Monday, January 7, 2013


We’ve been farming for almost 32 years now. Those first couple of years were sort of experimental, fifty chicks here, a goat on a rope there, syruping in March, and extracting honey in October. We gradually built outbuildings, tilled fields and stretched fences as we had time and labor to help.

We had young friends who needed summer jobs for the first few years of building. Then our kids, Amber and Laurel, began helping on a daily basis. Summers we hired their friends to help with baling, and thistle patrol. When they went off to college, we invited their boyfriends up for the summer. We got lots of work done and came to appreciate the young men our girls had chosen. Now, our kids have families of their own and no time to return home to work on the farm.

After thirty or so years, the outbuildings and the fences are beginning to show their age and the thistles need just as much patrolling as they ever did. Even a farm as small as ours needs someone working almost full time to stay ahead on chores. It has become obvious that Dave and I were not keeping up; we’re not willing to give up one of our other passions to spend more time on farm work.

The last three summers we’ve hired young friends to work for us full time. Haying was easier, the thistles are in decline, the young trees have all been well mulched, sheep coats repaired, and gardens weeded. But the fences and outbuildings continue to deteriorate. When we first began farming I went to buy sheep at a farm that had gates repaired with baling twine, holes in barn walls patched with plywood and fencing reinforced with branches. I was appalled! What lazy farmers.

Now as I look at our outbuildings repaired with plywood and still leaning, at our fences repaired with baling twine and hog panels, and at our gates propped in the back yard, waiting for repair, while the opening in the fence is blocked by a hog panel, I realize that it wasn’t laziness or bad farming that I saw all those years ago, it was tired farmers with too much to do and not enough time to do it.

Most small farmers work out – that is they make a living doing something besides farming. Farming is their life – they do it because they love it, but they can’t live off the proceeds. You can’t pay for health insurance with a load of buttercup squash or cover your taxes with a box of wool. Of course because we farm we have great meat, our fields are healthy and productive most years, we have manure to dig into our vegetable gardens and thus have wonderful produce in the  summer and to can and freeze for winter, and I have enough wool and yarn to last several lifetimes. We farm because that is how we choose to live, not because we will get rich.

Time versus money is a tightrope that all farmers walk. If you had money you could pay for help on the farm. But you need to raise more animals or to plant more fields to earn enough money to hire the help. And that takes time and money. For now, we’ll hire help when we find young people who need jobs and are willing to work hard at hard labor, and we’ll repair and rebuild as time and funding allow. Meanwhile, our grandsons love the sheep. Maybe the day is coming when they’ll ask to help with repairs.

1 comment:

  1. The Ellison's upward bound program... hard work but fun. Also when I found out I was allergic to hay. Schoenecker and I loved it... Thanks !