I am often asked even by close friends why I farm. The question is occasionally prefaced by a laundry list of all of the hard work, financial strains, difficult decisions and tough situations farming entails.
Each time, I answer simply, ‘ because I love it.’
I state that with emotionally tethered sincerity. I love farming.
Yes, it’s hard. Yes, it is rife with heartache and strain. Indeed, there are days you can’t picture yourself getting through in one piece and there are more sleepless nights than one can anticipate.
It is most assuredly hard, dirty work, trudging through manure laden mud at times that is so deep it fills your boots and sucks them off; I joke that decades from now, someone will buy this farm and find so many pairs and singles of footwear lost to mud, they will believe an entire colony of same sized farmers lived here.
Farming is demanding; of your time, your finances, your emotions, your body, your mind and your beliefs. Yes, your beliefs. You will find renewed faith in some long held convictions and a loss or evolution of others. You will not be the same person in spirit or thought 2 years into farming of any kind that you were when you began.
Farming alters every aspect of your life and processes–neither body , mind , habit nor schedule is untouched. You will become stronger, require less sleep, require more silence and stillness.
You will no longer make long term plans to ‘away’, your schedule and availability are at the whim of influences you respect as being beyond your planning and control. You will connect more, but socialize less.
You will be more capable and self-sufficient. You will learn to stand alone and act alone in the scariest and most physically demanding moments, because you have no choice–lives depend on it.
You’ll learn to appreciate your own company and savor alone time.
You will accomplish things you never pictured yourself attempting on your own and feel a sense of pride in the smallest of tasks.
You will become self-reliant in most things, but will lean heavily on your mentors and fellow Farm hims and hers when the chips are down, and they will respond with support of all kinds and in whatever way they capable of helping.
You will learn things that allow you a confidence and aptitude in many aspects of living that you never even considered before and that knowledge will change you in many ways you hadn’t counted on. For example, I can no longer enjoy many meals in restaurants I used to frequent aside from seafood. Knowing the outstanding taste and texture of fresh foods, combined with the mental images of how a lot of Big Ag livestock are treated and the detrimental additives they employ has left a foul taste in my mouth for foods sourced commercially. I am forever altered by farm fresh, humanely raised and processed foods, in health and spirit.
You will develop an affinity and kinship with your charges that allows you to tell they are ‘ off ‘ before they fall ill. You will be able to singularly identify an animal from behind in a herd identically marked, by her udder or her gait. There is an awareness that comes with observant vigilance you cannot fathom without acquiring it for yourself.
You will do and say things that would have made you cock your head before you started farming. You’ll spend an awful lot of time staring at , admiring and even proclaiming admiration of the personal parts of your livestock and of the livestock of others. You’ll say things out loud to your stock like, “wow ! your poop looks great today ! Yay you ! ” You’ll endlessly talk to your non-farming friend over lunch about the bodily functions of your cow, using words like ” mucus” , ” vulva” and ” stool” as you eat your salad and she drops her fork.
You will amaze yourself. You’ll cry from being tired and worried, alone in your barns, but you’ll finish what needs to be done.
You’ll take care of what needs to be tended no matter the weather, the danger, the pain in your bones or the illness of your body. I dragged myself around on a broken and separated ankle for two and half weeks before agreeing to surgery because I was afraid of what would happen to my animals if I was out of commission. I once milked cows while vomiting in a bucket I had next to me, then threw all the milk to the pigs.
From time to time, I shake my own head and ask why I do it, then I remember life before farming, I remember ME before farming and I plow on.
I grew up in a lower class, crime ridden, mid city neighborhood. I hated it.
Worse yet, I enjoyed no stable or loving home life, being alone much from the age of 8 and wishing I was alone much of the time when I wasn’t.
I sought refuge in the one wooded area my neighborhood offered , at the back of the community beside the railroad tracks. Abutting this wooded area was a horse farm surrounded by deep ditches that to me, seemed like tiny streams. I spent a lot of time there as a child and young woman. Every chance I had, I’d take a bag of snacks and a book and spend hours sitting on the bank of the ditch on the neighborhood side, enticing the horses with sugar cubes and apple bits. It was my dream to live there or somewhere like it. It was peaceful. It was full of animals. It sheltered happy people dwelling in a happy home.
Before I arrived at this place, I suffered with many effects of my former life: Depression, anxiety, weight struggles, sleeplessness, anger…
All of those things resolved themselves over time spent on this farm. I didn’t work at them. I just gradually stopped acknowledging them, replacing those negative aspects with positive ones without effort: eating fresh foods, working hard and tiring myself, finding comfort and peace among my cows and peers,living away from the over-stimulation of city life, etc…had an effect on me that no medications, therapies or external efforts could accomplish.
I learned in studying psychology formally that every action we do, every decision we make, has a payoff for us. Positive or negative, there is a subconscious part of our brain that yearns for that payoff. Even negative actions gain us something we may not even realize we want.
Although most people I know living in large towns and cities are living a life of productivity and choice, I have come to realize there are those folks who crave negativity and propagate the harshness of the modern city, just as there are those who stay only due to fear of leaving it’s conveniences and commercial accessibility.
I did not fully recognize just how much overt negativity and disharmony I was surrounded and bombarded by until I was apart from it. I feel deeply for those who wish to escape it’s assault on their senses and spirit and are trapped in it like I used to be.
Here, I am surrounded by peace and beauty. No matter how badly a day goes, there is always at least one moment, one happening, one sight, that makes me smile. I have come to feel those moments in my core and appreciate them for the gift they are.
The smallest things fill me with gratitude–the soft moos coming from the darkness as I walk to the parlor, the sight of a bouncing calf, the smell of a tomato as it’s pulled from the vine. These things are the stuff of life. These things are the truest this world has to offer.