Eric, Farmer

Sharon March 16th, 2009

When I gave up my dreams of an academic career, recognizing slowly, painfully that I (like most people) couldn’t “have it all” Eric and I fell into a pattern.  Eric would work (since his job provided things like stable income and health insurance) and provide care to children and animals.  But the farm was largely my project - his job was to temper my optimism, and note when my ambitions jumped over our budget or our energies.  He jokingly calls himself “the farm serf” - if I say “would you help me dig a hole here” he’s happy to do so.  He’ll clean out the barn.  But he doesn’t read books about agriculture, relies on me to figure out how to adjust the goat’s diet for pregnancy, doesn’t plan the garden or our crop rotation, doesn’t want to pick out the varieties of tomatoes.  He’ll gladly help with the work, but the planning and organizing, knowing what to do with it, that’s my job.

Except that we’re not really sure if Eric will be keeping his job at SUNY. He is not tenured (this was intentional - a tenure track job would have been a larger commitment than we wanted, and since his primary interest is teaching, the small schools he would have been attracted to - the kind that actually care about teaching - are mostly places we worried would go bankrupt in a crisis), and while his department is very much committed to him, if a broad cost-cutting measure demands that all non-tenured faculty in his category be laid off, he’ll be laid off.  And odds are, he’ll be laid off late enough in the year that there’ s not much we can do about it - too late, probably to find an academic job for the following year.  Right at the moment we’re cautiously hopeful that the work his department chair and others are doing to ensure more stability for Eric may work - but realistically, they may not.  We played the odds, made a set of choices, and we may pay a price - and we’re prepared for that, if not enthusiastic ;-).  Given the same set of choices, we’d probably still do what we did.

All of which means that my job as writer/farm manager/money saver…etc… may end up having to support our family for a year - or several.  The problem with this is that because I’m the one who manages the farm and the money saving projects, me ramping up my writing and other work might mean costs in other ways - we certainly won’t be able to afford not to have our food come out of the garden, and we’ll have to go back on extremely frugal measures - these are not bad things, but since I’ve been the one that organizes these measure, and I’d be working a lot more, this is worrisome.  One possible source of income would be to re-open the CSA, but I couldn’t see how that could possibly happen - there was no way I’d have the time if I were writing more, and since writing pays (marginally) better than farming, it probably doesn’t make sense.

So imagine my shock when, while discussing this with Eric, Eric very calmly pointed out that *he* could reopen the CSA and be the primary farmer.  I was, ummm… gobsmacked.  I pointed out he’d have to read some books about farming.  He nodded, and asked me for a reading list.  I hope I can be forgiven for my expression, since I’d been trying to get him to read these books for the last 8 years.

I noted that farming wasn’t quite as easy at it looks.  He rolled his eyes at me, and pointed out that he knows this, but has a consultant on site.  I observed that he said he didn’t much like to garden, and now it would be his primary job.  He said that would be fine - and that he’d do what it takes to feed our family.  I asked him if he would be able to recognize a pepper seedling.  I think he was starting to get a little annoyed at his wife’s lack of confidence in him, but he noted that he thought that with my advice and help he could manage, and would do whatever it took.  He pointed out that when we began our CSA, we’d gardened only one year here - that he’d done far more garden work out here than I had before I started the CSA, plus all the soil improvement and knowledge we’d both gained. 

And he’s right.  I have no doubt that if it comes to that, Eric’s CSA will be a radical learning experience for him.  I also have no doubt that this is probably no more true than it was for me in our first year.  Maybe less, since I’ll be around.  And I came away, well, impressed with my husband.

But I shouldn’t be, of course.  Eric grew up in a household where it would probably be an exaggeration to say (as I sometimes do, joking) that one called the super to change the lightbulbs, but it wasn’t exactly a hotbed of handiness - raised by a single Mom, he got good at domestic chores, but never had to build, grow or fix too much.  And yet, when we moved here and had small engines to repair or things to fix, Eric went out, bought books and figured out how to fix them.  His New Jersey apartment didn’t include milking goats or raising baby chicks (for that matter neither did mine in Massachusetts) but when the time came, we learned.  I shouldn’t have been surprised that the same calm trust in his own ability to learn sustains him now.

Still, I think it is a story worth telling if only because I think if Eric can farm, so can anyone.  Eric doesn’t have a special gift for making things grow.  He is vaguely aware that the kohlrabi that appears on his plate came from a package of seeds (seeds he may even have planted if I said “make a row there and space them X amount”), but he’s completely unaware of all the middle steps, unless doing an officially assigned task “weed around the ones that look like this, don’t pull up these!”.  The children often stop and explain “yes, these are tomatillos, Dad!”  He doesn’t particularly love reading how-to books.  He’d rather keep being an astronomer than being a gardener.  He hates change, loves his job and gets anxious when the world shifts under his feet.  Farmer never made his top 1000 list of possible careers. 

And yet I have enormous faith that he will become a good one.  And I have enormous faith that those of you who who don’t see yourself as particularly gifted in this area can and will rapidly find the skill set you need, when and if you need it.  It is easier, of course, to start slowly, to practice while you can still afford to fail.  I will be lightly abusing my husband for neglecting his chance to practice.  But I am already immensely proud of his willingness to adapt and change in the face of necessity.  We are talking about a man who thinks, riffing on Bilbo Baggins, that change is “a nasty, messy thing that makes you late for dinner.”  And like Bilbo, he turns out not to be so bad at it after all.  And if Eric can do it, so can you.

 Sharon

23 Responses to “Eric, Farmer”

  1. Abbieon 16 Mar 2009 at 9:58 am

    That makes me think so much of my husband, Ed. I garden, but he built the fence for me, I can food, but he built the shelves that I store the food on.

    I find it funny now when he talks about how “we” grow tomatoes and “we” can them, but I guess I should give him credit for the role he plays, even if it doesn’t including planting seeds, pulling weeds, or standing over a steaming pot of water.

  2. Throwback at Trapper Creekon 16 Mar 2009 at 10:12 am

    Sounds like here, we work as a team, each doing parts of a job that we are good at. He makes the hay, I feed the livestock, I bed the livestock, he cleans the deep bedding out in the spring and makes compost, I spread the compost on the garden and grow the vegetables. It would be a dreary existence if we were all the same, but I know we could trade “jobs” if we had to, and it would work out.

    Eric will do great and like he says - he has a consultant right there!

  3. Greenpaon 16 Mar 2009 at 10:15 am

    Yesterday on TAE, Viv in NZ ripped into everyone with this cutting remark- “I do think it would be nice if people could grow up.”

    Viv- brilliant. :-)

    And reading this account of your behavior and marital interactions, and Eric’s behavior- that’s my question for you:

    How did the two of you become such grown-ups?

    Viv is bang on- if the grown-ups of the world were actually grown up- life would be much simpler, and safer. How is it so many never grow up?

    And how is it a few do? And how?

    Strikes me as the major difference between Obama and Bush, if you were looking at it from the perspective of the alien ethnologist; Obama’s mental age is- around 50 somewhere; Bush’s mental age is around - 3.

  4. scifichickon 16 Mar 2009 at 10:33 am

    This is very inspirational! I worry sometimes that when we do have a garden, I’m not sure I have the necessary skills or the know-how. But I do think that it’s one of those things that you just need to start doing, and you’ll learn. And there will be people around willing to help with advice if not labor.

  5. Jillon 16 Mar 2009 at 10:51 am

    Fantastic Sharon - and very relate-able. Last summer I had to take my husband Bruce on a ‘tour’ of our garden because he didn’t even know what we were growing. I am, however, confident that he could do it if he had to. I’ve been been reading up on chickens for months and he’s been looking at coop designs. I picked out varieties and started seeds - he asks where to dig. I think we work nicely as a team. Because, to be honest - I couldn’t build that coop to save my life and it would take me twice as long to dig everything. But I married a smart guy who can learn whatever he must to survive and thrive. I’m thankful.

  6. Bureinatoon 16 Mar 2009 at 11:00 am

    OK, off topic, but I thought you’d enjoy this since you did have speculative fiction book club.

    http://xkcd.com/556/

  7. Robyn M.on 16 Mar 2009 at 11:30 am

    I would like to lodge a formal complaint regarding you living our lives, only 5-8 years in the future, and in New York. Obviously temporal polygamy is both a legal and moral issue, plus the fact that we don’t want to move to New York. Just because you did it all first does not mean that we don’t have a greater claim to the licensing privileges of this life–especially if we complain first!

    ;-)

  8. steve parsonson 16 Mar 2009 at 11:39 am

    Good morning Sharon. At the beggining of this post I was getting ready to demote you from PO princess to just another neurotic (like myself, I worry about everything), but, I loved the way you wove it all together, this, this is why I am your reader. My motivator, Tara, says things like, “My garden is going to be better than yours this year,” and like the donkey and the carrot I get out in my small backyard and successfully plant forty types of tomatoes, eight of pepper, and just for good measure seasame. Oh yes, I am the brawn but she is the fulcrum, she moves me, have a good day.

  9. Roberton 16 Mar 2009 at 11:42 am

    Love your food info and farming info, great writing! But your reasons for doing so are all wrong: the present crisis has nothing to do with Peak Oil or Global Warming, but financial manipulation: World temperatures fell AGAIN last year, and new oil fields are always being discovered. Go solar and tidal, but check this out: http://www.davesweb.cnchost.com/nwsltr77.html

    I still believe that what you are doing is inadvertently the smartest thing you could do.

    “Let’s briefly recap what we have learned thus far: we have two complimentary theories, one known as “Peak Oil” and the other known as “Global Warming.” Both have direct ties to one of the world’s largest and most fundamentally corrupt oil conglomerates, as well as to various actors in the Western military/intelligence community. And both appear to be based on junk science, while the real science has been deliberately suppressed by Western technical journals, despite the fact that the research appears to be perfectly valid.

    What then are we to conclude from all this? I am not ready yet to state categorically that global warming is a psy-op, but I am certainly leaning in that direction. I will continue to look into this issue in the new year; one never knows where the trail may lead. For now, interested readers can have a look at the following posts/websites: http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/5.02/ffsimon.html?topic=&topic_set=, http://www.borderlands.com/newstuff/research/cycle23/warming.htm, and especially http://www.john-daly.com/, which contains a wealth of relevant information.

  10. Elizabethon 16 Mar 2009 at 12:14 pm

    Sharon — together I know you both will make this work.

    I am amazed at the way college students are thinking today. My niece graduates in May. She is looking at getting a master’s in education so she can teach. Her major for international studies with a french minor. Her hope was to go to Washington DC. That is out of the question.

    My son wants to write scores for movies (an area that is thriving in these tough times). Yet he realizes he might have to have a teaching type position to fall back on. Thank goodness he has many areas he can explore and is at an university that can help him.

    I believe more and more people are re-evaluating their life and their options. I know I am — yes, my garden will be bigger this year and my husband (and boys –kicking and screaming) will do whatever they can to help.

    Start the CSA — these ventures are becoming more and more important. We need our community farmers –

    Best of luck!! I look forward to following your ventures in your blog –

  11. risa bon 16 Mar 2009 at 1:21 pm

    He’ll do just fine. :)

  12. kimion 16 Mar 2009 at 1:46 pm

    Thank you for taking the time to write such a lovely and informative blog. I have recomended Casaubon’s Book to my entire family. I accidently stumbled upon the theory of PO a couple of months ago while researching food storage. It is such a vast concept to digest for the uninitiated. You provide a gentle and realistic approach to the inevitable future. Good luck to us all.

  13. kathyon 16 Mar 2009 at 2:43 pm

    Hey Sharon,

    As Bruce continues to figure out this bee stuff (he calculates that the 12 oz of honey we harvested cost $223.26 per ounce) it occurs to me that you actually can teach an old dog a new trick. Fortunate since there are an awful lot of us old dogs out here and the old tricks appear to have stopped working at the moment.

  14. Debon 16 Mar 2009 at 3:06 pm

    My college age daughter is working at a CSA this summer to both bring in the food for as her contribution to the household economy and to learn some of the skills you speak to. She also trades vet tech work with our large animal vet for vet work on our animals. She learned from the vet what she needs to know.

    My son learned to change the brakes, repair the muffler and rotate tires plus all the regular maintenance work on our cars by doing it with my husband. He does all the house maintenance–fixing the toilet, working on the roof, refitting gutters the snow took off etc. He learned it all by getting out there and doing it.

    My husband and I figured out how to make maple syrup on the woodstove in the garage by talking to older neighbors and then doing it. We renovated our old rackety farmhouse ourselves, spending only what we had to on supplies and material, by doing it with a little help from a how to book.

    I learned to spin by having a friend loan me a wheel, give me a couple lessons and then doing it.

    I think learning by doing is a reasonable option, particularly when it involves using both your brain and your hands. I have no doubt your husband can do it, especially with a mentor in the house, literally.

  15. Mashon 16 Mar 2009 at 6:00 pm

    just wondering what the 8 books on your list are?

  16. Jenon 16 Mar 2009 at 7:28 pm

    We also made the decision that my husband would not pursue a tenure-track jobs, for some of the reasons you listed, but also because he wants to be with the kids more and he also gets paid substanially more by teaching online. Has Eric, or you for that matter, thought of online teaching? My husband teaches FT for one school, getting benefits, etc and then adjunct for 3 others. Because he is spread out among schools, we hope to weather the storm as long as possible. His salary is comparable to an Associate as well, which makes a huge difference in how he feels about the online component. Now that you have DSL I would look into it. He is also able to work at night and do more physical work during the day and we have the mobility to move anywhere if need be.

  17. Brad K.on 16 Mar 2009 at 8:17 pm

    Sharon,

    This is a tough one. On the one hand, you have every reason to be proud of your farming/gardening accomplishments.

    But now, you won’t be the “farmer” in the family, you will be “one of the farmers”. Similar to what happens to the first child, when a second arrives. Worlds expand, painfully.

    In one sense, establishing a formal master/journeyman relationship with regards to farming would make sense - you would have an agreed-upon role in monitoring and guiding Eric’s progress. Or teacher/student.

    Yet, it will quickly come to be, that Eric begins to establish his authority within his chosen realm - the CSA, for now. His knowledge will grow within his chosen realm. Eric will almost surely find different authorities and references more meaningful and appropriate.

    Taking things informally, as Eric suggests, has a few pitfalls built in. As The Frantics put it in their skit Tai Kwan Leep “It is wrong to tip the vessel of knowledge.” Taking on more writing means more blocked-out large chunks of time - and any distraction will be costly. So you may not be as “available” - or as “inexpensive” to the family, in the long run - as it may appear to Eric.

    Eric might consider keeping up with his astronomy, only turning to the paying side - astrology. Let him get good at telling fortunes, casting horoscopes, and he will have a sideline and continued investment in astronomy.

    If Eric will be at home - is another computer investment required? Just wondering..

  18. Hollyon 16 Mar 2009 at 9:28 pm

    You have probably answered this somewhere, but when you previously did your CSA how much land did you devote to it and how many families/customers did you provide for? Curious for do-ability purposes.

  19. Sharonon 17 Mar 2009 at 8:10 am

    Holly, at our peak we were using about 2 acres to provide for 22 families (not including the ranging land for the chickens who provided the eggs, or the wild raspberies).

    Brad, I think Eric and I can navigate this - we’ve been teacher/student many times in multiple combinations. It will be interesting, but cool, to have it be his CSA, though. I don’t see him going for astrology, however - the skill set is non-overlapping, and he’s not someone who believes in its value.

    Jen, he is taking one of his courses online for the first time this summer, and that is an option - but at least through the state system, it pays very poorly, compared to his faculty job.

    Robyn, you could sue ;-). Not that you’d get much, but you could. But really, the best stories are all the ones that get told over and over again with light variations - I’m all for as many variants as possible.

    Mash, the books I put first on the list were: Hemenway’s _Gaia’s Garden_, _Seed Starting and Saving_, Lee Reich’s _Weedless Gardening_, Mel Bartholomew’s _Square Foot Gardening_, Eliot Coleman’s _The Four Season Harvest_, _The New Victory Garden_, Jeavon’s _How to Grow More Vegetables_, _The Weeds of the Northeast_ and Stout’s _How to Have a Green Thumb Without an Aching Back_ - but I’ve got more for him ;-).

    Sharon

    Sharon

  20. Johnon 17 Mar 2009 at 9:17 am

    Yes, Sharon the pay for adjunct stuff is not too hot on any platform, but the work required is less and because you are at home the saving does add up and the of course it’s really about the flexibility. My husband teaches full-time for one program, two classes plus some sundry admin, that is the main salary. Because the work is not as demanding, he is able to teach additional courses, making up another respectable salary. It’s not the ideal way for education to go and he has had some difficulty adjusting at times, but in the long run, he views it as the best scenario for our family.

  21. EJon 17 Mar 2009 at 11:45 am

    @Greenpa what is TAE?

  22. madisonon 17 Mar 2009 at 12:35 pm

    I am an Office Manager at a Head Start program with four schools and two in the works. I think the Head Start model we use has great promise for the future of education.

    I envision the future of education as a return to home-based or neighborhood learning cooperatives as the school districts are unable to maintain heat, lunches and transportation in the long term. That’s my starting premise.

    For those of you who dont’ know, HEad Start is a grant funded program serving families who income qualify by meeting 100% (or sometimes up to 130%) of the US Federal Poverty Level. The poverty levels are very low. We serve the poorest of the poor.

    Our HS program has four components; Education, Health & Nutrition, Child & Community (Disabilities) and Family Services. We offer a two day four hour preschool program to three and four year old children.

    Our Education component is self-evident and what most people associate with preschool. We are an exceptionally GOOD preschool program :) We follow strict guidelines when hiring teachers and require vast amounts of teacher education - eventually you will have to have an AA degree or a Bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education to work at HS.

    What is less visible initially is our other three components, and this is where we differ from other preschool programs and public education. We have a strong emphasis on family involvement. Our Health & Nutrition component requires us to serve USDA qualified meals to all of our children following strict guidelines. We feed children basically two of their meals each day they attend. We also educate parents in nutrition, shopping, cooking and serving appropriate food. We also require health checks - all children are required to see a doctor and dentist within 45 days of starting school for basic check ups. We require up-to-date immunizations or appropriate documentation. All children are observed for health issues, such as lice etc :)

    Our Disabilities Coordinator involves parents in several evaluations to screen their children for potential disabilities in hearing, sight, sensory etc. All children found to have some suspected disability are sent to specialists for early evaluation and treatment. She also coordinates with the school districts when the children transition to kindergarten, and attends all meetings wiht the families.

    Our Family Services Coordinator has a big job. She works with the Family Advocates at each school who meet directly with each family on a monthly basis to keep families connected to whatever services they require and qualify for (WIC, housing assistance etc).

    What I’m getting at is that I hope that education in general could incorporate these aspects into reading and ‘riting. Involving families, looking into health and nutrition, helping folks mitigate the effects of poverty whenever possible. Our model feeds children food so they can learn better, helps families reduce stress and gives them access to resources, reduces child abuse and screens for potential problems. Eventually, I could see a very wholistic home-based part day school system where several families hire an out-of-work teacher adn work together to educate their children and meet their basic needs.

  23. madisonon 17 Mar 2009 at 12:40 pm

    Hey, this is not where I wanted this post, lol!

    Any way to move it? Nuts!

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