We cut our first ever true asparagus harvest today! It’s on its third year since planting–and since we started from seed it needed the full three years to develop a good root mass before we could steal very much for eating…so last year we only snagged a spear or two for a taste. But today we discovered plenty of nice fat stalks, snapped them off and ate them for lunch no more than 15 minutes later!
My beautiful asparagus-toting wife…
A little olive oil in a hot pan, salt and pepper, and a roughly 3 minute cook time. When you have really fresh asparagus, you hardly need to cook it. It’s also deliciously crisp and tender eaten as a raw snack.
Lunch for two.
Last fall, we got to talking about how to better integrate our livestock with our vegetable fields. Our property straddles a country road. On one side of the road is the flood plain of the Russian River. That’s where the vegetables grow. On the other side, hills rise quickly up over the valley. That’s where we live, and where our animals live too. In this set-up, whenever we want to make use of the rich manure created by roosting chickens or feeding goats, we have to cart it all the way from the hillside to the compost pile a half mile away down on the flood plain. So, one day while we were grumbling after having spent hours mucking out the chicken coop or goat stall, we started brainstorming solutions to that unpleasant and time-consuming task.
One of the ideas we came upon was to try to bring the animals to the vegetable fields more often. (Of course, we’d still have to move them up to dry land in the event of a flood during the winter, but that would usually only be for half a month or so of every year.) Rather than shoveling chicken droppings out of the chicken coop, where the chickens roost at night, why not have the chickens poop right where we want to use their manure!? We could move the chickens around in a mobile coop, where they could graze old vegetable fields once they’re not being harvested any more. Then, after an appropriate rest period while the manure aged and bacteria were broken down, the newly fertilized fields could be tilled and planted again.
So, since winter time is project time, when January rolled around, we decided to begin enacting our plan. First things first…we had to find a long, skinny, sturdy trailer. After trolling Craig’s List for a while, a good one popped up in Lake County, and we brought it home.
Then, the walls went up. Most of the lumber came from the local compost company, which sells used lumber at reasonable prices.
We chose to make the coop pretty low-profile, to keep its weight down… so the walls are 4 feet on one side and 5 feet on the other. The eggs will be collected from outside, and the floor with allow droppings to fall through–so we shouldn’t have to crawl inside for anything on a routine basis.
At this stage, in the picture below, I started getting envious of the chickens and coveting their trailer as a farmer’s market produce display. Isn’t it just starting to look like a hot-dog cart or some food truck? “Step right up, get your kohlrabi! Get your cauliflower! Get your cabbage!” As much as I was tempted to veer off in a new direction on my project, our new chicks we already ordered (I think by this time they had actually already arrived and were in the brooder) at this point, so the clock was ticking on the coop.
We cantilevered the nest boxes out over the tire, to maximize inside space left for roosting.
The nest boxes have a slight slope, so that the eggs will roll away to a soft cushioned landing–making them easier to collect and less likely to get dirty. Maybe we’ll post some more details photos and explanations of the roll-away nest boxes once the hens start laying and we have a chance to see how well they work.
Below, all the walls and the roof are on, and all that’s left is finishing up the nest boxes and a couple other details. Notice the little white door that’s swung open at the far end. It’s about four feet tall; we bought a narrow solid wood door at the dump and sawed the top few feet right off, turning it into a little hobbit door. There’s also a small door on the near side, which will be hooked to an automatic closer/opener triggered by light and dark (See two versions here and here.) The doors will allow the hens to be out foraging during the day, while safely inside at night.
Once the chicks had been moved down into their new digs, we could peer in to check on them through the hardware cloth windows.
The floor is double layered, to discourage raccoons from reaching their little claws up and groping for chickens in the night. The top floor, for chickens to walk on, is made of 1×1 welded wire mesh (which was very hard to come by locally.) The lower, raccoon barrier is just made of chicken wire secured about 8-12 inches below the coop floor.
It’s a brave new world, chickies!
When I was in middle school in the mid-90s, there was a song — originally released in 1984 — that experienced a brief surge in popularity among my circle of friends. That song was “Everybody run, the homecoming queen’s got a gun!”
It featured lyrical gems such as “An hour later the cops arrived / By then the entire glee club had died — no big loss,” and “How could you do what you just did / are you having a really bad period?”
(Note to those who might be offended: This song was written 15 years before kids actually started shooting each other in school. So you have to look at the video through my innocent middle-schooler eyes. The song was intended to be a Monty Python-esque spoof, and many years later turned into one of those situations where life tragically and horrifically imitates art, although I’m not so sure that song qualifies as ‘art.’)
But I digress. I’m not sure why I started the blog post there, except that while I may be a 28 year old woman, I have a sense of humor that would be better suited to a sixth grade boy. A sense of humor that, in fact, still finds some entertainment in the old 80s music video. Using it in a blog post gave me an excuse to Google the lyrics.
Fact: My high school didn’t have homecoming queens. And even if they did, I was an uncool kid that wouldn’t have gotten within a mile of the tiara. I never had the urge to shoot anything at all — that is, until I started farming.
So really, that song is not relevant, and I should start here:
To heck with the homecoming queen. This farmgirl’s got a gun.
Before you freak out, allow me to explain why I have a gun: specifically, why I have a 30-30 Marlin capable of stopping animals that weigh more than I do dead in their tracks (and giving me a nasty kickback bruise if I’m not careful).
In the fall, our farm was attacked by pigs. Which means that in addition to the usual onslaught of sapsucking bugs, burrowing beetles, rabid rodents, damaging deer and berry-biting birds, we now have 250 pound creatures assaulting our produce — creatures whose brains and hearts are (anatomically speaking) remarkably similar to our own. Creatures whose cloven hoofs suggest some insinuation with Satan, creatures which possess an unusual snout that is, well, cute when it’s little but crazy creepy when it’s big.
They also have tusks. Never trust an animal with tusks. I have a fabulous walrus story I could tell you in which I, as a small child, was remotely attacked by a walrus at Sea World in the grossest of all possible ways. But I’ll save that for another day.
Personally, I also would never trust an animal that has corkscrew shaped genitals or 30 minute orgasms. The pig has both. I confess that I do not have any personal experience with either of those things — just a vague sense that they, like the pig’s nose, are somehow creepy and should be avoided at all costs. (Some people express jealousy at 30 minute orgasms. Really? I’d have to sleep for a week afterwards. Worth it? I think not.)
But let’s get out of the gutter and back into the field, where several months ago I shouldered a pink camouflage clad shotgun in defense of our income and property. This, mind you, was after we lost not one but two crops of sweet corn to the wild boars. Overnight, our corn crop went from a head-high forest to stubble. Every single corn plant had been severed less than a foot above the ground. Total devastation.
After the corn, it was the spinach bed. And then the onions. And then the arugula.
After hundreds of dollars’ worth of loss, I decided to take a stand, by which I mean drive over to the local gun shop and arm myself. Bring it, pigs! I’d be a gun-totin’ mountain mama, Farmerette of the Wild West. I’d be the city-bred liberal about to pull a Palin: girl with gun (and even better, brains) ready to shoot-em-up some beast and mount it on her wall.
Palin might be on to something. You do feel (and even look) a little hotter holding a gun. Suddenly you’re Bond girl and Tomb Raider rolled into one — granted, minus the giant lips and boobs — or maybe you’re the cool-as-cucumber scientist determined to stay above the fray but eventually to save the life of Brad Pitt/Ashton Kutcher/Vin Diesel you pick up the AK-47 and, after getting your white tank-top thoroughly soaked with water, discover a remarkable ability to shoot on target, something the enemy can never seem to do. Excellent marksmanship can make a man scary/creepy, but always makes a woman scary/hot.
Back in the real world, guns made my husband serious. In a manly Pa Wilder sort of way. When he carries them he is not husband but Husband, not some guy but Man. It is wrong to say that, walking quietly behind him on one of his nightly pig scouting missions, I was a little turned on?
* * * * *
“What if they come up behind us?” I asked, as Emmett and I crouched at the end of one of the vineyard rows. “Maybe we should hide behind the apple trees instead, against the fence.”
“Oh, don’t worry, they won’t,” Emmett said. “This isn’t their path. They’ve been traveling about 15 rows north of us.”
And so it was that I ended up squatting, gun in hand, in the shade of a grapevine with my barrel pointing at the orchard-pig-playground while Emmett hung back in the vineyard five feet behind me, allowing me my turn as Tomb Raider.
For a while, the world was all silence and big pig dreams. Then, a rustling; then a breathing. A shuffle behind me that was decidedly pig-like. I froze. Wheeled around, banging the barrel of the gun into the metal grape post with a loud CLANG.
In my head, I cursed. The pig didn’t seem to mind the noise. It stood five feet away from Emmett, quietly regarding him. Its ears — erect, but folded over in that way that says “scratch me” — looked exactly like our dog’s.
Clutching the useless gun, I was suddenly overwhelmed with pity for the thing, and glad — in an empty, aching sort of way — that my husband was inconveniently positioned between me, the gun, and the pig.
Meanwhile, the pig seemed mildly surprised to see two humans crouched between him and his windfall apples. He stared at Emmett as though awaiting an explanation. Unable to figure out what we were about, he turned around and sauntered away. Really, I do mean sauntered.
For a few seconds, we held the silence. Then:
“There was no way I could shoot,” I said, somewhat embarrassed I didn’t, but thinking I at least had a good excuse in not wanting to shoot my husband.
“Of course not, and it’s a good thing you didn’t,” Emmett said, probably thinking less of Sarah Palin than Dick Cheney.
* * * * *
Which brings me to the only win of the night: score one point for the wife. As we walked away I heard, unprompted, the three words that women the world over long to hear, “Well, you were right.”
* * * * *
We’ve been back many nights since to protect our fields, and the thrill of the chase is all but gone. Sitting with a gun in moonlight is one of the loneliest things in the world. Barrels are always cold and the safety must be off because of how well the simple sound of pushing it forward carries. If there is moonlight, there is no fog that would make the endeavor feel furtive, secretive — give it a sense of pregnant suspense that might counteract the cold.
Moonlight is naked. The creatures that live in it witness and judge. For all the times that I’ve been out walking after midnight I’ve seen owls, plenty of them, but it wasn’t until I was holding a gun that one wheeled above me and actually screamed. When you are out at night with a gun, you invite judgment.
* * * * *
Of course, the owl might have just been saying, “Damn, girl! Lookin’ hot with that piece.” I doubt it… The threat of death may be sexy, but dying never is.
You know it’s the New Year when the Christmas tree has moved out of the living room and into the goat pasture, surrounded by eager does stretching to get the first nibble. This ritual has become a January tradition in our household, as has the sharing of it on the blog (see a past year’s feast here.)
For the winter solstice, a couple of farmer friends and I gathered around a campfire and sent the bad bits of 2011 on their merry way. Simply put, we wrote things we wanted to let go of on pieces of paper, tossed them in the fire, and watched them burn. It was both therapeutic and interesting to hear what everyone wanted to change for the new year. One of the things it turned out we’d all struggled with — and wanted to move past — was the concept that we’re not “Real Farmers.”
Now, let’s be clear. All three of us are farmers. But because a couple of us have part-time off-farm jobs… because one of us works for other farms…. because we’re women, and sometimes we like to dress up… because we all own livestock, but none of us own livestock on a Big Ag Commercial Scale… because we don’t make enough money farming to put in an IRA account (what farmer does?)… because certain circumstances in our lives helped us or guided us to become farmers… there’s this societal (and personal) sense that we’re not “Real Farmers.”
As an aside, I’d like to blame the Tea Party and maybe country music for the the aggravating overuse of the word “real.” We’re not just “keeping it real” anymore like we were in the 1990s. These days, you have to go out of your way to prove that you’re a “real” person (as opposed to what, I’m not entirely sure — an automaton? a Stepford wife?). And I’ve got some news for you: it’s not easy being a real person. While they’ve stopped short of insisting that you have to be a coal miner, coroner or mother of nine (and foster mother to 20), it is very clear that you may not be a news reporter, a well educated person, happy, or live in California. Making me one giant fake Fail.
The trouble is, this culture of “are you real” can undermine one’s sense of self worth and even identity. In case you have the same niggling doubts my friends and I did, I’ve come up with a list of criteria for being a “real” farmer. Consider this your Redneck Cosmo quiz. If you answer ‘yes’ to any of the following questions, YOU ARE A REAL FARMER. Period. And if anyone tells you otherwise — or even looks at you askance — send them over to me. I’ll kick them in the nuts for you.
~The Real Farmer Quiz~
Do you grow enough food to provide for much of what you or your family eats?
Do you grow food specifically to sell, share or trade with others?
Have you driven more than 10 cumulative miles on a tractor?
Do you own copious amounts of row cover?
Do you like to smell your own compost?
Have you stayed up all night with a laboring or sick cow, goat, or sheep?
Has your livestock guard dog ever eaten one of your chickens/goats/sheep/cows?
Are you regularly responsible for cleaning inordinate amounts of animal feces out of some sort of animal dwelling?
Do you milk a dairy animal on a regular basis?
Do you have bales of orchard grass, alfalfa, or oat hay currently in your possession?
Do you have outdoor-only “working cats” who patrol your barns or feed bins?
Do you have a hard time finding a house-sitter because of the strange “pets” you have — i.e., goats, chickens, bees?
Does it bother you less and less when chickens die?
Have you ever repositioned a kid, lamb or calf before it was born?
If you answered “yes” to any one of the previous questions, congratulations. You’re a real farmer.
**NOTE: Answering ‘yes’ to more than one question does not make you more of a farmer than somebody else. ‘Cuz that’s not how we farmers roll. We’re egalitarian, yo.
Hello! (after a long interlude of lots-of-work-and-little-blogging.) We’ve been busy all summer long, keeping the goats milked and the vegetables weeded, focusing on our CSA members and farmers markets. But we have taken some photos along the way and hopefully in the coming weeks and months we can share with you some of our summer adventures–which took us on a roller coaster ride from destructive wild pigs to bumper pumpkin harvests.
To start us off, since we’re nearing Halloween, here’s a real live Frankenstein captured on film at Foggy River Farm. This photo was taken after a long day of tomato-tying in late July or early August. If you’ve ever spent hours working with tomato plants, you’ll recognize the pervasive green stain that comes from natural chemicals emitted by tiny hairs all over the stems and leaves.
OK, so I’ll be honest. The real reason I’m writing this post is because I got my first negative review on Amazon. It’s not the negativity of the review that annoys me, but rather the fact that the reviewer seems to think he knows more about my start-up farm than I do, and also has a knack for taking quotes out of context. (The reporter in me finds this habit particularly grating.)
Oh, and he also actually seemed to enjoy the book, and called it a “good read,” but then went into a five paragraph critique because apparently I’m not a real farmer. Or because I’m a bad farmer who is incapable of feeding the masses. Or because I’m too good of a farmer and experienced “quick success.” (Quick success?! I wish.) Or something. His dislike of me is evident, but the reasons for his dislike remain unclear, at least to me. Maybe you’ll have better luck understanding his point of view.
Regardless of exactly what got this guy’s goat, I’d like to take this opportunity to turn the bad review into something positive and use it as an excuse to talk about the mechanics of starting up a small farm from scratch. Without further ado, here are 5 lessons I’ve learned over the past 4 years, and some clarifications about how we got our own small farm going. After hearing our story, are we “elite” “affluent post adolescents” as reviewer H. Laack stated? You be the judge.
Lesson #1 — A farm is a small start-up business. Treat accordingly.
When starting up a small business, the entrepreneur — be they farmer, restauranteur, aspiring CEO or shopkeeper — should have some money saved up. Or have good enough credit to secure a loan, or enough confidence to convince investors of the bright future of the business. Because no brand-new business that I know of will actually earn you any kind of a living for the first few months, and may not achieve profitability for a year, or even years, after inception… if at all.
(Hint: now is a good time to move back in with your parents, if they haven’t yet converted your former bedroom into an office/craft room/storage space/nordic-track-gym.)
Since I have an obvious tendency towards memoir, here’s Foggy River Farm’s startup story:
I worked during college as a TA and then Head TA, which meant that I was often bone-tired, grumpy, exhausted, caffeinated, and never had any time off. (I’m frankly shocked that my relationship with Emmett survived this period, but it was good training for farming.) However, it also meant that I wasn’t dependent on my single mom, and I was — by living meagerly — able to actually save money for the latter part of college rather than accumulate debt. As Head TA, I had a certain number of credits allotted to me per quarter as part of my payment package. I never took classes above the allotted amount, so I didn’t have to take out loans to pay for my Master’s degree.
Because I was only attending school part-time, Emmett graduated a year before I did. After graduation he worked for Stanford Dining Services, and for two years we both lived in fabulously affordable housing that we shared with many (perhaps too many) other colleagues. For one of those years, we lived in a fraction of a garage that had been “converted” into a “bedroom.” There were rats in the walls. I once woke up screaming because I had a nightmare that rats were crawling across my face, a dream that was probably generated by the nightly sound of rats scrabbling around in the wall right next to my head.
In wintertime, tragically, one of the rats in the wall died, and dead-rat-smell leaked out of the electrical socket just above our mattress. Dead-rat-smell is strangely similar to the scent of urine, and I accused Emmett of peeing in the bed for several nights before I realized what the smell actually was. (Duct tape over the socket solved that problem perfectly.)
I also might add here that Emmett’s the sort of person who won’t spring for a sleeper car on a multi-day train trip. In fact, he’s the sort of person who will refuse on principle to pay the overpriced cost of train food, and will instead drink cold soup, purchased in advance, straight out of a carton. True story.
(Hint #2: This is the sort of person that makes a very good farmer. You think that potato’s too rotten to eat? Cut a piece of it off and try again.)
So anyway, after we were both done with school, and finished with the temporary internship-type jobs that we held for six months after school, we had a tidy sum of money in our respective savings accounts. We spent some of it traveling around New Zealand, but since we were wwoofing and living on the cheap, upon our return we still had plenty to fund our farming venture and pay the bills while we got off the ground. We moved into Emmett’s well-preserved childhood bedroom and got to work.
(Side note: our savings accounts have never recovered to pre-New Zealand levels, except at the end of the Fall, which is before we live off of savings until Spring. But we are currently able to live off of our on-farm income combined with my 20 hour/week newspaper job, and are continuing to grow the business each year. I’m pretty sure my boss would get mad if I noted how much I make at the newspaper, so let’s just say that while reporting is about as lucrative as farming, the paycheck does keep coming in the winter.)
Lesson #2 — How to secure land: or, everyone is lucky/unlucky.
Emmett and I are incredibly lucky to be able to farm and live on property that has been in the family for three generations: we know that. But you don’t have to have family with property to be granted the use of the land. It takes relationships, certainly, but not necessarily blood ones. The Kimballs (as told in Kristin’s memoir, The Dirty Life) had a family friend who offered to let them farm the land. Many of our farmer friends in Sonoma County have similar arrangements; some do pay long-term lease fees, while others are simply gifted the use of a property for sustainable agriculture purposes or are leasing the land for $1 per year. There are often ads on Craigslist looking for farmers to cultivate a property owner’s acreage in exchange for providing the landowner with food. Some farmers I know work for an hourly salary (woah — more than minimum wage!) in exchange for tending a restaurant or winery’s farm.
Of course, there are huge challenges associated with these arrangements. Some farmers have to piece together multiple “free lease” (or low-cost-lease) properties in order to garner enough acreage to make ends meet, and considerable time is spent commuting between those properties. Others pay rent without knowing how long they’ll be able to stay on the land. While negotiating for a long-term lease is ideal, it’s not always feasible, and we know farmers in this county who have been suddenly unseated from the property they’ve farmed for years. Land is insanely expensive to purchase, and farming doesn’t make much money (see Lesson #4 below), so it’s hard to put a down payment on property, let alone pay the mortgage and property taxes after purchase.
But there are also challenges to successional farming. You think business negotiation and long-term planning is hard? Try throwing family dynamics into the mix. In our case, the family property is currently supporting two separate agricultural enterprises which sometimes work well together and sometimes not so much. We have about 1/2 acre of permanent veggie space, and our other 2 1/2 acres is temporarily fallow vineyard — which means we have to install new irrigation, as well as amend and improve the soil every year, and then bid that section of field farewell at the end of the season.
And farmers with family property can be suddenly unseated from the land, just as tenants can. You might think that Prop 13 means everyone with land lives free and easy… but if siblings are bought out (as must often happen in an agricultural enterprise), Prop 13 doesn’t apply and property taxes shoot up. Also, estate taxes do apply, and they apply at the current appraised market value of the land. I’ve spoken with multi-generational farmers who’ve put in decades farming the family property only to lose “their” land either because siblings forced a sale (ouch!), or because they couldn’t afford the estate taxes when a parent passed on.
(Note: land has no value — beyond production value, which is a tiny fraction of its “market value” — unless it is sold. So how do you pay the estate or property taxes without selling the property? Or how do you afford to buy your siblings out? It’s almost as tricky as purchasing land in the first place.)
I guess the overall lesson here is: land issues apply to everybody, whether they are property owners, inheritors or tenant farmers. There is no such thing as a free lunch when it comes to land, and someone with access to “free” land may seem incredibly lucky for years only to lose the property suddenly and stunningly. Here at Foggy River Farm, we are well aware that we need to continue to grow our operation to contribute to property taxes, and that’s a major concern for the future of our farm. (By the way, on the how-to side, there are organizations such as California Farmlink working on finding solutions to at least some of these problems — if you’re a farmer in California seeking land to farm, start there.)
Lesson #3 — “Expensive” is relative.
There’s expensive, and there’s expensive. And if you’re going to farm, as mentioned in #1, you need access to significant startup funds. I’m referring to the book review here, in which the reviewer notes that we were somehow able to afford “relatively expensive” replacements for some of the problems we faced during our first year farming. Specifically, when our chickens died, we bought new chicks. And when our tomatoes-from-seed died, we bought bulk tomato seedlings.
I would argue that while 30 chicks times $3 = $90, that is not relatively expensive. It’s relatively cheap. I’m not saying that $90 isn’t a lot of money — it certainly is when we’re talking about things we don’t need, like a night on the town or a cute new sweater. But compare that $90 to the $3,000+ we invested on our BCS walk-behind tractor (after using a borrowed Rototiller for a year), or the $4,000+ we spent on our Craigslist Toyota pickup (purchased after realizing that it’s impossible to operate with 1 station wagon between 2 farmers), and it’s small potatoes. Ditto the cost to fortify the failed chicken coop, which was constructed largely from found materials. We dumpster dive and visit the town dump’s recycling center on a regular basis.
And the $1.19 per plant that we spent on tomato seedlings after all of ours died? One half of one tomato from that future vine would more than pay for that initial investment. I’d hardly call that “relatively expensive.” In fact, as I write this, I’m half-wondering why in the heck we spend so much effort growing tomatoes from seed if we could source them for $1.19 per plant… but of course it’s because we’ve increased our tomato production by an order of magnitude since those early days. Where once we had 80 vines, now we have around 1,000. And that IS a lot of money saved, and well worth our effort.
Speaking of effort…
Lesson #4 — Not only is farming expensive and land hard to find, but you work all the time and you don’t make much money. You farm because you love growing things, raising animals, and feeding people — and are okay with these pursuits taking over your life. Don’t start a farm for the wrong reasons.
Put another way: Farming is not a romantic and pastoral pastime in which you frolic around the fields cavorting with goat kids and snuggling fuzzy lambs. Farming is dirty, exhausting, body-breaking, bank-breaking and stress-inducing. You’re entirely dependent on things that only a crazy person would trust, like the weather or the willingness of an 1,800 pound horse to pull your potato harvester. If you make money, you pour it back into the farm.
Of course, farming is magical too. But ask any magician and they’ll tell you that it requires a heck of a lot of planning, special equipment, effort and knowledge to pull a rabbit out of a hat.
Lesson #5: Success is relative, too. As a farmer, you must define it your own way.
(Hint #3: Farmers do not define success by fancy clothes, nice cars, vacations taken, or clean homes. If they did, they would doom themselves to perpetual failure.)
OK, it’s confession time: I Google-stalked my negative reviewer because he has a very unusual name (and, well, apparently I’m a creepy author.) I’m pretty sure he’s a farmer in Wisconsin, which surprised me. He’s a farmer, and he thought my first season was a “comparatively quick success”!
But I suppose different farmers have different versions of success, partly because we all face very different challenges. Was our first season a success? Perhaps, if “not fatally crushed under a tractor” and “not failing so miserably that you quit altogether” is your definition of success. Yet in my eyes our first season was a failure in terms of effective crop management, effective livestock management, and money earned versus money invested. Still, Emmett and I realized it was a starting point and therefore didn’t judge ourselves too harshly, assuming that over time, we’d learn from our mistakes and earn back our initial investment.
And as for feeding our community, I think that we succeeded even that first year, despite Mr. Laack’s misgivings. We fed friends, neighbors, Food Pantry-goers, and farmers market shoppers. This year, we’re feeding 50 families through our CSA, and countless more through the farmers market. Our CSA customers are mostly working families, just like us, and last year we were able to provide them with produce at 20% off market price… plus give them access to “free you-pick” tomatoes and basil for canning and preserving. I think that counts as feeding “the rest of us,” or at least I hope so.
In the end, I have a hunch that Mr. Laack’s problem is this: while non-farmers read the book and think “wow, farming is hard,” farmers might read the book and think “wow, they had it easy.” And farmers do have a tendency towards one-upsmanship. (Heck, my rat story is 100% true, but that was for SURE me trying to look as hardcore, peasant-y, and self-reliant as possible to prove that I’m an up-by-the-bootstraps kind of gal.) Also, consider that I didn’t want to write a book that was an endless complaint about the miseries of farming — no one (besides grumpy old farmers) would want to read it.
And with that, I think I’ve taken up more than my fair share of your time. Thanks for reading. To Mr. Laack, I have a genuine offer: please come out and visit the farm if you’re ever out west. Then you can judge more accurately whether we’re “fairy tale farmers,” or whether we’re hardworking souls trying to make ends meet and transcend challenges while making the most of the opportunities we’ve been given.
While I should probably bite my tongue and end on that positive note, I have to add that Prince Charming wouldn’t have known a wheel hoe from an Earthway seeder, or a beet seedling from a baby brassica. I’m guessing that princes take vacations every once in a while. Snow White probably never spent all night on an alfalfa bale fighting hay fever while keeping a laboring goat company, and while she may have been able to sweep the barn, she probably couldn’t lift an 80-pound sack of goat feed or coax milk from the udder of a disgruntled first freshening goat.
So there you have it. Here’s Princess Fairy Tale Farmer, signing off.