Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
First of all, let's just get this straight. I am farming under protest.
I grew up on the beach in Southern California when there actually were sleepy beach towns. We rode bikes to the beach by ourselves in fourth grade, surfed in the mornings before we went to high school or left at lunchtime if there were good waves. We got certified in scuba before we could legally drive a car, and sailed up and down the coast. Being raised in the heart of the hippie generation of the 60's and 70's, I was considered to be an earth-mother by my friends. And I really was excited about buying a farm.
My husband's journey to this farm began in the fourth grade: he wrote an essay saying that he wanted to grow up to be a farmer and a Marine. An agriculture major in college, his plan was to be a forester or an extension agent after college. Instead he did 27 years in the Marine Corps, moving every two or three years and dragging his family all over the world. While he loved it, he always longed for a farm. He also wanted to put into practice his belief that small family farms can actually feed a family and make them a modest living.
There came a point in our lives that it was time to start looking for that dream farm. I assumed that it would take us YEARS to find the farm that fit all my husband's criteria: as much land as we could afford with water on it and good drainage. We looked at two farms the first weekend of farm hunting, and, WAM!, found and bought his dream farm. So we listed our house for sale, assuming it would take months. WAM! It sold in a week and they wanted us out in a month. We moved everything we owned into storage and started living in our trailer on our farm while building a small house. We were on the fast track to farming.
I always thought I wanted to move to a farm. I thought I actually WAS an earth mother. I thought I'd love the peace and quiet. Being a hard working woman, I thought I'd love the satisfaction of a hard day's work and the rewards that the earth shared with us.
And then we bought the farm. The challenges at the beginning were so extreme, that I used the pun on the phrase "we bought the farm" more than once to describe how I felt: that this farm would be the death of me, my husband, or both.
The farm had a 100-year-old house and barn on it and hadn't been farmed in over 30 years. The house was uninhabitable. It had absolutely no plumbing, an old wooden outhouse with BIG spiders over a creek across the yard, an underground spring house across the yard and up the hill, an electrical line run to one room of the lower floor with a single bare bulb hanging from the ceiling, and, all the neighbors said, the ghost of the man that was murdered in the house 10 years prior. It was not a beautiful, sturdy house. It was still standing after 100 years but just barely, so our plan was to remove it and build in the same spot. In the meantime we stayed in our trailer while we built a large, for lack of a better description, garage or barn that had a small apartment in one quarter of it to live in while we got the farm up and running and then built the house.
Folks, my man was born in the wrong century. Add to that the fact that he is extremely strong and has the energy of an 18-year-old. So this farming thing was a joy for him: up with the sun, chainsawing like a madman to clear the fields, planning the future of this farm, and drooling over the seed catalogs. He would have excelled in the 1800's, or at the very least one of those reality shows where you pretend to live in the 1800's. But I hadn't been a Marine like him, trekking through jungles, sweating in amphibious troop carriers and hiking 24 miles in one day. Working out in the fields in the oppressive heat and humidity was a challenge, but add to that the ticks, chiggers and mosquitoes and it became a real challenge. I had never even HEARD of chiggers and didn't know what they were. I hate ticks. I am still wishing that someone would invent those drops-on-the-back-of-the-neck for people to control fleas, ticks and mosquitoes like they have for dogs and cats. Every summer I tell my husband that when I die, God and I are going to have a long talk about fleas, ticks, chiggers, and mosquitoes. And I had never had poison oak, ivy or sumac until we bought the farm and now every single summer I look, as my doctor informed me, like I have leprosy.
My neighbors dubbed me Lisa Douglas, from the 60's hit show Green Acres. I don't wear jewelry, makeup or designer gowns around the farm like she did, so I assume they just mean that I am missing the conveniences of city life. I believe now that I am not Lisa Douglas, but am more like her husband Oliver Douglas: he wanted logic out of his farm and from those around him, and so do I. But there is this thing I call farm time: logic and time move at a different rate on a farm. Things break and get stuck and just don't get done at the same pace as the rest of the world. They certainly don't get done as quickly as they seem to in books and farming articles.
It's taken years of getting used to, and I do believe that I am finally coming around to enjoying it. I am not Lisa Douglas, but I did buy a tiara at the party store to wear occasionally. Sometimes, among all the work and sweat, we forget to remember that we are actually lucky to have a farm and to be able to live this lifestyle. What is more satisfying than being able to pull your own watermelon from the vine to take to a fourth of July party, or harvest pumpkins for your grandkids to carve for Halloween? It is satisfying to relax at the end of a hot day in the shade as you look over the rows and rows of berries growing in the peace and quiet that you planted with your own hands. If you take away anything at all from my tales, I hope that it is this: the realization that you need four things for farming: perseverance, patience, and preparedness. I hadn't heard anyone discuss some of the things that I should have been ready for, even in all the articles and magazines we have read over the decades. And above all, have a sense of humor.
Though I am learning to like this farm, I am farming with a hint of protest, because I still miss the ocean. You can take the girl away from the ocean, but you can't take the ocean out of the girl.
- 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!”