Archive for March 16th, 2009

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.


Just a Reminder…

Sharon March 16th, 2009

If you are out my way, I’ll be at the New York State Museum in Albany giving my talk:

“Why You Should Think About Peak Oil, Climate Change and Economic Collapse Even When It Seems Much Nicer Not To” on Wednesday Night at 7pm. 

The fourth lecture in the series will be given the following Wednesday, by Dr. John Gowdy, an ecological economist.  I can’t swear how good mine will be, but I’m looking forward to his ;-) .