Apr 11, 2010

My Toy Farm

#5 in a series of responses to Globe&Mail comments
Why don't these people buy a real farm?" - Hugafarmer
This may be my favourite comment from the Globe & Mail article. As I prepare today to add more roost space for our overcrowded hens, fix the cows' water supply, stare dumbly some more at my broken tractor, turn a few wheelbarrows of our chicken manure into a raised bed, and buck up the tree that came down in last week's wind storm, I wonder just what she means by "real?"

In our first year of pretend farming, we produced and preserved about 75% of our vegetable and fruit needs (and our renters/co-pretend-farmers) for the whole year. Our hardworking chickens now satisfy all the egg needs of 6 families, and have a growing list of families eager for some of the organic grass-fed beef we're growing in our pretend pasture. We sold garlic, lettuce, flowers and cherries at our roadside stand and the farmers market, and envision a u-pick salad greens operation this winter. Pretty productive imagination.

If "real" means growing 100% of our food needs, I wonder if there are any real farms in Canada? Local trade and barter is a healthy and necessary part of a thriving local economy. There are crops and animals I have no desire or capacity to raise, and would much rather trade extra eggs or honey to our friends who like to milk their cows at sunrise every winter morning.

More likely, hugafarmer thinks a "real" farm generates 100% of the family's income. While I deeply respect Brock and Heather at Makaria Farm up the street for already nearing that goal after just 2 years, that was never our goal, nor the best use of our gifts. Sarah and I deeply believe in the value of the work we are doing - giving up Dancing Star Birth and FreeRange Consulting to grow more market onions would, we believe, be a net loss to the communities we serve. Just like Jess' jewelry and Zane's environmental consulting from the Globe and Mail article, our non-farming activities are not just income-supplementing distractors from farming; they are central to the way we want to sustainably enjoy and contribute to the world.

As we plan how much to expand the farm this year, I try to balance this surprising passion for farming with other equal pulls to writing, community involvement, consulting, and parenting. That's more hats than I managed to integrate into the dress-up costume in this picture, but always an important part of creating balance. Each of those elements are enriching the whole of me, but I'm leery of letting any one of them becomes too dominant. Too many consulting clients means kids in childcare; too many beans means too many afterschools in the garden and not enough fort building.

So, hats off to hugafarmers' parents who chose to fully support their family through full-time farming. Our farm is just as real to us, just as integral to who we are and how we live. It's how we raise our food, our children, our connection to the world, and more than a few eyebrows of friends and family who are just as surprised as we are at how well those ol' britches fit.

The night that I stood up with Percy Schmeiser and received applause for declaring "I am a farmer" was real. The fact that I also wear dress clothes and a professional hat does not diminish that commitment; if anything, it makes it more real. Makes me more real.

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