OH! You’re One of Those Farmers!

 

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Harriet greeting the morning, “I’m a farmer!”

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?

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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.

 

SONY DSC              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.

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Dusk on the farm.

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?

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Wildflowers growing in our barn lot.

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.

Whimsicalmoonfarm.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Growing a Cottage Business.

Herbal soaps and Whimsical minions, Salvia and Echinacea, Herbal apothecary, and a loaf of uncut lavender soap.

We have lived a year and a half on Whimsical Moon Farm now. A full growing season under our belts plus the original fall garden I planted while we were getting settled has given us much to be thankful for. As I contemplate what we have accomplished, I find myself already figuring out where to build new raised beds next Spring, how I want to increase the herb garden, possibly with a small turtle pond (our turtle Grover has almost outgrown his aquarium), plus I would like to create an herbal medicine wheel near the barn lot. We  have added a small flock of laying hens, a handful of farm cats, and we are researching Dwarf Nigerian goats for milk. (They are adorable!) A never-ending process of growing, experimenting, and enjoying the harvest.

Our local Farmers’ Market, raised bed, owl soaps, a loaf of soap ready to be cut, and my daughter Kayla holding one of our new chicks. 

 Mindy works off the farm so we can make ends meet while I handle the farm chores, the gardening, as well as regular care of my special needs fairy adult child. It dawned on me one morning, while enjoying my first mug of extra bold Sumatran coffee on the front porch, that a small farm business would be a pretty darn good idea right about now. I handcraft herbal soaps for gifts and for sale at the farmers’ market, I figured herbal body products would be a great ‘cottage’ business I could run right out of my kitchen. I grow most of the herbs I would need for the soaps and sugar scrubs and I could work around chores and my daughters needs.

I passed my brilliant idea by Mindy that evening and she said, “um….okay” and thus began my business adventure. I’ve always been a rather ‘shoot-from-the-hip’ type of person, and working for anybody but myself has always been rather unappealing but I did promise Mindy that I would put together a business plan. My research consisted of re-reading Chris Guillebeau’s book, “The $100 Start Up: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future” (which I highly recommend), Blake Mycoskie’s book, “Start Something That Matters” (of TOM’s shoe fame) and “Creating an Herbal Bodycare Business” by Sandy Maine.

I learned from Blake, “When you have a memorable story about who you are and what your mission is, your success no longer depends on how experienced you are or how many degrees you have or who you know. A good story transcends boundaries, breaks barriers, and opens doors. It is a key not only to starting a business but also to clarifying your own personal identity and choices.” Well, I certainly have stories. And the story about Whimsical Moon Farm certainly identifies my mission and is easily entwined within my business purpose.

 Butterfly on Echinacea flower, me holding Mamie, one of our Ameraucana chickens, and a field of wildflowers near the barn lot.

As I hammered out my business plan, I decided simple was best. So, I determined I had products to sell: herbal soaps, bath salts, sugar scrubs, and dream pillows.

I considered who my targeted customer base would most likely be (besides my loving family): those people, mostly women ages 16-90 (approximately) interested in lovingly hand-made, natural body-care for their personal use and as gifts. Although I also create a wonderful beard oil and soaps for men, I have found women are usually the ones initially attracted to my products.

And, I figured out a way to get paid, or how I would sell my products: an online market/website plus my favorite farmers’ markets and seasonal festivals. I chose Wix.com as my e-commerce site not only for its ease of navigating through the complex dashboards plus their on-going support, but also because the cost was budget-worthy and I thought the name Wix was catchy. Not to negate Etsy or Shopify, (or any of the other many possible markets out there) they are excellent sites as well, but I felt Wix.com would be a good fit for my farm soap business.

After stewing and fretting over my business plan, which now exceeded three paragraphs, I felt confident I could present to Mindy who, by the way was now listed as CO-OWNER, the details and the budget for OUR ‘cottage’ business start-up. I had determined a nice round figure of $1000 would be sufficient to get the business up and running with a little cushion for padding. Where we would get this $1000 was undetermined at that time but after an informative meeting with our bank customer service rep, we walked out with a zero-fee, zero interest-rate for 15 months, credit card with a cap of $3000. We still intend on keeping the business costs at or below the $1000 we planned for and figure if the business is not paying for itself in 15 months, then we would surely need to reconsider our options. I, however, am confident that between the two of us and the story woven throughout our farm business, we will be prosperous. Well, you know….something like that!

Our goal is to have our web-site up and running by early November, but we are shooting for Halloween because it seems rather auspicious and fun. I have been learning about marketing via social media (I had NO idea there were so many sites to get involved with) and I have been crafting soaps like a mad-woman. The kitchen smells incredible as does the pantry where I dry the soaps and any other flat surface in the house that isn’t occupied at the moment.

I am looking forward to growing, experimenting, and harvesting this newest ‘crop’ endeavor here on Whimsical Moon Farm, and I will definitely follow up with our experiences and adventures.

Stay creative and have a prosperous Whimsical Moon day!