This October marked our 5th anniversary here at the farm. Every year, I try to improve my farm living skills and take away a lesson or two. Here is what I have to say for Year 5:
1. Self-sufficiency, as defined, is far too romanticized and a poor choice for the new ‘Back to the Land’ movement. Point being, you DON’T have to do it all! (hang with me here) – As defined by Wikipedia: “Self-sufficiency (also called self-containment) is the state of not requiring any aid, support, or interaction, for survival; it is therefore a type of personal or collective autonomy.”
Obviously, most of us are never, ever going to be truly self-sufficient. Let me first say that I completely agree with learning how to do things for yourself. How could it be a bad thing to know how to garden, bake your own break, mill your own grain, can food, bake, raise animals for the products they can provide us, etc.? It’s not! However, true self-sufficiency means that we would be doing all of these things without the help of others and also, we’d have to have the ability to make ALL of our own products, from food to clothing.
Now, when you first move onto some land, you get these kinds of ideas: I’M GOING TO GROW MY OWN FOOD! ALL OF IT! I’M GONNA GROW MY OWN VEGGIES, MEAT, DAIRY, ETC., ETC., ETC.! LET’S DO AQUAPONICS! LET’S DO HYDROPONICS! LET’S DO ANYTHING-PONICS! LET’S GROW ALL OUR OWN FOOD FOR OUR ANIMALS! LET’S GROW OUR OWN COTTON, GET A SPINNING WHEEL AND A LOOM, AND MAKE OUR OWN CLOTHING! I’M GONNA GET SOME ANGORA RABBITS AND USE THE FUR TO MAKE HATS AND MITTENS! i COULD MILL MY OWN LOGS! LET’S MAKE OUR OWN BIO-FUEL, AND, AND, AND, AND, and so on and so forth until you are doing so much that you don’t have a single spare moment in your day because you’re feeding, weeding, building, maintaining, and repairing things around the farm. Now, let’s address the part about being autonomous.
You do NOT have to do everything for yourself. Example: I refuse to grow yellow squash. Ain’t gonna do it, ain’t gonna pick squash bugs off the squash plants, not going to worry what I’m going to do with 200 pounds of yellow squash that my plants produced. What’s a farm girl to do? I buy my squash (very cheaply, may I add) from a little man down the road in a reasonable quantity. I do not have to deal with the squash bugs, the watering, the Tryingtosneaksquashintoeverymeal Problem. For two dollars, I do not have to deal with these things. By doing so, I am helping out a local farmer AND myself, because there is that much more time that I have to NOT be worrying about Yellow Squash Syndrome. While I do know HOW to grow and cultivate yellow squash, after a year of growing it I will not be doing that again. I think it’s knowing exactly HOW to do something, and not necessarily DOING it that is important. Of course, you do have to actually do something to truly know HOW to do it, but you don’t have to keep on DOING it, you see? I know HOW to knit and crochet because I have done it in the past, but I don’t DO it very often. I can ride a bike, but I don’t DO it.
The last problem I have with the ‘self-sufficiency’ by definition is that it leaves other people out of the picture. Unless you are living alone in a cabin in some remote part of the country, you need a good Farm Person Network. As I said above, I pay a retired man for my squash every year. My money helps him to offset his costs and hopefully give him a bit of farm income. In return, I get to spend some of my time doing other things. By other things, I mean not growing crookneck squash. By buying milk locally, I don’t have to buy, feed, and maintain a cow. By buying veggies I don’t really care to grow from a farmer’s market or buying locally produced meats, I am helping others.
There is a mental image that is projected from so many of the back-to-the-land magazines and books that seems to tell you that you should be doing everything they write an article about. Stop and take a deep breath. Don’t forget the worth of networking! You will find some of the most amazing people doing some fabulous things by networking in your farm community. If you don’t grow or raise a certain something, chances are someone in your local area does. Don’t get into the mindset that you must produce everything on your own farm. It’s okay to NOT be self-sufficient!
2. It’s okay to take a break from farming. After the drought of 2011, I was disgusted with gardening. I had watched many of my crops wither and die and frankly, it was more than depressing. If you have read my blog, you will also know that I have been flooded, pestered to death by pests, and rampaged by rabbits. Things like this wear on you. Every year, I record my gardening efforts in a garden journal. THIS year, I think I wrote in it maybe two times. I haven’t planted a true winter garden and it’s already November. I told my husband to lock me up if I mentioned raising broiler chickens and turkeys ever again. When it got really hot this summer (July-September), I refused to do any garden work.
I needed this break from my farming life. I don’t need every second of the day penciled in with farm chores. Because my garden had been planned out pretty well, it didn’t seem to mind that it was ignored for 2 whole months other than a very occasional weeding every few weeks. I don’t miss broiler chickens. I don’t feel guilty that I’m not whipping up a fresh batch of bread a few times a week.
Now that I’ve had some time to sit back, think, and streamline my farm ‘plan’, life is a lot better. I no longer am near tears when I look out into the front yard at all the work I haven’t done. Sometimes, you need to sit back, rethink the wheel for a bit, and make decisions to make your life less stressful. Letting some things go (even cool farm things!) is perfectly fine. Now that I’ve had a mental holiday, I find that I am ready more than ever to do little projects and experiments around the house.
But not too many.
3. The most precious thing I raise on the farm is my family. It’s easy to get so caught up in all the busyness of your farm life that you forget what is most important. At the end of the day, it’s your family that matters the most.
And now on to 2014!!!