Sharon April 29th, 2010
This weekend we attended an event at the library designed to get kids excited about poetry – each age level had a different writing and art project to do. The project for first graders involved making a list of wishes, and Isaiah set laboriously to writing down his most secret desire. At six, he does not write easily or fluently, although his spelling is quite good. And there, scrawled across a whole page, meant the long list of wishes that one assumes fill the dreams of small children, was this “I wish I had a farm.”
This occasioned some comment among the event’s organizers – a number of the adults mentioned that they too had the same wish, and expressed surprise that a child should wish for this. There was amusement when I said that we did, in fact, live on a farm. But I also knew what Isaiah meant.
You see, Isaiah from as early as I can remember, took to this life in ways my other children did not. They all love the animals and the open spaces, the creek and the gardens, the climbing trees and the woods to play in, but of all my children, Isaiah is organically, naturally, innately a farm child. Of my sons, he is the most fascinated by plants and animals, most anxious to participate in anything domestic. When he was younger, he hated to leave the farm, although he’s grown more adventurous with time.
Isaiah loves to cook and can bake a mean pan of cornbread almost by himself or a sheet full of chocolate chip cookies. He can name more plants than Eric can, and when Asher scraped a finger recently, Isaiah was the one who ran to the lamb’s ears to make a bandage for him. Every animal on the farm likes and trusts him, and he alone can pick up every bird on the whole farm. He loves to build and mend things. When he was two, as we left for a visit to his Grandmother in New York City, each child was allowed to pick something to bring with them for the trip. My other children brought favorite books and toys. Isaiah brought a salad he’d picked himself – sorrel, mint, lettuce, mizuna, arugula – as a gift for his grandmother. I think that salad still says something deep about my child.
He’s not a perfect child by any means – he can be just as cranky and mean to his brothers as anyone else – but he has an astounding generosity for a child his age, something that seems innate in him, since he has had it since birth. When there isn’t enough candy to go around, Isaiah is the first to offer his up to a friend or a brother. He likes giving things away so much that he saves up his money to make more donations of trees and animals to the Heifer Fund than the ones we subsidize. If he does spend his money on himself, it is often for plants – while his brothers want candy or toys, Isaiah just bought himself a bamboo plant which he carefully carries out to the porch each morning and in every cold night. I take no credit for any of this – it all comes from deep inside of him, and we are fortunate that he is so well suited to his place.
And I know, because he tells us, what Isaiah’s farm dream is – he wants more animals, more kinds of creatures. He wants a tall, two story barn with a hayloft, and ideally, barn cats to chase and bales of hay to climb in. He wants more of the animals to be his own special ones, his to care for and choose. He wants to sell more things, be a true working farm with people coming down the drive to buy eggs and plants – and sometimes from him. He wants it to be beautiful to others, beautiful to us, integral to the landscape and to the community – the place our neighbors come to buy what they need that we can provide. He wants to be part of the diversified small farm of every child’s dream.
I admit, I dream of a hayloft myself, but I can’t give him that…as yet. Our hay barn remains a small, low building. But what we can perhaps give him is precisely the rest of it – slowly, slowly we are returning from days Isaiah can barely remember, to being a true working farm. Over the years of my intensive writing projects, we’ve let many of things we did in our first CSA years fall apart – the gardens were enough to feed us but have gotten smaller, many maintenence projects were deferred for lack of time and energy as the computer took up more and more of my days.
I still have to finish one more book (by spring of next year), but the pace has slowed and I am able to focus on our next steps. Like Isaiah, I have a “real farm dream” – but it is slightly different. It has more perennials in it, and different animals, a hoophouse for winter greens, summer heat lovers and rapid solar drying of my herbs. It has a small building for displaying our wares – the eggs, the bedding plants and herbs, the tinctures, salves and creams, salad greens and flower, a list of other products for sale - rabbits, dairy goats, baby chicks.
Eventually it has a two story barn with a hayloft and room enough for all the creatures that eat our good grass and grow fat and rich with milk. Eventually, I dream there will be hayloft.
Someday I dream of barter with the neighbors for pasturage, perhaps, for a pair of working horses to haul logs out of the woods for firewood and cut hay. Or maybe we’ll finally break down and get a tractor, who knows. I understand the horses better, though.
Eventually the young perennials I am planting right now will grow large and begin to produce, and I will have nuts and new fruits to sell, and elderberry syrup and currant and aronia juice to sell. I’m waiting until the children have the fun of climbing up the trees to help the harvest – it is hard to believe that someday they will need to climb.
Eventually, we will begin seeing the fruit of our breeding and selecting of small backyard dairy goats for thrift and hardiness – and I hope we will begin to see them popping up in yards. I find that the best advertisement for the goats is the goats themselves – it is not possible to meet them without beginning to consider ways you could bring these small creatures home to your own yard.
I’m still mulling over sheep in the long term, and a host of other projects. My goal is a year round income – products that come and go with each season, workloads that move around the year, if not evenly, gracefully.
I dream of a place to teach classes, to invite people in. I dream of neighbors all sitting down to a homegrown thanksgiving turkey. I dream of open-farm days and tomato tastings.
I have no idea how many of these dreams will come true, or whether Isaiah will ever get the farm he dreams of. I hope he does – at least some of it – with us. I hope as he grows bigger, we are wise enough to let him make as much as he can of our place in his image, so that he doesn’t feel he has to go off, seeking a farm that he could never find at home. I tell him that we can try and make our farm into what he wants – that it will take time and determination and work, and if he’s not afraid of those things, it may well happen.
The old saying “Doing has no need of wishing” is only partly true, you know. It is true that you need not stand about in hopeless desire for something that seems so far away an unattainable if you set to making it happen. But there is a time and a place for wishing, for the innocent dreaming of what could be. I’m glad my son wishes a farm, and I’m looking forward to a long future of doing the work of making both our wishes come true.