Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
A Farm. These days, most Americans hear the word “farm” and think of the romantic idea of farming. Ma sitting on the porch as Pa slowly drives by on his tractor, waving, while she reads or quilts or accomplishes some calm, soothing task. The bucolic landscape surrounds them and life is peaceful and wonderful.
Few know the truth of farming: that if Ma is sitting on the porch braving the man-eating bugs, then it is because the air conditioner is on the fritz in the house or some other huge disaster has struck and that is the only safe place for her. And good ol’ Pa driving by doesn’t mean that he was pining for a good look at the face of the woman he married. No, it means that Pa didn’t want to turn off the tractor and get down to walk into the house for what he needs right now. He is waving to get Ma’s attention so that she could run out to the tractor and take care of what he needs, be it a drink of water for a parched mouth or a call to the parts store for the part he just broke on the tractor or bush hog. Or maybe he needs Ma to make an urgent call to a doctor or veterinarian, as the case may be, because he either rolled that tractor and barely got himself back up into the seat to get back to the house for help, or he drove over one of his poor animals that was not smart enough to get out of the way while Pa was intent on swatting a wasp out of his face.
A farm is what Americans are pining to get back to in order to escape the heat, noise, and crime of cities. Americans in general never knew farm life, and therefore, don’t realize that farming is work. Not just work, but WORK, in capital letters and bold print, which in this day and age of computerese means a shouted word with several exclamation marks after it! This work apparently needs to be done whether it is raining outside or is 97 degrees, whether you are sick or just sick and tired of farm work. This farm work must be done when it is freezing outside, and freezing inside as well. Americans might be offended by my insinuating that they don’t know how to work hard: believe me, I was mightily offended when an old farmer suggested that I was just a city-bred woman and therefore had a good lesson coming to me when we bought our farm. And six months into our project, I was crying that he was right: apparently I wasn’t of the hardy stock of Daniel Boone and his wife Rebecca, who followed her brilliant and adventurous husband deeper and deeper into the woods until she had had enough and moved back East again and saw him only on his sojourns back to civilization. I had changed my mind, but to my horror, realized too late that this adventure had begun with us selling our home and putting all of our belongings into storage to await the day that we would build a house on our farm.
Most American dreams of farms start with a picture in one’s mind of a farmhouse: quaint or stately or functional, but definitely some sort of farmhouse. Much like Rebecca Boone, I listened to my brilliant and adventurous husband, and let him drag me deep into the woods and talk me into temporary quarters on the farm. Ladies, if your man ever says that he needs to build the barn first, smack him in the kisser, and not with your lips. The bigger the fist the better. You need to get his full attention at this point and tell him that you will need a house, a full sized house with a real toilet (not the port-a-potty variety), with running water, and I don’t mean the kind that runs down the creek before you catch it in your bucket to haul to the temporary quarters. A house. With indoor plumbing. Hooked up to water that comes out of the faucet when it is turned on. You will need this house before he ever gets to look at plans for a barn. You need this house before he buys that second, bigger tractor that he will need because the old one doesn’t have enough horsepower. You will need this house before winter comes. You will need this house way before he starts buying those man-sized Tonka toys, and way before he builds the tool shed. In short, stick to your guns and get a house before any other structure or project starts on your farm.
Unfortunately, I did not know this cardinal rule about the house before we relocated to our farm. So, right now, both of our tractors live in a barn, the dump truck sits in the yard, my man has a workshop people envy, and the new bush hog mows well. But I am homeless. Someday, though, I will have that farmhouse, and when my man drives by on his tractor waving at me while I am sitting on that porch, I am going to throw rocks at him.
- Maura White grew up on the Pacific Coast in a sleepy beach town and has lived all over the country, as well as in Asia. What a change it was for her to move to the country. This lifestyle takes some getting used to and she uses humor to help her make the adjustment. She keeps saying “You can take the girl away from the ocean, but you can’t take the ocean out of the girl!”