So, there I was standing in line at the local Tractor Supply store, my cart loaded down with a 50 pound bag of Layer Pellets, a 50 pound bag of Scratch Grains, a small bottle of liquid wormer for the farm cats, and a diet cherry cola.
“Are you a farmer?”
I turned around and there sat a bright-eyed, smiling little girl in the basket of a shopping cart. Her mom was impatiently paging through last months issue of Capper’s magazine. “Don’t bother the lady, Cindy Lou.”
“Well, yes I am,” I told Cindy Lou and winked at her as I turned back into the line.
“Do you grow lots of corn like my pop-pop?” Cindy Lou asked.
I turned again and smiled at this darling girl. “No. I grow vegetables and herbs for the farmer’s market and my family, and I have a small flock of laying hens.”
I heard Cindy Lou’s mom snort from behind her magazine as she mumbled “oh, one of those farmers.”
“Next please,” the cashier said. I really wanted to ask Cindy Lou’s mom what she meant, but it was my turn to check out. I pushed my cart up to the register and moved the heavy bags around so the cashier could scan them. By the time I was finished paying for my items, Cindy Lou and her mom had already moved to a different register and I needed to get out of the way for the next customer.
By the time I got back to the farm, I had worked myself into a dither. What did Cindy Lou’s mom possibly mean with her snorting comment? Did I own or lease 250-300+ acres of land and plant it in agri-corn and soybean subsidized by government programs and supplemented by herbicides and pesticides? No. My tiny farm sits on 4+ acres right smack dab in the middle of those vast corn fields and I grow vegetables and herbs. I prefer not to use chemicals but rely on permaculture techniques, crop rotation, and just plain weeding and observation. Did that make me one of those farmers?
One of many raised vegetable beds.
I continued to consider my position as a farmer. What are the requirements and standards? Did I have to be raised on a generational farm to call myself a farmer? If so, I was again out of luck. I grew up in a small mill town on the banks of the Columbia river in Washington state. I grew a scrappy little herb garden in my mom’s old iris bed. I did want to grow up to be a farmer, though.
The Columbia River gorge as seen from the Vista House near Corbett, OR.
How did I decide to call myself a farmer?
Well, I roll myself out of bed
each morning at the (ass) crack of dawn with several of my chores staring me in the face. Mosey, the St. Bernard licks my hand while the two Chihuahuas, Winter and Autumn dance around my feet, eagerly waiting to be fed. The cats need to be let outside as they chase each other from one end of the house to the other, and I must put a pot of coffee on the stove. Strong (fair-trade) coffee just makes sense on the farm. For me, it’s a necessity, not just a fancy.
The mornings are cold now and I have to make sure the chicken’s water isn’t frozen. I grab a couple scoops of layer pellets and grain scratch to toss in their bowl, and I gabble and cluck at the chickens as I clean their nest box and check for eggs.
During the summer time, I try to get my garden and outdoor chores completed early in the morning while the temperatures are moderate. Now that Winter is knocking at my door, I still try to get as much done in the morning as I can so I can get back into my toasty kitchen and determine what needs to be done for the rest of the day.
As one of those farmers, I have learned how to tolerate dirt under my nails, random chicken feathers stuck in my hair, and ‘farm fresh’ as my new favorite fragrance. Work gloves are my go-to accessory and muck boots and garden clogs now sit forefront in my closet while the designer heels and loafers are piled way in the back gathering dust. Heavy duty Carhartt pants and t-shirts or flannel shirts round out the ensemble topped with a baseball cap; my hair pulled in a long pony-tail sticking out the back.
More importantly, being one of those farmers isn’t about what I can take from the land, but what I can give back. How can I make this tiny piece of earth a better place than it was before I began calling it my farm?
I have chosen not to use herbicides or pesticides on the land, but choose to restore the earth with compost and manure, cover-crops, and vermiculture (earth worms). I plant only heirloom and traditional (open-pollinated seeds) so I can both save the seeds for next year’s gardens and be assured that I am not eating genetically modified organisms. I consider rebuilding the soil on the farm just as important as feeding my family and my animals.
I grow a variety of different types of vegetables, herbs, and even flowers in my gardens as I follow a permaculture system of maintaining diversity and building miniature eco-systems in each bed. This means I try to create habitats for the birds, beneficial bugs, and butterflies to help me sustain a healthy, co-operative farm. With permaculture I tend to plant my seedlings closer together so that as they grow they create a canopy that will reduce evaporation and block the weeds. (Generally.) I rotate my crops from season to season to maintain healthy soil and hopefully fool the invasive insects into thinking dinner is no longer available here. Plus, I grow many different types of crops in the same place. For instance, I have learned that I can grow sweet corn with pole beans and squash in the same bed. As the corn grows taller, the pole beans grow along the corn stock and the squash with its broad leaves ramble around the base of the plants which again hinder weed growth and reduces water evaporation. This technique is often called planting ‘the three sisters’ and is credited to our Native American elders.
As I focus on what I can do to create a healthier farm, I attempt to maintain mindful consumption and conservation. Waste is such a huge issue for me and I find myself not only recycling every little thing that I can, but trying to figure out other uses for items that would ordinarily be tossed in land-fills. Admittedly, this is not always possible to do, but I limit my purchases of items that I realize will end up being tossed and try to use things to their maximum output. If I must throw it away, I want it to be as small, used up, and compact as it can be.
As I work towards a simpler lifestyle, I have found so much stuff that no longer benefits me. As I decide what needs to go I always try to ask around to see if somebody else could use it. If not, I pass it on to Goodwill or one of the many ministries at the local church. When contemplating a purchase, I spend time determining if this is an absolute necessity or just a passing whim. I have come to realize that each purchase I make has an impact on the planet. Will my money benefit or diminish resources on this tiny piece of earth I leave for the next generation?
I have found that this farm has helped me to reconnect with the land. It has challenged me to learn new skills and to create a more socially responsible lifestyle. Whimsical Moon Farm has pushed me to be more creative and passionate about what I value and how I display those values to my family, friends, and community. I am absolutely doing what I love while I live in alignment with nature and the seasons. If this makes me one of those farmers, than I embrace that calling wholeheartedly.
Please feel free to check out our new Whimsical Moon Farm website featuring hand-crafted herbal soaps and products crafted right here on this farm.