Archive for September 3rd, 2009

Gleanings Farm Rides Again!

Sharon September 3rd, 2009

It would be an extreme exaggeration to call it a dark night of the soul, but perhaps an “irritation of the nerves” is a pretty good description for my state in the last couple of months.  I tend to be pretty contented, generally speaking, with my state – but not recently.  It took me a while to sort out what’s been disconcerting me, but I finally figured out several things.

 1. I spend too much time in front of the computer.  I don’t like sitting on my behind as much as I do, and I’m frustrated with the projects I’m not able to do, because I’m writing so much.  I’m particularly frustrated that we haven’t been able to proceed with a bunch of farm projects, because I haven’t given them my full attention

2. I don’t want to be a person who writes a lot about things she does not do, and I feel like I’m gradually oozing in that direction.  More and more things have been put by the wayside for convenience – we are driving a little more because we aren’t planning ahead as well, spending a little more because I’m busier and saving time is more important than doing things ourselves.  I’ve done well on some things – the preserving has gone well this year – but not on others that are important to me.  I find myself constantly on the horns of the “live it or write it” dilemma, and I’ve always wanted living it to be the priority.  I don’t want that to stop.

3. The writing life is fundamentally solitary – I go up in the computer room and am alone with the computer.  It is satisfying in some ways to be alone, but I want my daily life to be less solitary and more communal – that is, I want more work I can do with my family.  My kids and husband want that too.

4. Previous attempts to find a balance between my writing, teaching, editing, etc… and the farm have failed, in large part because I keep taking on more books.  The books tend to be a serious time suck, and there are long stretches where I find myself having to do that, mostly, while also trying to keep up with other stuff.  Everything else I can sort of streamline, but I don’t know how to write a book without a long stretch of intense aloneness, to the detriment of everyone around me.

5. By April 2010, I’ll have written four books in just over three years.  This is enough for any woman ;-) .  In fact, it is kind of a lot – the books have come out so fast, one after another, that I haven’t been able to do as much promotion of those books, as many talks about the material as I’d really love to.  I think I need a break from the books (after the current one).

6.  I want my primary job to be agricultural - I want my farm to help feed or supply the needs of the people around me again, and I want to do that work – both for my physical good health (I like being up and moving better) and also for the health of my community.  I know I reach more people through the blog, and I don’t want to stop that, but it is important to me that “Gleanings Farm” (our farm name) be more than a name – it needs an identity.  I can’t go back to the 22 person CSA – but I want to go forward to a place where my farm as a stronger role in my community.

 7. I want to keep blogging, and I want and need to keep offering classes – the former is too much fun to give up, the latter is important to my family’s stability, since my husband’s job is extremely vulnerable.  But most of all, I don’t think I could stop writing if I tried.

I’d also like to do more local teaching – on food preservation and storage, of the farm skills we’ve so laboriously acquired.  I’m looking at ways of doing that – because I think it would be a pleasure.  I’m even debating an apprenticeship program here – who knows. 

8. Eventually, I’d like to write a novel – I’ve had one in progress for four years, and made virtually no gains on it, for lack of time.  I would like this to be a longer term, gradual project that I enjoy, rather than a frantic mania, like my books have been.  I’m not sure I care if the novel gets published – I want this to be fun. 

9. I want to work on community organizing as part of my work as well – but I also want to do most of it from home, and I need to enlist other people into this project, because I cannot allow it to take over my life. I credit my kind readership with this revelation – it finally registered on me after the 77th comment telling me not to make myself miserable that there are other people in the world, and I can get help with things, and maybe make it work my way.

10. I love my life, but I loved it more when it was more integrated, when the computer took less of my time and my home and farm took more.  I am doing this most of all, not to save myself from the apocalypse, but to get to something better.  So I should do that now.

So what does all this add up to?  No, I  promise, I’m not shutting down the blog – as I say, I enjoy it too much. 

But it does add up to this – I am going to be working intensively on the AIP book until late winter, but after that, I’m taking a minimum two year hiatus from books, and after that, if I write any more books,  I’m hoping to write a novel.  I’m thinking I may begin drafting it online, actually – so that you folks can follow along a bit.  I want to have fun with it – to do something that is play, not so serious.  I feel like I’ve written a lot on serious subjects, but I’d like to just play with ideas for a while.

But more importantly than the fiction idea, we’ve decided that the farm will be my primary venture, and the writing become secondary again.  I’m not going to do more than 3-4 talks a year that involve travelling beyond a few hours distance, and only at convenient times when the farm doesn’t need me.  After the book is done, I will continue to teach classes 4-6 times a year, but only one day a week.  Two mornings a week, I will get to write and blog- that is, I get 15 hours per week at the computer, divided among 3 days, *period* – no more “I just have to do one thing…” and me disappearing for an hour. 

Meanwhile, we’re putting together our plan for Gleanings Farm to open again – we definitely don’t want to run our CSA again – our land is better for grazing and it is enough for us to produce our own produce and some to give away to those in need.  We’re going to start a multi-pronged attempt at creating the kind of diversified, low-input, low tech small farm we were on our way to being before I got distracted ;-) .

 1. We’ll be selling goats – I want to focus our farm livestock ventures on thrifty, small scale livestock suited to urban and suburban culture, and the Nigerian Dwarves are a great start.  We were going to have to sell goats soon anyway, as the miracle of exponential goat babies is about to face us, but we’ve decided to focus on milk production genes and thrifty production, breeding goats that do well in a variety of conditions, with small scale husbandry.  This is one of those – well, we’re doing this – so what scale do we want to do it on, and how do we want to do it?  I think animal agriculture, with its dense calories, is really important in densely populated areas, and small animals are going to be needed there.

2. We’re going to add our own sheep – we have enough pasture to raise a lot of good, grass-fed meat, and so we’re working on a small breed of sheep that does well on grass, has nice fleece for handspinning and weaving and is thrifty and a good mother.  We’re debating between Jacobs and Icelandics at the moment (c’mon sheep lovers, make your case for which one – I want to hear it!).  We’ve already got Romneys on the pasture (my sheep partner) and a guard animal, but we’ll actually invest more of our resources in fencing and pasture improvement and do better grass farming.  The sheep will be primarily a meat project, but I think that wool production has a longer term future in this region, as I wrote in “Bringing the Sheep Back”

3. My experiments with medicinals have suggested that I can produce and sell a dozen or so reasonably high-demand medicinal herbs for direct sale, as well as making tasty and nutritive herb tea mixtures for retail sale in winter.  There’s the possibility of selling tinctures – the FDA guy was actually encouraging, and I’m researching the cost of certified kitchens.  Not sure about that latter, but this will give me something to sell in winter.  I may also do forced bulb pots, since experience suggests I can pull that off easily enough.

I’m also going to be putting in large quantities of wetland woody medicinal plants – crampbark, elderberry, cranberry, wintergreen, bearberry, along with more perennial medicinals.  That these are food plants as well for the most part is not an accident ;-) .  I want to make the best possible use of our damp land without changing most of our basic ecosystem.

4. I will sell bedding plants, emphasizing unusual and heirloom vegetables and medicinal and culinary herbs in spring and early summer at the farmer’s market and direct by subscription (a garden plant CSA?  I’m thinking about it).  I know I can raise lots of bedding plants extremely well, and without that much more work than my present methods.

5. We’re going to go back to selling eggs, and work on growing more of our chicken feed.  The profit margin isn’t huge, but it covers the feed and makes a little money.  We have done this before, and I know it is completely viable for us to run 50 layers on pasture. 

6. We will continue small scale pastured poultry farming – but I’m finally going to figure out how to get a schochet out here, so I can sell it as pastured and *kosher* – I’m hoping to do the lamb that way as well.  I think there is an undertapped market for really good quality kosher meat.  I’m working with other people in my area who want this to make it happen – so we’ll sell slightly larger numbers of chickens and turkeys, and probably add small quantities of ducks and geese.  I want to keep these numbers manageable, though, and use them in rotation with the sheep and goats, to make best use of our grass.  I will do batches of no more than 50 birds at a time, and not too many of those, because I want my birds to have a good life, and as much attention as the deserve. 

7. We have proved we can hatch out chicks, and on a small scale, we’ll sell these to backyard chicken raisers – Simon and Isaiah are getting silkies, and want to hatch out silkie chicks, for sale, and I’m going to sell Marans and Buff Orpingtons.  Not a huge selection, but then, I don’t want to be a huge selection – but I want to be a local hatchery on a manageable scale.  We are already doing some of this, so again, I think it is viable without enormous additional work.

Finally, I want bees and to do some garden expansion just for myself, without any other  plans underlying this.   I’m also starting my own little Heifer project, trying to bring rabbit raising into urban areas around me.  The boys want into these projects – thus, the Silkie chickens, and Simon and Isaiah have plans also to raise angora fiber for sale – don’t tell them that I think that this will have great educational value ….shhh ;-) .

 It sounds like a lot, but most of it is stuff we’ve already done/are doing, but on the side, around long hours in front of the computer and a host of other projects.  The thought of focusing 3-4 days per week on the farm, with the kids with me, just seems like an immense relief, and a lot of fun.  The rest will still be there – but it will have to take up less space. 

I’ve got a pile of new projects – we need to mow, reseed and perimeter fence the big pasture, I need to move my office to the underused front room, and set up a place for seed starting and simpling and managing the herbs.  We need to plan our fall breeding for the goats, and begin thinking of where we will set up buck and ram housing eventually.  And we need to look for sheep, and a Livestock Guardian Dog, since Xote the guard donkey goes home with Elaine’s Romney’s every December, and doesn’t come back until after lambing.  I’ve got a business plan to write, and my husband’s role in this to map out (he’s actually excited about this, believe it or not, even though it involves more changes, simply because it keeps me more in the thick of things ;-) ).

There won’t be any changes in the blog for a while – if anything, there should be more posts as I work out ideas for the book here, or goof off from writing ;-) .  Eventually, I think I’m going to go down to three posts a week, though, and be off the computer more.  I still plan to work on a lot of new projects – but they are only going to be allowed so much space in my life, and the things I care about most are going to get the most, which is as it should be.

Time to saddle up – Gleanings Farm is back in business!

Sharon