Tuesday, April 22, 2014

a hard day

Yesterday was a day of ebb and flow on the farm.

We woke up to find that something like half of the plants in our greenhouse were frozen.  And dead.  

The previous night, we pored over the weather forecasts .  Different sites.  Different apps.  They all said something like 38 degrees.  We know it's ever so slightly colder here, so we account for that.  We put row cover over all the plants.  We double it.  We put our heater on, under the row cover.  We check the weather once more before going to bed.  It should have been okay.  

We woke up to find that something like half of the plants in our greenhouse were frozen.  And dead.  

It's hard to explain the feelings of defeat, frustration, sadness and grief.  So much had already gone into those seedlings.  They represented into the thousands of future profits.   Some flats were mostly dead, some were mostly alive, with strong green stems and leaves.  But in the moment, you only see the death. 

Last year, a farmer friend gave us a little advice that a older farmer had given him years ago when he experienced a similar struggle..."Just keep planting."

Blair went out on the tractor and plowed up the potato fields.  I went into the house with the kids and we schooled.  Then, we all seven went out to the fields to put the potatoes in.  

We put in Purple Vikings, Kennebecs, Chieftans, Adirondack Blues, German Butterballs, and Red Pontiacs.  It was a flow to our ebb.  Just keep planting. 

Then, Blair goes back out on the tractor and I go back to the greenhouse.  I sit just outside to seed because it's still hard to face those flats.  The girls and I seed parsley, chard, scallions.  Just keep planting

We seed, plow, move ahead. Blair sees the first flea beetles. We notice poor germination in the spinach. The thoughts don't always come out, but sometimes they do. Sometimes they just stay in our head...

What are we doing?
There is so much out of our control.  Too many elements to battle.
I can't take this stress.
We can't do this again next year.
...starting to really hate Spring....
What else can even go wrong today?  What else.

I want to say we embraced the hardship with complete faith and level heads.  But that's just silly.  We're just being honest.  If we only showed you the painfully cute pictures of our kids in the fields and puppies and happy news, it wouldn't be fair.  This life is hard.  Mixed with bliss, yes.  But hard.

The boys transplant bunching onions.  But their rows are crooked and the spacing is off.  Blair has them pull out and start over...four inches apart, twelve inches between rows. Ebbs.  Just keep planting.

Friends come by.  Paul and Linda bring maple syrup from New Hampshire.  A kite for the kids.  We sit down and talk cows, soil, water, weeds... They are gracious and watch us eat.   It's the first time we've paused in the heavy day.  Another flow.  

Hona comes by to pick up the boys for a bit.  She says I should lay in the grass and nap in the sun for a few.  I do.  I hear the other kids playing.  Blair is back on the tractor.  Or maybe the tiller.  I lay down, take this picture, and doze...

Just a few moments later, a car pulls up.  It's the mail lady.  She hands me a pile of mail and asks if we have pigs.  We do.  "They're in the road" she says.  

What else can even go wrong today?  What else.

It was chaos.  Calling for Blair, he can't hear me.  Running for a bucket of grain to lure the pigs.  All opposite directions.  Running to the road to shoo them back into the woods toward the house.  Blair comes: we chase, we circle, we shoo, we drop grain, we holler, we corral, etc...

This is impossible.
There are ten other things I should be doing right now. 
Is this really happening?

The guy from the rock quarry across the street comes over on his dozer.  He starts, randomly and out of nowhere, dropping buckets of gravel on our driveway and smoothing it out.  (This is the same guy that very good-heartedly decimated our front yard months ago when he excavated our front yard to allow for proper water drainage, of his own volition.  It solved the problem.  And also made our front yard look like a post A-bomb test site.  I guess he means well. :) So he goes up and down the driveway a few times and I hear crunching and crashing.  Blair and I can't hear each other over the dozer.  It's more futile than ever. We sit down and basically give up on the pigs.  I hear one of the kids say that the fence is broken.  Bulldozed. 
The fence is broken, the gate is smashed and broken.  This is where I have to smile. And just a little. It's too loony not to smile, right?  Blair is still sitting. Shaking his head.  What else?  Ebbs upon ebbs

Long story short(ened)...it takes all seven of us to guide the pigs down Shooting Creek Rd, back up the driveway (not through the woods, merciful God!) and they eventually run back up to the pen and through the hole they busted out of.  We breath a little. Maybe someone shouts a hooray.  Small flow.  Back to work...

Blair goes out to reseed spinach.  Hours have been lost.  He asks me to go in and clean out the greenhouse of death.  It feels like removing dead bodies.  What a sad, sad waste. It's somber and late.  I pull out all the dead among the living.  Compost the seedlings.  Consolidate cells.  Empty potting soil for reuse.  (They were just recently repotted. The soil is still good.)  Stack empty trays.  It feels like a funeral.  And I try to remove the signs of death and empty so Blair doesn't have to walk back into it again.  Ebbish flow.  

It's getting dark.  We feed the kids.  We sit for a moment and actually doze.  But there's more to be done. Evening chores.  I post a quote on facebook from a book I read last year.  It was an audiobook that I listened to while transplanting onions and weeding beets...

“‎A farm is a manipulative creature. There is no such thing as finished. Work comes in a stream and has no end. There are only the things that must be done now and things that can be done later. The threat the farm has got on you, the one that keeps you running from can until can't, is this: do it now, or some living thing will wilt or suffer or die. Its blackmail, really.”   
― Kristin KimballThe Dirty Life: On Farming, Food, and Love

We immediately get feedback.  
You are not alone.
Thanks for your hard work.
Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. 

And a return quote...same book, same author...

“In his view, we were already a success, because we were doing something hard and it was something that mattered to us. You don't measure things like that with words like success or failure, he said. Satisfaction comes from trying hard things and then going on to the next hard thing, regardless of the outcome. What mattered was whether or not you were moving in a direction you thought was right.” 

This is hard.  But it matters to us.  So we got up and kept going.  We are trying to do the right thing. Did the evening chores. Ran the errands.  Put the kids to bed.  And sometime around 10:30...a dinner of cold randomness and leftovers and IPAs.  We end "the day".  

I wish I had an especially clever quote or verse or thought to end with.  I only wanted to share with you the trials.  The other side of what facebook shows.  And, also, to thank you for the support you show our family.  As you can see, it means so much.  And on a day like yesterday, we truly needed it.  




  1. “Why do farmers farm, given their economic adversities on top of the many frustrations and difficulties normal to farming? And always the answer is: "Love. They must do it for love." Farmers farm for the love of farming. They love to watch and nurture the growth of plants. They love to live in the presence of animals. They love to work outdoors. They love the weather, maybe even when it is making them miserable. They love to live where they work and to work where they live. If the scale of their farming is small enough, they like to work in the company of their children and with the help of their children. They love the measure of independence that farm life can still provide. I have an idea that a lot of farmers have gone to a lot of trouble merely to be self-employed to live at least a part of their lives without a boss.”
    ― Wendell Berry, Bringing it to the Table: Writings on Farming and Food

    1. Indeed, Marsha. Beautiful words. We love W.B.

  2. You don't know me...my name is Jennifer Wheeler. My friend Mud Bailey posted your message on FB and I read it...I just want to thank you for sharing your day. It's what I needed to hear today...and perhaps this quote will help you as it's helped me:

    Calvin Coolidge said: "Nothing in this world can take the place of perseverance. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan 'press on' has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race."

    Keep planting :)

  3. Somewhat somber, but I feel more connected.

  4. You all are amazing!!! It's Aunt K by the way....still haven't quite figured out how to post a comment here! LOL! Jayme told me of your struggles this Spring. So hard not to feel defeated!! I know the life of a farmer is tough. Had many relatives in Illinois who farmed. It takes a lot of guts, perseverance, faith and love. You got it all kiddoes!!!!! Sending many Blessings your way! Still envy your lifestyle...in a good way! :} What you are giving to so many and imbedding in your children is beautiful and priceless! Carry on with Faith, Grace and Strength! Blessings... XO