Do you Live to Farm – or Farm to Live? These two questions can get different responses: yes, to both. No to one, yes to the other. Or a firm no to both. They are one of the few questions that cannot be answered with a maybe. Either you do, or you don’t. Right?
They also may be thought of as the same question, but in reality they aren’t. There is a difference.
When I tell someone I ‘live to farm’, it speaks of passion. It speaks of embracing farming as something you love to do, and . you almost swoon over the idea. Faithfully, you walk outside every morning. The garden is tended. Livestock is fed, and you do the dirty work of cleaning out coops and cutting hay. There is grease and oil on your favorite tee shirt when the tractor breaks down. You don’t blink an eye when the barbed wire rips a hole in your blue jeans – after all, you know how to fix it.
But unless farming is your true passion – a calling, even – the ‘love’ you thought you had for it can fade. You pull your pillow over your head when the alarm clock goes off before it is even light outside. Your feet drag at the thought of being out in the heat. A teeny tiny blister you got yesterday from the business end of a shovel just has to be an excuse to not do chores .
And before long, you catch a glimpse of something else that seems way better than farming. Oh, it starts out innocently enough. You only think a little bit about it while you are pruning the fruit trees, and you wonder about it while you are hauling fifty-pound feed sacks from the truck to the barn. But about the time you are cornered in the chicken coop by a six-foot chicken snake, you decide that it just may be your new passion. And within days, you are off chasing the latest rainbow, and the farm sits neglected.
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Farm to Live
Times are scary. You look around you, and the world seems to be in a holding position. Life seems a little grayer. Feed prices are going up. Reports that chemicals are not only invading everything we eat, but also are causing serious illnesses. Food prices are skyrocketing and most are tasteless. Fuel costs make you rethink three trips into town for the week. Greed, power and lawlessness seem to be prevalent. There is ‘something’ in the air that just doesn’t sit right, or feels ‘off’. Nothing we can really put our fingers on, but whatever ‘it’ is, we still feel it. We rethink our lifestyles. I study and to the research. We see the wisdom in becoming as self-reliant as possible, and we opt for the homesteading life.
We might enjoy it, we might not. But our mindset is that we should be less concerned with our own pleasures. Instead, we work to build a sustainable garden. We choose livestock according to how much land we have. We feed them rations that are either nature based, or carefully chosen for the best of health. Everything we can do to sustain our family through that ‘something’ we feel sure is coming is done. Before we know it, we have become almost paranoid. We eschew any form of store bought foods. Our interactions with the outside world are limited. If we don’t grow it, produce it, preserve it, make it, it isn’t worth having. And we work ourselves to the point of exhaustion.
To the Extreme
Both of these examples lean toward the extreme. But if we are honest with ourselves, we have probably been in one of those examples or another. Very recently, I reconsidered the validity of a farm-based lifestyle when it was me cornered in the chicken coop, facing down the fifth chicken snake in as many days. I. Hate. Snakes. I promise you this one was twelve feet long and about 8 inches in diameter. Something from a horror movie.
I watched the rains come down so hard and so fast, that our quiet peaceful creek swelled to angry torrents. And because of that, I confess to having a tornado-strength storm of thoughts of a big city condo. On the flip side, I remember staring at some of the saddest squash and bags of wilted lettuce in the grocery store. My mind wandered to trying to figure out a way to grow every vegetable known to man on my farm – and do it 12 months out of the year. I longed for the day when I never had to leave the confines of my farm. Yes. I see you nodding your head. You have been there too, haven’t you?
Find the Balance
Actually, there is a balance between the two. You can live to farm, and you can farm to live. It is all in learning to balance. I don’t have a Disney farm – where the second I walk out the door birds begin to light on my shoulders and sing a beautiful song. But I do hear the rooster crowing in the short distance, and the cows lowing in the pasture. My barn cats greet me at the back door to escort me to the barn and their feed bowls. I have been guilty of singing in my off-key manner to the vegetables and herbs as I weed the garden. And I have learned the art of darning, even if some of my jeans are more darning thread than denim.
There have been times when I pull the covers up over my head as I mourn the idea that I have to go tend to the animals in spite of the lightning, thunder and rain so thick you can’t see beyond the back door. I have trudged through a rare snow storm – something we just don’t have down here, and aren’t really equipped to deal with. Longing glances have been sent to the road in front of my gate, thinking spending my day in a cold movie theater would certainly beat fixing the fence in the heat and humidity. And any excuse for not cleaning out the chicken coop is good enough for me.
But I just as quickly turn back around, and pull on rubber boots and a poncho. I grab a glass of ice water, a towel and my leather gloves. With pliers in hand, I fix the fence. I mow the grass. I decide that the snake is history. Who cares if he can coil around my 16’x32’ coop three times and still have his head sticking up by two feet? I need the eggs he would have eaten.
The World Today
This world does seem a little off-kilter. Fuel, food, feed and the cost of living is higher than any given income these days. Where it took our ancestors a small plot of land to survive, it now takes a minimum of two, if not three, outside sources of income just to pay the bills. We struggle just to keep a roof over our heads, much less be able to purchase the extras. And greed, power and lawlessness does seem to be running rampant through the streets. And as much as I hate the idea, our lives as we know them seem to be heading toward something – whether Economical depression, Recession, or just an out-and-out famine.
I didn’t choose to farm out of fear; I chose this life because of the deep-seated contentment it brings. It is our hope for the future. I don’t eschew food from the grocery store, because I am realistic to know that I cannot do it all on just 60 acres. But I do pay attention to our needs, and do everything in my power to provide it through our own efforts first. Chemicals are eschewed, to the best of our ability. I care deeply for the ground I walk on – the same ground that provides nourishment for my plants and livestock. There is laughter. Tears. Smiles. Frustration.
We live to farm, and we farm to live. The work is despairing some days. I get drenched, with rain or sweat. My hands form blisters, my arms and legs bleed. But I also get to eat fresh peaches that drip juice down my chin, and can smell the fresh baked bread for hours after it comes out of the oven. I get to laugh over chicken antics and get kisses from my cows. And no, I don’t really face monster snakes. The chicken snakes were really only about 5+ footers, but they were still snakes.
It’s a balance. There are days you will love it. There are days it will seem like an endless burden with no end of the disappointments and disasters in sight. But whatever you want to call it – farming, homesteading, self-sufficiency, self-reliance, or anything else, it is a calling. To be honest, I don’t think we really get to choose to farm. Farming chooses us. And we embrace the choice. We step out in the rain. Sweat is wiped from our brow. Bandages are handy. And we head back out to the coop to find that one chicken snake which got smart and tucked itself out of shooting range, behind the nest boxes.
And we sleep peacefully at night.