Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
“Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work and driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for – in order to get the job you need to pay for the clothes and the car, and the house you have to leave vacant all day so you can afford to live in it” ~Ellen Goodman
I’ve had this exact same thought for quite a while, but it was always followed by “how do I get out of this car?”
Now don’t get me wrong – I love fabulously high heeled shoes (my husband and my closet can attest to that) and I love getting dressed to go out to dinner and stay in a fancy hotel where I don’t have to wash the white (!) sheets and where we don’t have to share the bed with three dogs and the occasional cat.
But now I am getting out of the car and am finding Serenity on Serenity Acres Farm. It is in this very life with goats, dogs in the bed, dirt stained clothes, and a farm full of young people, that I’ve found Passion, Perseverance, and Pride. Where I have found Strength and Serenity. Where I have found Love, Laughter and the Circle of Life.
Not that farming is easy or cheap, there are no days off, the work is hard and the days are long. I’ve had to say good-bye to animals I love more times than I care to remember, and projects keep coming. Friends exist on Facebook only; vet and feed bills and need for equipment are staggering, and I have heard many times, especially from my parents, “why do you live in a shack like that?” “You went to school and got two masters degrees; do you want to throw it all away?”
The answer to that question is a resounding “YES”! I’ve worked in a job utilizing my two degrees for 28 years; I think I have done my college education justice. The truth is that both my husband and I still work off the farm, to allow us to farm. These last 8 years of pursuing my dream on the farm have changed me, and even when I leave the farm sometime in the future, I have learned many astonishing things about myself that include:
Don’t change your path without absolute passion. If you are not passionate about your dream, you will fail. Unwavering passion is the motivator to keep going, overcome hurdles and obstacles, win victories and provides the energy. I am passionate about mankind being the steward for our home, planet earth, and for all life on it; and for taking steps to reduce our foot print, and for leaving the earth a healthy environment for generations to come. This passion is what gives me the drive towards perfection in animal care, producing healthy foods, and producing products that are healthy for the body and the planet. This passion is what keeps me going for 16 hour days and 7 day weeks. This passion is what sends me down the road to entrepreneurship even though I hate sales and am a bit on the shy side.
I have found enormous mental strength through farm life. Taking care of other living beings forges a sense of commitment and a refusal to give up and without those, one cannot survive on a farm. I have found mental strength to deliver healthy goat babies at 2 a.m. after a long day on a farm and in the office; mental strength to refuse to give up on a very sick goat and seeing her through a long recovery; mental strength to know when it is time to say good-bye to end suffering; working in driving rain to dig trenches, and conquer fears of things unknown. This mental strength, built on the farm, carries over into other aspects of life with a new hopeful perspective: one where you don’t accept defeat, can and will deal with a crisis; where you don’t sweat the small stuff – dusting, clean house, fashionable clothes, knowing all the right commercials, drama at the office? Really? There are more important things in life – create life, maintain life, have a healthy planet and teach the following generations to care.
I have developed skills I never knew I was capable of, and which have given me confidence both on and off the farm to try new things and never say: I can’t. I have learned to wield a hammer; staple a fence; string barbed wire; birth a baby; turn milk, lye and oils into soap; turn milk into cheese and yogurt; plant a garden; drive a tractor; mow and drag a pasture; move sand; I have a good grasp on science; I grow and raise livestock and vegetables; and I can drive a huge truck with a 30 foot livestock trailer attached; I’ve successfully applied for a federal grant and won it! Only 1 in 7 farms are owned by woman and I am one of them. I can start a business and grow it.
The flipside, and not in a negative way, is that the need to acquire skills and knowledge on a daily basis, has given me the understanding that I don’t know it all and that I can’t do it all myself. The minute, no, second, when I think that I’ve mastered a skill, something happens on the farm that shows me otherwise. For example, a soap batch that I’ve made many times for a year, all of a sudden starts bombing, over and over. First comes the humility at having failed, then the perseverance to try again, and then the knowledge and pride in having it figured it out. Give yourself permission to fail.
The farm has given me physical strength and a fabulously healthy body. The active lifestyle is keeping me in shape. I walk miles a day, carry 50 pound feed bags, work with 200 pound goats, clean goat pens, push wheel barrels full of manure, carry water buckets, unload 75 pound hay bales, move feeders and stretch daily. I ace every physical test and just take the occasional Aleve. I don’t have to worry about my weight and can eat what I want. To keep the healthy body that the farm is giving me, I nourish it with the best and healthiest foods and products I can find or make myself. Vegetables from our garden or another farm. Homemade baked bread. Meat without antibiotics or hormones, our own eggs, soaps and lotions without cancer causing chemicals. I am not perfect, but that’s ok.
Serenity is knowing you are making a difference in your life and in others. Serenity is peace within the storm, but not from the storm. Serenity is giving it your best. This does not mean that I don’t have sleepless nights, I have plenty. I worry about the success of the farm, meeting deadlines, increasing sales, health of the animals, time for my husband. But I only worry so much. Serenity means for me that I’m exactly where I want to be and aiming exactly where I want to go, even if the path is not the straightest and there will be storms.
Stacked with Love, Laughter and Life
None of the above works without having love and laughter in your life. I have realized that strength, perseverance and passion will only take you so far if you don’t have the support of those who will be the wind beneath your wings. It takes a village to raise a child and it takes a farm family to run a farm. The farm family is not just your immediate family; here at Serenity Acres, my family is my husband, who is my rock; our interns who go beyond volunteering; our neighbors who help in projects and equipment, whether it’s at noon or midnight. The farm family is the one who shares in the vision to make the world a better one, one hoof print at a time. The farm family knows it’s ok to ask for help without expecting in return, that it’s ok to give without expecting in return. The farm family is the one who is the home away from home, who shares in the joy and sorrow, and who celebrates holidays with you. The farm family is the one who teaches you to think NEXT, who teaches you that everyone and everything has a purpose and value, and that nothing is as important as the team. The farm family is the one who shows you that you need to make time to watch the moon rise, cuddle a goat baby or practice cart wheels when nobody is looking.
Life and Farm Family also mean passing on the knowledge you gain and giving young people access to this life. Teaching farming, skills, determination and the attitude that anything they can set their mind to, they can accomplish; to understand why the environment and the earth have to be protected, the ethical way; that we farm so we can share healthy food and healthy products and at the same time be stewards of the land.
And here is the best part of this story: if I, at 56, a plucky, feisty female farmer, can embrace my unique vision of life and pursue it….. SO CAN YOU.
All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.