This month I would like to share a bit about my hopes, dreams and fears and the realities of farming. I can say without a doubt that organic, fresh-market farming is a profession that requires an incredible amount of organizational skills, nature-intelligence (yes it's a thing!) and trust through relinquishing control. Imagine a job that is at the whim of the weather: an important finance report that your boss asked for got hailed on and ruined! That's farming. Some years the strawberries get flooded and you lose all of them right at the peak of their production. Another year your beets and chard are all tiny, spindly and hardly produce for some reason unknown to you. Then some years you can't get into the greenhouse until mid-March because it's too cold out to possibly consider using that much propane to heat for onions, celery and some flowers. Being a farmer means checking the weather two-plus times per day, neurotically checking the greenhouse late at night for fear of the heater not 'really' working right and it means not sleeping some nights because you are so dang excited and scared for the season to start.
Even with those variables, I LOVE my profession. I consider myself a professional grower because I know that someone just walking onto the farm off the street with very little experience could not run a farm for a season successfully without the weather, the soil, labor and the electricity working perfectly in their favor. Which of course, it never does :) But that is what I love about farming! Here I'd like to quote one of my favorite movies of all time (A League of Their Own), "If it was easy, everyone would do it." That's exactly the reason I got into farming in the first place: because I LOVE a challenge, I'm happy not taking the easy path and working closely with the Earth and Nature is an absolute must for me in a career. Yes, farming requires being in sync with the weather 24 hours/day, being okay with getting dirty and smelly and learning to let go of things you can't control. And I love it.
Learning to let go of complete control has been my biggest lesson this winter and early spring: the beginnings of my second season farming on my own. I can plan and re-plan and organize and reorganize as best as I can but in the end I must give in to the reality of life, of Nature, of the farm. I can put all the pieces in to place (or have many spreadsheets that outline how to put the pieces into place) and I can follow through on those plans to be as successful as possible (trusting that winter-time Beth had everything together and summer-time Beth might not have the brain space to step back and see why I chose to do something a certain way) but in the end I have to trust in the resiliency of the farm and of the Earth. We humans have made it this far through disastrous years and abundant years, and so will this farmer right here writing to you. I trust that life will find a way with my gentle proddings of germination and rescuing from weeds. I trust that the Earth will provide for us always with my light tending and heavy harvesting. I love, love, love being able to feed my community- it's one of the most rewarding parts of my job.
All these thoughts and feelings here from your farmer are coming at a time where I feel rather vulnerable. All winter long I have been doing my normal planning for my seed order, crop rotation plan and equipment purchases but I also have been building my greenhouse. It has been quite the process for me through the whole winter and I am very happy to announce that it's finished! The greenhouse I started building after our honeymoon in November is finished! I've built several other structures like it on other farms and such but never my very own (with the help of many friends and family) so I feel very proud. Constructing the greenhouse has been challenging in so many ways especially in regards to letting go because it's likely not my permanent greenhouse for the rest of my farming career. Throughout the building process (many, many hours in cold and wet conditions), I knew that someday I would be either taking this greenhouse down or building another similar one our future farm home. Talk about an exercise in relinquishing control... On top of that, it's 300-350 feet away from any utilities but is the sunniest place on our friends property (who were gracious enough to put up with my farming adventures on their land!). I spent tens of hours pouring through electrical and gas data trying to figure out how I was going to heat it effectively. Finally last Friday night everything was ready to go and I turned on the thermostat. Nothing happened. I checked the electrical board in the heater, the light was on so there's enough amperage coming in (the thing I was most nervous about- voltage drop over 350 feet of wire can be fairly significant!). What could it be? So instead of laying down in my beautiful new greenhouse and crying my eyeballs out, I decided to bite the bullet and call an HVAC company. On a Friday afternoon. After 4:30pm. I was desperate for it to work and I felt did everything right and according to plan. Was there something I missed? I was worried that my greenhouse wouldn't be functional this season. What would my farmer friends who are sharing the greenhouse with my say? Or do!? What would I do if I had no home for my transplants?
Less than an hour later the HVAC guy arrives and I show him what's up. I run through my LONG list of possibilities: no the gas line was cleared, twice so no air pockets; no there's enough amperage coming to the unit; no I definitely purchased the right type of heater that is supposed to be run with propane and not natural gas; no I wouldn't be unlucky enough to get a brand new defective heater. He looked closer, I was missing a 2 inch long red wire to connect the thermostat to the ignition! Bingo- he put that in and screwed it down. The heater fired! Many many months of research, planning, worrying, constructing and building culminated in the warm air coming into my greenhouse from a metal box run by the remains of living organisms from 650 million years ago. WOW!
So what would have happened if the heater didn't work or the frame collapsed in the snow or hail storm drills the thin plastic covering? I don't know exactly but I do know that I would deal with it in the only way I know how: keep calm and keep farming.
There are inherent risks in anything we choose to do with our lives but perhaps in farming, these risks are just a bit more in the open and prevalent- they are less swept under the rug. We must pull the shadow out from the closet and acknowledge it otherwise it consumes us. In farming, there's no hiding. That storm is coming and you've done everything you can to embrace the dark clouds as they roll by knowing you have done enough and everything in your power to hold the farm in one piece. #farmlife
Happy spring folks! All our storage onion transplants are moving out to the greenhouse this morning! I hope they like their new digs ;)