After a Year of Having a Farm and Animals
What I learned after moving to my farm.
For many years I dreamed of growing our own food and having animals, land, and nature at our backdoor. I went to the Heirloom Expos, Mother Earth News Fairs, and Eco Farm nearly every year, as a starry-eyed wanna-be farmer. During COVID, a time of great upheaval for everyone, we decided that if the kids were going to be on lockdown, not in school, at least they should be able to be in nature and roam free on a farm. So we left the dry, hot, fire-prone, politically bonkers, and expensive region of Southern California, and got a small farm in North Carolina.
Taking that leap of faith has resulted in major changes, not just in what I do day-to-day, but in how I think about the world. It has also resulted in fundamental changes in my values.
Here are ten things that have changed about me after a year of owning 8 goats, 15+ rabbits, 25 chickens, 2 dogs, 2 cats, fish in a small pond, and growing food.
I now love weeds. I pick them up every morning to feed my rabbits. I put them in buckets to ferment into nitrogen-rich fertilizer to pour on my garden plants. I harvest them to make tea, use them as poultices on bee stings, and even make tinctures for herbal remedies.
I am grateful for our dog's pooping. I used to hate it because in suburbia it meant you had to handle it and smell it. On a farm, dog poop is a marking to ward off deer and predators - they smell it and that’s good! I just put a fence up around the garden so they don’t poop in there.
I love our rabbit poop. It has the highest levels of magnesium and potassium of all the poops and is cold manure, meaning it does not need to be composted before you can add it to the garden. It doesn’t smell either. Their urine does, but it is a natural pesticide. I also love chicken, goat, and worm poop but rabbits are my favorite.
I have an ongoing pile of dirty pajamas. I am often more ready for my garden in the morning than I am for the rest of the world. So I venture out to the garden in my pajamas, barefoot for grounding, and end up with muddy edges of my pajama pants or a pajama shirt front covered with grass bits, slugs, and bugs after using it as a tray for harvesting spinach and greens for my morning smoothie.
The weather is way more important to me than it used to be. SoCal people are mostly oblivious to the weather because it is sunny 90% of the time. In a seasonal area, we are much more in tune with rain, moisture, sun, and temperature. A farmer’s livelihood depends on it. We are not commercial farmers yet, but we strive to be successful growers and that means when we know it's about to rain and the beans need to get into the ground, everyone and everything, including dinner and the news, waits, and we get out into the field.
The news doesn’t matter to me. No matter what is going on in the world, when we are growing our own food I feel like the rest of the world can have at it with its nonsense. Not my circus. Of course, because of my work, I keep up with it and we continue to hold the power-hungry corporations to account, but the day-to-day drama no longer stresses me out like it used to. I’ve got goats to keep me laughing.
I handle dead animals on a regular basis. Animals die. Death and disease come to farms faster than a possum in a chicken coop on a full moon. We haven’t even started “processing” animals for our own pantry, yet, and the death rates are disarming. Fox, heat, mystery illnesses, cold, and occasional misbehaving dog, all bring death to our barns more than I care for. But I appreciate life much more now and take the time to marvel at the flight pattern of bees, the sideways hop of a happy bunny, and the ticklish nibbles of a goat much more than I ever imagined.
I am less vain. When I consistently have dirt under my nails in May from planting, or my pants have red clay mud stains from our billy goat jumping on me for treats, and I go into town, I don’t care how I look one bit. I am working on the farm every moment I get on the weekends or early evenings, and if anyone else thinks I am unkempt looking they can go ahead and think that.
I have a new appreciation of guns and the Good Ol’Boys. Formerly a committed Democrat against all guns, I have seen a new side of the situation. When one has a farm and animals to protect, that they have put generations (or even a year) of blood, sweat, and tears into, when something, anything threatens that, the Good Ol’Boys and their guns make sense. I have gotten to know many right-wing, gun-carrying Good Ol’Boys, and contrary to the many negative news broadcasts about them being racist psychopaths, I have experienced a different point of view. The Good Ol’Boys I have encountered have been more gentlemanly, more generous, and more respectful than most people.
I am always learning something new. Mostly through mistakes, I am constantly learning something new when I am growing food and caring for animals. I have learned the hard way about companion gardening, the timing of planting, and keeping boy and girl bunnies apart. Either immaculate conception is happening or someone has a micropenis! Our family has also learned about the benefit of problem-solving, getting the job done, and taking the time to enjoy the fruits of our labor. That work is far more useful than video games, Netflix binging, and shopping, and our boys now know this in their bones. Their values and self-confidence have definitely shifted and grown. Growing food, problem-solving, and building something is what makes a human being a creator instead of a consumer, a giver instead of a taker, and a learner instead of a follower.
Having a farm and animals is only for people who are willing to work hard, get dirty, and learn every day. It may not seem to be for everyone, but I feel that given what is predicted to happen in the very near future due to climate changes and political shenanigans, it is going to be crucial for everyone. In fact, if or when there is a crisis, it is the only way we will survive- is if we have access to local food. Beyond preparing for a crisis, growing food compels you to get connected with your neighbors. You find yourself borrowing a post-hole digger or giving away bags of lettuce, and it feels great.
The new wealth is not a Porche and Prada shoes. Power is no longer a given from having a bunch of degrees. In the very near future, and even now many would argue, wealth comes in the form of a shelf loaded with preserved food and power comes with the pleasure of kicking your feet up on the porch after a day of sweating in the garden, and having a glass of ice-cold lemonade with your neighbor who will have your back when the stuff hits the fan.