Tuesday, February 02, 2010
I’ve been on the farm in Virginia for just over six months now, with two more months to go. Back in Texas I was growing vegetables, keeping chickens in my backyard and dreaming about my own little hobby farm. The owners of this Virginia farm were on the same basic track that I was and gave me pretty much carte blanche to do what I wanted here. This became a golden opportunity to try out the hobby farming lifestyle for which I was yearning.
I’ve greatly enjoyed my time on the farm and I’ve learned a few things about this lifestyle. It’s very gratifying but it’s also extremely hard work for a single person. When you are dreaming about a little farm you think about all that work. You imagine yourself digging the garden; tending it, weeding it and harvesting it. You picture all the canning, freezing and drying of the produce. You think about building chicken coops, which then have to be cleaned, chickens who need feeding and watering, regardless of the weather, and eggs that need to be gathered. You contemplate building fences, milking goats and shearing sheep and getting up in the middle of the night to bottle feed babies. Maybe you picture evenings spent making goat’s milk soaps and cheeses and weekends selling your goods at the farmer’s market.
If you’re like me, picturing all that work isn’t the least bit daunting. I can’t think of anything I’d rather be doing than working outside with my hands, taking care of animals and tending the garden. I gladly accepted all the work involved with those aspects of having a farm.
Unfortunately there’s another part, the part I wasn’t daydreaming about. The part that seems so obvious but somehow wasn’t. All the work that I’d been doing all along still had to be done. The laundry, the grocery shopping, the cleaning and cooking and the work that produces income all had to be tended to and, as a single person, there was only me to do it. Hobby farming isn’t a change of work it’s an addition of work. Although I’ve only “farmed” on a small scale during the six months I’ve been here, had I realized all my farming ambitions I would have been completely overwhelmed. The indoor housekeeping-type work, the outdoor farming work and the income producing work would have been too much for me to handle by myself. Any vacation time would have been impossible.
Even if the farm created all the income and goods I required, I would still have had to choose between a well-run farm and a clean, orderly, well-run home. That’s a choice I would not relish. I like a clean house, I like some free time and I like to be able to go visiting. In choosing to hobby farm as a single person, I would not have been able to have all those things. Even with a partner, vacations would be hard to manage together.
I believe the solution is farming in community; either a group of people farming communal land or neighbors swapping out chores. I was very lucky in that my neighbors liked my birds and were happy to feed them when they were able; freeing me to take time to visit family. They had no farm animals and traveled a great deal already so it was an imperfect solution, but certainly better than nothing and I was grateful for whatever help they could give.
The next several months for me will involve house sitting in a more urban environment with no animals other than my dog and the homeowner’s cats. I might have a small garden but that will be all for me for awhile. Will I want to try hobby farming again? I think I will but only if I can undertake it in community. I believe that in farming as in many things people helping each other is the answer. I hope that opportunity will present itself at some point in my future.