Friday, April 22, 2011
Hobby Farm? Hmmmm....
I just read a post from a blogger and author that I follow, Cold Antler Farm's Jenna Woginrich (coldantlerfarm.blogspot.com). Some of my long time followers may have heard me mention her before on here. She's a young woman making her way in the world homesteading a 6 acre farm in northern New York. Her escapades are sometimes funny, sometimes sad, sometimes scary and always intelligently put as she writes about her solo life running this farm and also working full time off the farm at a desk job. If you've time, grab a cup of tea, put on some music and go check her out. You'll be hooked.
In any case, her latest post is about how she's growing to detest the term "hobby farmer". Her contention is that what she does really can never be considered a hobby. She is feeding herself from her land and growing animals that nourish and in some cases clothe herself and others. It's a very interesting point of view. It got me to thinking about my life and what I want to achieve for it. I have had a vegetable garden, and in my youth rode and showed horses, have always wanted a way to be more connected to the earth and the things that matter to me.
I began my intense knowledge gathering when I became pregnant with my first child. I don't know if every mother is like me, but I became almost obsessed with how to provide him with the best start in life. So, I learned about what to eat to develop his little body growing in mine. I would only eat organic food (that's a budget buster when you don't grow your own), and in that obsession began to learn about our food system in this country. Honestly, it scared the hell out of me. Before I was pregnant, I never gave much thought to where the food that hit my plate came from, only that I was getting enough fruits and veggies and whole grains to keep my body nourished. Never thought about how genetically modified organisms (GMO's) affected my body...the USDA says they are safe, so they must be right (wrong)? Never thought about how there is now on average 712 calories added to our diets every day that were not there in the 1970's-80's in processed food via high fructose corn syrup. That it was changing the way I tasted food by lending me to expect food should be sweet. That's very basic, think about that. The way it changes how you taste the food...and it's all to benefit the corn growers and the subsidies that exist to fund them. Yes, your tax dollars go to that subsidy along with so many others it would shock you to know about. And, no, HFCS is not the same as sugar, your body does not process it the same as sugar and it is one of the things that is killing the health of our nation and children.
I also never gave much thought to where the meat that sat on my plate came from. Well, that's not entirely true. I was a vegetarian in my teens because I read Diet for New America. The way the animals are treated in these places is horrendous. I have to draw a fine line about not wanting to offend those with delicate sensibilities and wanting people to know the truth of where their food comes from and how that food was forced to survive prior to it hitting their plates. Let me just say this. Animals are living beings. Yes, we eat animals, we are omnivores and I don't have a problem with that. But there is a certain amount of respect that should be afforded to them in just being living creations of God. Living an honorable life, well cared for and respected should matter. It just should. They are not creations we made in a factory (though that is what this type of farming is called, Factory Farming), they are not inanimate objects. They are living beings. My personal belief is that all animals have souls. If you've owned a dog or cat in your life, you also know this to be true. That being said, it matters to me how these animals are raised and treated prior to them nourishing my body. They should receive the dignity and respect afforded the huge sacrifice they make to nourish us, though it is not even their choice. I feel it's the least we can do.
So, I began searching for food that was more in line with my personal beliefs. I started with deciding that I wanted to buy as much of that food locally as was possible given the crisis the planet is in daily from shipping things like apples from New Zealand, or grapes from Chile in January in New Hampshire. Yes, we go without those things that time of the year, but I feel better just leaving things in their intended season when I can. It just makes sense to me. I find it astonishing that some folks don't have a clue what is in season when and where. If you read the label on where your produce comes from, if it's coming from Peru to New Hampshire, it's a good bet, it ain't in season. Or better yet, shop farmer's markets because if it isn't in season, it won't be there.
This also lead me to want to grow as much of that food in as healthy a manner as I could for myself and my family. So began my adventures in gardening and growing organically. Now, I guess the thing that I find interesting is that with the first seed sowed in the first raised bed, my life was changed forever. I didn't know it at the time, but it most certainly was. I have been without a garden for 2 years now since we've been renting and this year, I am returning to the dirt. And I felt the unease of buying all our food from others who worked hard to provide it and I felt how disingenuous that felt for me. So this year, I will feel the dirt in my fingers and clean it from under my nails once again. It makes my soul sigh with contentment.
I also made the choice to cook as much food as possible from scratch. This way, I could identify what exactly is going into the food we eat. I now buy very little processed food compared to where I was even three years ago. Organic chicken nuggets...just because they are organic, doesn't mean they are made in a healthy manner, you know what I mean? So, I just came up with the alternatives for the convenient way of eating. I make my own bread, but I got a breadmaker to do it with. I can my own food, not all of it, but I do the best I can with what I have, we eat a lot of eggs because they are easy on a night I need something on the table quickly, I make big batches of soup or chili and freeze them to use for other meals. You get the point, it's all about the skill to cook these things, and organizing my life so that I'm able to do it when I need to. But, I had to learn those skills. My wonderful mother did teach me the basics of cooking, she's a great cook in her own right. But I did grow those skills beyond my childhood teachings. And I'm a fair cook now, I'd say. I don't get too many complaints from my brood. Well, Little Red dislikes most things that aren't a carb, but even he will usually eat what's put in front of him without too much fuss. In any case, it all boils down the learning the skills to put the food on the table. Skills that came to me as I practiced the processes, read about new techniques and adopted what works for me. There's no right or wrong way to learn, you just set your mind to it, and do it up.
As you know, I also decided to add raising chickens to my skill set. The six chicks now rapidly outgrowing their brooder are a foray into something big for me. Producing protein for my family in the form of eggs. Wow, if you take pause and think about this, it's pretty amazing. With the addition of those chickens, we are now able to grow not only fruits and vegetables but also protein for our sustenance. To sustain our life. Sustain. And I don't need anyone else (save the chickens, of course) to provide that because I'm gaining the skills to do that for myself and teaching my children how to do the same. To be responsible for where our food comes from and not relying on anyone else is the place I'm trying to get my family to. Because without the sustaining of life, where are you really? All the money or prestige in the world won't help you survive if you don't have access to food. Now, I don't want to be some kind of survivalist fanatic here, but the world is changing folks. And that being said, and knowing we aren't financially able to buy our way out of that kind of jam, well, the skills to growing our own food is the most important thing in my eyes. And even if we never need those skills, well, it is still an incredibly humbling and peaceful feeling to know I can do it if I need to. I have the skills and the knowledge. I am a farmer in that sense of the word.
So, do I consider my little farm here (it's what we're developing, someday hoping direly to have it be on our own land) to be very important to the survival of my family. Is that a hobby? Hmmmm...I think not. There's so much more that's going on here then playing golf or painting. And don't get me wrong, there is inherent value in those things, and I love my hobbies, but I don't consider farming to be a hobby. Way too much blood, sweat and tears goes into farming for anyone to ever think of it as a hobby. It's a very valuable way of life, what I'm growing here is life sustaining. Life. Sustaining. No, not a hobby.
Wishing you the courage to find the peace these skills provide, ~Peacemom