fix something (and there are always things to fix).  To have the patience to know when it is time to stop and have a cup of coffee, however, is a talent that many do not have.

It takes perseverance and patience to know when it is time to stop.

What is the teacher that teaches us such things?  Anger and frustration.  Things don’t care and the universe (especially physics) has no aim or motivation to make our lives miserable.  We do just fine at that without any help.

When to tool slips, the nut strips, the puzzle just cannot be figured out…take a break.

On a farm it is easy to get wrapped up in the endless maze of chores, of work, of reparations.  But, having lived a life both in the professional and agrarian world, the endless list of things to do differ only in type, not amount.

And so take a break, grab a chair, have a coffee, get a nap; do what you need to do to figure out the problem.  As many have found out: many a puzzle has been solved in dreams.

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Persistent Perseverance

To make anything of value work, persistence is the key.  This old and perhaps worn-out adage is, in fact, true.  As a newly minted, self-sufficient farmer I can attest for that.  However, persistence is only half the story.

Perseverance is the other half.  Self-sufficiency is honest work; it is demanding work, and it is unforgiving.  Failure is not an option: it is a matter of fact, it is an absolute.  You will persist…at first.

And when persistence seems impossible, perseverance needs to take over.

Often times the work will seem endless, giving up seems at times the only option, but only half of that is true: the work is endless but life is not.

Take time to look up at the stars at night.  Take time to watch the fog break early in the morning over the uncut fields.  Take time to watch the turkey eating the fallen crab apples down by the creek.  And take time to enjoy life and the ones you love.

Work will be there, as it always is, but we must persevere in the happiness that is life and be persistent in the value that we put upon it.

Worth Its Weight in Gold

good as gold

 

Self-sustainability, individualism, independence; these concepts have analogies in the empirical world: eating, working, and learning respectively.  Homesteading takes the concepts and their analogies and reminds us that they are inexplicably woven together.  There is a logical, a philosophical beauty to these three concepts that is brought together by realizing that relationship that we all have to the world around us.

This is not “our” world, but it is the world in which we live in.  When we lose sight of this simple fact we lose the ability to be self-sustaining.  It is at that very moment that we are no longer independent individuals; it is at that moment that we cease to work and learn. What we eat is of no consequence, or so we think.  But, without realizing it (perhaps) we eat what we are given.  Think about this the next trip to the grocery store.

The adventure of homesteading is like all adventures, however: it is wrought with confusion, conflict, contrivances, and frustration.  Homesteading is a true adventure because it is defined by the world in which we live, and not by us or our desires.  The goal of homesteading is to learn to work, and to work to eat.  Nature (as usual) had it right all along.

Homesteading is a political statement as well.  To truly be an individual we must be independent and to to be independent we must be self-sustaining.  If in the act of learning to work in order to eat we can remember that in doing so we are also creating our individualism by independently being self-sustaining, we will have come a long way in becoming a person rather than simply a human being.  And that, my friend, is worth its weight in gold.

Playing God

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There is no better way to get a perspective on one’s life than to start raising the very food that you eat.  Life is a cycle that is often times invisible to us both mentally and physically but on a farm, a self-sufficient farm where nature is allowed to take its course, that cycle is clear.  We raise chicks here on the farm and we start them in an enclosure complete with clean sawdust, clean water and ample food.  They enjoy the digs, they eat and drink.  Their fate is sealed: they will be dinner.  But, they are oblivious to this and most other things, as long as they have their food and water.

As I look down into the box at the chicks as they create their world, I think to myself that their world is not much different than most of ours: we eat, we drink, we sleep and do not question much as long as we are comfortable: our fate is sealed, as long as we have our comfort.  At the end of the day there is not much of a difference.

Of course, we have more potential, but what is potential and how many of us actualize that potential?  What is potential to the chicks?  They are potential food, potential compost makers, they give back what they receive, probably more, but in the end their lives will end on the sharp edge of a knife wielded by me.  They will end up in my freezer and will supply me with the comfort of knowing that I will have food.  They will supply my compost pile and then my garden.

Their potential is in effect endless.  I wonder, then, who is god: us or them?  They fulfill their potential without ever knowing it while we struggle to even know ours.  They are efficient users of resources and effective suppliers of the very thing that sustains life; we are consumers without understanding what we consume.  This is all not to judge, but simply to ponder the fate of god, the fate of us all, which is to supply life in all its confounded mystery and magnificence.

And Then Pigs

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(Meet Pork and Belly, our new pigs)

For some years I’ve wondered where the line was between being a gardener and a farmer.  It began when I made the conscious decision to grow my own food.  I felt like a farmer, but couldn’t really call myself one.  Then, I endeavored beekeeping.  I started with one hive; they unfortunately died.  I got two more and lost them.  I was really hurt.

I thought that this is what a farmer must feel like when he loses livestock or must acquiesce to some sickness and put an animal down.  They were just bees (I said to myself), but they were more than that: they were my livestock, my responsibility.  I was, however, still just a gardener with bees.

Last year when we bought our current property we had to start from the ground up.  I renovated the house over the winter: I was a carpenter.  I plowed a large plot for my garden: I was a gardener.  Early this spring I built a greenhouse: I was a market gardener.  Bees came and I was again (gladly) a beekeeper.  Not long afterwards I built a chicken coop: carpenter again.

Finally, the time had come to get chickens; there were animals coming to a farm.  I felt that finally I could call myself a farmer.  I picked up the small chicks and installed them in the coop.  They had water, they had food, they had straw; I must be a farmer, but alas…still nothing.  I could have chickens in the city.

Then, I got a call on Friday from a farmer that I had met.  I ordered manure and we talked pigs.  Evidently, I ordered two piglets when they were ready (about 8 weeks old), which would be in about 2 weeks.  He told me that “my” pigs were ready to be picked up.  My wife and myself scrambled to build a house for them, a pen and bought some electric fencing.  We had the whole thing ready within 24 hours.

We picked them up and put them down in their pen.  I was nervous.  The cuffed around in the dirt and ate some food.  They were getting use to their new home.  They were a bit nervous in their new surroundings; they didn’t know what to expect.  They were, in fact, a bit like me: nervous in their new position.  Without knowing it I had fallen into farming, but I think the pigs realized it before I did.

Spring

spring

The snow gave way quickly and just as quickly came the green.  The greenhouse went up just in time; the plants, some of which I thought must have died, buried under several feet of snow for months, poking their green sprouts out of the yet still cold earth.  This is no miracle; it is Spring.

The frogs in the back pond reappeared after a long hiatus, and frog eggs line the shallow pools in the back “roads” on the property.  I’ve seen moose tracks and more deer and turkey tracks than I care to count.  The fox is about and I hear the hawk’s screech almost everyday.  The garden is waking up and the plants stir in their pots anxious to get in the dirt.

As always Spring brings anxiety: some plants got burnt up in the newly built greenhouse (my bad).  But, most are fine and I kick myself for not putting spinach in a month ago.  Every Spring I forget what I remember the previous year.  Perhaps this is part of Spring too.

Small buds appear over night on the Birch, the Maple, the Oak and the Cedar and Spruce trees seem even greener than normal.  The fireplaces are cold and everyone is outside.  The wind blows the glorious warmth around and the leaves, freed from the snowy prison, take flight.

We all feel a bit more free in the Spring.  Perhaps Spring is when happiness gets a chance to shine, just for a little, to fly around with the leaves and rid itself of the heavy weight of winter worries.  A new start for an old, old cycle.

Spring into the Past

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Sometimes we long after times that are gone, things that will not come to pass, and futures that are certain.  But we all know that these things are illusions.  Time passes and we all have different ways of noticing this.  Some of us stare at clocks on the wall or time displays in the corners of our screens.  Some of us count the nights and days, the weeks and perhaps the months.  I used to count time by the summer breaks I had.  It all works.

But time passes no matter what we do and we can only do with time what we decide to do with time; time will pass.  In the past I’ve watched time start with new seedlings and time continue with new plants in the garden.  I’ve watched time pass with the coming cold in the air and with the smell of beer brewing; kale boiling and the smell of canning the summer’s crop.

Those times are past and are yet to come.  Those times cycle through even if we do not notice them.  Sometimes our time is spent in the past, looking out over the horizon that darkens with every waking day.  That does not help.  It does help to think of the possibilities that the future holds.  Perhaps that we people garden.

With a small container and some soil we seed the future; the past seems not to matter.  With water we nourish our hopes; regrets seem forgone.  With soil we reminded that the past is nothing more that possible futures.  It is, after all, where we come from and where we eventually will come to.

Learning How to Read

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Many of us love to read books, great articles in good magazines, and perhaps less and less the news.  But after years of reading I am learning how to read…yet again.  There are certain topics that are difficult such as philosophy (a love of mine), and scientific books, even layman science is difficult to me.  However, having recently purchased a property that I intended to make a farm, I am learning how to read again.

In the crisp, New England mornings I walk my dog through the months old snow and the half-century old forest that I own.  I’ve done the walk twice a day for some time now and every day the land teaches something new.  A crevice here, a creek that is burrowing a new furrow; hills and dales, and the trees: oak, birch, red and white pine, hickory, poplar.

Farmers, I think, know what they want, but few know what the land needs; only the good ones, and to know this they need to know how to read.  Walking the land envisioning a field but the land won’t have it.  Perhaps a fruit tree grove there, but the land has started one here.  We own land, but we don’t control land.

Land seems pliable and passive, but don’t let it fool you.  It is the master of its own fate.  We are ego-filled and short-sighted.  The land is wise and counts eons, not seconds.  It is in no hurry as its age is endless.  It knows that we are of it, and by it.  we see land as potential, but it is full of the past.

I am learning how to read the land, and it is a difficult lesson.  I am impatient and the alphabet is foreign.  But the land is patience, and its alphabet it created.  The words ooze out of the fog of my ignorance…slowly.  But as I learn to read I realize that even the choice to learn is an illusion.

New-Old Lifestyles

Image result for old farm tools

When talking to people, especially older people who sometimes don’t understand why anyone would want to “go back” to raising and slaughtering your own meat, growing your own food and working your own land, they often point out that they are “fine” eating the modern products and processed foods of our current world.  They are right, of course; at least sometimes, or partially.

But the real point is lost on them; the point is not just the healthy aspect, but also the moral aspect.  We humans have somehow lost the necessary respect that life deserves and demands.  It is not just for health reasons that we till our own gardens and raise and slaughter our own meat.  It is healthier and better (lacking the additives and antibiotics) but is most certainly a more moral choice (respect for life and the living): a better choice.

A respect for life is the cornerstone of the agrarian lifestyle.  This does not preclude, but does not necessarily include, a religious adoration of life, but it is a necessary moral choice that does much to define who we are at the end of the day.  People that were raised on farms eighty years ago seem to remember the drudgery and forget the community.  They seem to remember the hardships and forget the rewards.  I’m not sure why and perhaps I will too at some point, but I hope not.

The irony of talking to older people who have had such “lifestyles” is that they seem to look upon the new crop of self-sufficient people as being a bit spoiled, but I would argue that the new farmers of old ideas are not spoiled, but curious and willing to do the work.  Although many people will fail at these new old endeavors (because the physicality and harshness of the work have not changed) there are many who have found solace and education in pursuing  “non-progressive” ways of life.

I think that when an honest lifestyle is dismissed so easily by others that it is because those that dismiss it have never really thought about their own life.  To do so, like the new agrarians will find, is physically and morally demanding; no less than the new- life that they have chosen to lead.

After Death

life-afte-deathAfter years of living in cities, longing for the country; perhaps some peace and quiet, I look out over twenty two acres of forest and a half acre of tilled earth to become garden next year.

A dream come real is no longer a dream; a reality in the form of work, wood and wonder.  Reality offers it all and reminds us with the birth of reality comes the death of a dream.
Simple needs become clear and concise.  They are many reminding me that a simple life does indeed necessitate complication.  Work is the key word, the kind of work that goes beyond a scotch in the evening listening to music and imagining and composing wishes.
Happiness, the quality of contentedness that so few find is possible, but the road is long, and comparisons begin to take the joy away from the reality.
For those who wish to live their dream do not compare, do not wish for more.  The dream as reality will not be what you think, but it will be life as it is, not as we wish it to be.
The future is still clear, the present is all encompassing and the past is full of memories, if not regrets and happy times.  Perhaps it is age, but most likely it is the realization that a dream come true is the death of the dream.
Self sufficiency has been and will continue to be the goal, it is now only a daily endeavor, a clarity of mind and a soreness of the body.  The dream perhaps lives more clearly now…after death is the life that I have dreamed of.