Happy New Year! New year, new beginning, new ‘resolutions’ (I prefer to call them goals), new projects, and new opportunities. ****tired already****
Last evening, Shaun was reading The Capital Press. If you aren’t familiar, it is a weekly agricultural periodical that has been part of my life as long as I can remember. Although, sadly, as a sign of the times I am sure, it is decidedly smaller than it was when I used to curl up next to my Dad on the couch as a kiddo while he poured over the news. Inevitably, there would be something within those pages that would spark a rage from my dad about some tidbit of injustice to the farming community that was reported therein. Since it still elicits the same type rage from my husband with some tidbit of info, it must still be serving a good purpose in keeping our community informed despite its anorexic size!
As I mentioned, this is a weekly periodical, so sometimes we get behind. Shaun was reading the December 29th edition last night and noted a wonderful list of New Year’s Resolutions that was laid out on the front page (and continued on page 10). 44 fabulous ideas for the New Year. I cut them out and put them on the front of the refrigerator, and my goal is to read them every day. Some of them are simple (Tell your husband/wife you love them every day….easy one for us), some are a little more difficult (Plan a party and invite all your neighbors…hard for these introverts, but I think we are going to try it….it is a good excuse for me to do that Mid-Summer’s Eve Party that has been on my to-do list for more than two decades). Some are good for my husband (Get a physical) and some are good for me (Do something just for fun). All-in-all, a great list of goals, but the one that struck me was: “Tell someone what a farmer does and why and expect a lot of questions.” So here goes and please feel free to email or call with your questions.
I am a farmer. It isn’t as much something that I do, but more about who I am. I tried not to be a farmer for a period time in my life. In fact, I couldn’t wait to get off the farm after high school. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my childhood, loved where I was raised, loved that my parents provided the kind of life we had, but it was a ton of work and I was basically lazy. Why work that hard for your food?
And then there was this moment, when it was October, and I looked at my (then new) husband and said, “Gosh, we need to stock up on our canned food for winter” and he looked at me with the most quizzical look on his face and said, “Why?” All of the sudden I realized that we lived a 5 minute walk from the grocery store and unless you grow up in Trout Lake where you often had to go weeks without going ‘to town’ (White Salmon), you really had no need to stock up! A weird and somewhat unsettling feeling.
With that came the additional reality that my parents were fiercely independent people, not unlike every other farmer in my small home community. I think that collectively, farmers and ranchers tend to be the most independent group of people living. They are skilled at providing all the basic life needs for themselves and their family with very little outside assistance. The diversity of their skills and abilities, generally speaking, is staggering! It was at that moment that I realized I would always be a farmer. I would always prefer to live independently and try to provide for myself rather than relying on others no matter how much work it is.
As farmers we try to utilize the small plot of land that we call our farm through responsible stewardship to provide food, water, and shelter for our family & livestock and have surplus to share through our farm market. We grow as much of our food as we can. Fruits, vegetables, milk, cheese, meat and eggs. In our perfect world, we could kiss the supermarket good-bye, but as farmers that have off-farm jobs as well, we will admit to succumbing to the convenience of being able to pick up a few things at the grocery store at the end of a long day. Each year, however, we move closer and closer to being less dependent. Each year we take one more aspect of our life and bring it home eliminating the need to rely on anyone for that item. It has taken me several decades to realize this, but one day it dawned on me that I had made our own bar soap for more than 10 years eliminating our need to purchase it! So why? Soap is cheap and why go to all that trouble? Same with food. Food is cheap (in the good ol’ USA) and there is plenty of it in the supermarket. Why go to all that trouble?
Okay, yes, it is work, but nothing in the world tastes like a fresh blueberries or grapes bursting with the taste of sun fresh from the garden. Or the feeling of knowing EXACTLY what goes into your soap (as someone with sensitivity to fragrances , this is huge for me). And frankly, nothing feels better than knowing the food on your table is the result of your hands.
We have tried for several years to make our New Year’s Day meal be exclusively from the farm. This year was no exception. Our tradition is to have lasagna (said to bring good fortune in the new year), and every layer is from the farm. Handmade pasta, (okay, I didn’t grind the flour…) goat meat in a zesty tomato sauce, fresh ricotta cheese with farm fresh eggs, and topped with Silver Star Classic from the cheese cave. Our girls had brought their beaus home for the holiday season this year and I cannot even begin to describe the feeling of pride in serving that delicious meal to those two young men! (Plus, it is good that they can see what they are getting into- #independentfamily) And as a side note, a friend of mine recently gifted me we a cream separator; butter is about to make it to the ‘haven’t purchased in years’ list!!!!
Self-satisfaction aside, there is also the element of understanding that farmers have about their food. We know the ultimate sacrifice that took place for every bite of meat we have. As a mercy personality, there isn’t a moment during a meal that I don’t have a profound feeling of gratitude for the animals that provided our meal. I tried to disconnect from that, but I almost think that is less healthy. I would like to be a vegetarian, but I really like meat. The compromise is that I take consolation in the awareness that these animals were raised with love and I am aware, appreciate and understand they gave their lives so I could eat. I believe that connection with our food is healthy. It offers perspective and appreciation that seems to be lacking in our country where food feels abundant.
As farmers, we are aware of weather cycles and patterns. We can appreciate the resources that nature provides and do our best to take care of them. Whether it is harvesting rainwater for a garden drip irrigation system or adding compost to the pasture soils to build health we, we are constantly aware that it is our responsibility to ensure the vibrancy of this small plot of land. We believe that we don’t really ‘own’ anything, but are given the responsibility to care for this space and to do it to the best of our ability.
Believe me, as I reflect on this question, “What does a farmer do and why” some days I ask myself the same question. We live with a 12 hour tether to the milking barn. Not a day goes by that we don’t have something that needs attention. We rarely take time for ourselves and when we do we typically suffer guilt for frittering away good productive time that could have been spent on the farm. We travel separately so that someone can always be at the farm. We work until our bodies ache. But then, there is that moment that so many people never have the opportunity to witness that is commonplace in our life; a new born lamb stumbling on its rubber-band legs 10 minutes after birth and instinctively finding its way to the nourishing udder of its attentive mother. Or the burst of chicks from under the hen that begin scratching and pecking just like their mama. Or the sprouts in the garden that you know will be delicious summer meals. And who can forget the newborn kids suckling your fingers with their warm little mouths.
I am a farmer! What I do isn’t so much what makes me a farmer but who I am and how I approach life is what makes me a farmer. I am blessed to be married to a farmer (even though he didn’t start out that way) and to be the daughter, sister and mother of farmers. We are a family of farmers and at the end of the day, the last resolution on the Capital Press list is the best: “And when you have finished for the day, take the time and thank God you’re a farmer.” I do!
Shaun & Lorrie