There are some things that have to be accomplished in this coming year, or rather, that would be very welcome things for this coming year. Have to be is a relative term particularly since what immediately comes to mind is how can anything one has lived without and accommodated to in a life to can ever be determined to be a “have to”. Take not earning enough on the farm to keep it going. And yet it is going. Somehow I no longer have to cope with situations in the farm as interpreted as emergencies. Putting out fires. An expression that in itself frightens me. There have been years when planning is possible. Advance measures to ensure that procedures can be made and maintained. Systems worked out and established. And somehow enough money to keep it all going. That is not the case at the moment. Nor has it been for quite some time. But what is in plenitude is twenty-four years of experience. And the support of some people who also have both experience and expertise. This interlude involving the surgery to my foot and the incapacity resulting from it, however temporarily, has been a good thing. I needed it in more ways than one. To separate from all things except the simplest practicalities of life. To be ensconced in a warm room with enough to eat even if it were sometimes only cheese and crackers and dried fruit. With books to read and an occasional Neoflex, and the view out of the window. With only the after care of the surgery to make any demands upon me. With nothing to have to plan for or think through. It was a remarkable moment. And now is the time to carefully choose how I shall re-approach this life. What I shall do with it. I have made a determination to do what is necessary to improve my life here. What remains to be determined is the areas demanding the greatest concentration. Focus. My way is the way of many women, built into our make up and that is to multi task. Somehow cook dinner while soothing the baby. And so I tend to do a little in the barn, a little in the carriage house, a little in my house. Nothing is ever completed and nothing is in too overwhelming a condition of disrepair or disarray.
The sequel to Sylvia’s Farm is in the work. I am almost finished with my part in it. The new title is The Improbable Shepherd: More stories from Sylvia’s Farm. Most of the recipes have been written. The last of the pictures needs to be found. I’ve put a favorite in a “good safe place”. Yet to be revealed. There are several new agricultural products that are under consideration for this farm. And the word sustainability comes immediately to mind. Exactly what does that mean contrasting with what does it seem to mean. Words are born and grow and change. Sustainability is now in what it appears to be its adolescence. Excitable. Changing. Appearing for moments to be like its peers. Natural being one of them. Organic another. But moving in an odd kind of imbalance to each other. A dance floor when no one in the dance ever touches another. Picking up nuances of meaning. Only to be brushed away in a moment of changing fashion. Sustainability to me has meant a horse drawn plow. The horse, true to Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations, begets another horse to replace itself or to expand the farm. The miracle worker, himself a farmer, reminded me that the old tractor can be sold to partially pay for the new one. Not quite the same, however, a good argument. One of the implications of the word sustainable is that the farmer, his or herself, is also sustained by the farm. And that too has multiple meanings. I am in part, sustained by my farm in one sense only but an important sense. It has given me a life that has a deep meaning and keeps me living here. On the other hand it doesn’t feed me. That is one the multiple meanings of sustainability. To sustain the opportunity for joy, for meaning to one’s life, to work with one’s body and not only the mind. All of those things can be sustained on a farm. Fairly easily at that. But the tax bill comes each year. And with it a level of disconcertedness that takes all of my will to ignore. Not the bill, just the disconcertedness. Will any of the proposed new agricultural products meet not only its expenses but in the fullness of time produce a profit. And in that word is the next subject, one of my favorites. Farming is the only exception that the farmer has heard of that refers the money to the principle worker as profit. In all businesses the word profit means that which is left over after the worker has been paid. Money for the farmer is usually not included in the expense sheet. Oh, the veterinarian bill is. That of my contract workers is. But the farmer’s isn’t. Off the farm work is what supplies a great deal of the livelihood of the farm. Martin Harris in Farming the Journal of Northeast Agriculture states that 87 per cent of the income of a farm family is earned off of the farm. I have heard of a lower percentage, nonetheless it is heartbreaking in formation. Will either of the two new product ideas to be added to the farm earn their keep? Will they produce enough money to pay their way? And then will there be any money to pay for the farmer’s labor? The questions. The questions.
I cooked ten things for Christmas Eve dinner. There were ten of us at the table. Or rather the buffet. A guest brought two more dishes. There was enough food. The meal was not the balanced kind of dinner that I like to serve. In fact nothing went with anything else. But my intent was to present everyone’s favorite dishes. And so the very fudgy brownies saw its way to the dessert table to be eaten as one of the desserts after the salt cod, and Cassoulet. My traditional holiday dessert was a cranberry tart. Most people don’t like it as well as I, however, I wasn’t the only one to taste it. It was written about the 1750s. I said my prayers and had cranberry tart for breakfast. My daughter and I always have it the morning after a holiday. Salt cod is another tradition in this house, soaked for two days and then cooked with an abundance of olive oil, in which it has been soaked after the salt was washed away, with red and green peppers and tomatoes, potatoes, black olives and onions and garlic.
Later: There is a lamb on my lap this early afternoon. The temperature outside today was 0 degrees at 10:00. Is now 8 degrees. Three and a half hours later. Her sister got struck in a corner in the barn and froze. A foot or two away from their dam. The frozen one was bigger. This good sized creature has a full belly, and a good mother. It is expected to be bitter cold for the next few days, therefore she shall remain with me. In part because even were I to bring her back and put her and her mother in a pen with a sweater on this one, I don’t trust myself to go down at ten o’clock at night in this cold to check on her. Therefore I shall pay sixty-five dollars for milk replacer. Save her life, waste her mother’s milking ability, chew myself out for lack of courage and live with another pretty little thing in my life. So be it. The triplets shall all stay. The little room is huge, fine, and sturdy. The biggest of the ewelings is also fine and full of energy. I’ve bottled the smallest once a day. She would run to me upon my arrival down stairs in the barn and eventually took ten ounces all in one go. I brought her up one night thinking again, she seemed hungrier than usual and the barn seemed colder. She fussed terribly in the kitchen. At first I thought I had gotten the wrong one of the two females, however, I was right the first time. Therefore she is here as well. They have yet to be named, those three. None of the group who is staying have been as yet. Today I’ll come up with something. There are more females than males this year. Thank goodness. Replacements.
I am buying five lambs as well. Isle de Franco-Dorset crosses. That shall be a departure. They look like elephants next to my Friesian girls, elegant, gleaming faces, long legged. The new ones are blocky, shorter in the leg, chunky and weigh out at four months what mine do at a year. I’ve wanted some chunky Dorsets, Horned Dorsets for years now. Twice I made the investment only to be disenchanted with the breed of each set. It will be the fifth time in twenty-five years that I will have tried to introduce new blood into my herd. The first three times were utter failures. Only the Friesians came close to promise and then only in appearance, not in production. These sheep are a well respected meat breed from France, a breed established around 1830. They shall be housed separately and pastured separately as well. I’ll breed them to my Horned Dorset ram who is one quarter Friesian. It’s the best I can do. He was the grow lamb on my farm that year he was born. Getting new livestock always gives me a lift, a lift that benefits all of us on the farm. A touch of hope, new interest, a dynamic that is always hopeful. Let’s see if the inevitable will occur again. The three kitchen lambs have certainly brought that quality with them.
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