Them That's Doin': Homesteaders Earning a Living Off the Land

Roberta Hammer talks about earning a living off the land working a 24-acre farm, raising animals, and starting a garden nursery and landscaping business.
By Roberta Hammer
July/August 1971
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When Keith's not working at the nursery, building on the garage, gardening, or out on the tractor—and when I'm not cooking, cleaning, baking, freezing, canning, mulching, mowing, mothering, milking, feeding, watering, visiting, or writing—we try to remember last January and how bored we were cooped up in the house. 

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This year's gardens have been a little disappointing. We've had a strange season with no early rain (the seeds wouldn't germinate), then a lot of rain (the weeds grew 6 inches a day), then no rain again (the ground dried and cracked). But all our disappointment is not nature's fault. What we did, folks, was to bite off more than we could chew. We prepared too much garden, bought too many seeds, and spread ourselves too thin. If we had concentrated on less, we'd have had more return for our efforts. Keith's folks put up more food out of their tiny little garden in town than we can out of our half-acre mess. I guess you have to grow into being a gardener.

All is not failure, however! The weird weather must have been beneficial to potatoes, 'cause we have a LOT. Also we have good carrots, tomatoes and Jerusalem artichokes. And we have a healthy start on next year's strawberries and raspberries. But we're gonna stop saying that we're raising all our own vegetables until it just happens . , . until our soil has grown in fertility . . . until we have grown in knowledge and in stamina.

Right now we're planning a late garden of green beans, turnips, beets, lettuce, radishes and kohlrabi. They won't do very well unless there are good fall rains, but it seems worth the gamble.

The chickens brought us more disappointment this summer. Critters ate most of them. We just haven't learned the secrets of building an escape-proof chicken yard. But we refuse to be intimidated by the fox, weasel, raccoon or whatever and we've gone in with some neighbors to buy an incubator in order to hatch our own eggs. And we'll keep workin' on the chicken fences!

The rest of the poultry scene is looking up. The geese hatched and raised 9 goslings to maturity. The goose family has been so beautiful to watch—the parents guarding the young, signaling them to stay close together—all waddling in a group to the pond to swim. Everyone should have a goose family and absorb some goose-knowledge! We aren't farmer enough to EAT any of these geese we revere so highly but we can sell all we raise for $15 a pair at the city market.

We've bought ducklings to raise, too. They're brown with blue wing feathers and silly feathers sticking out on the backs of their heads. In trying to justify the purchase of the ducks (which we probably won't eat either) I will say that we expect to eat their eggs!

We're trying rabbits, too, and we'll see whether they prove to be pets or food. It seems that we're turning the HAVE–MORE plan into "have more mouths to feed".

We really believe that lower life forms are on earth to serve the higher, so we haven't any religious compunctions against killing animals for food. We do believe, however, that those who eat meat should take the responsibility for killing it. It's just that we aren't used to that end of the bargain yet . . . and after it's done, we haven't much appetite. This is probably our biggest problem of adjustment to farm life.

In the goat department, we sold our little buck cause (you guessed it!) we didn't want to eat him. Three of the does are OBVIOUSLY pregnant, so it looks like the time is coming when I'll have 4 goats to milk. We've had several people stop and ask to buy goat milk—a lot of ulcers around?—so we can probably sell our surplus. (Did you notice that I said "probably sell", not "will sell"... slowly I'm learning not to count the chickens before they hatch.)

We've built a big bio-dynamic compost pile of the manure we cleaned from a neighbor's barn and we've asked for cleaning-out "privileges" again. Pitching manure is about the hardest, grimiest, smelliest work we've ever done . . . but our soil needs it desperately. And our soil is where it's at!

Personally, our future economic independence depends on the state of our farm's soil. And in a broader sense, an ecologically-balanced soil is the basis for an ecologically-sound world. When you think of it that way, it's a little easier to fork the manure around. You can feel like you're sweating for the future of the world.

We've mapped out more or less definite plans for making our livelihood on this 24 acres. Those plans include a nursery and landscaping business and a greenhouse for growing and selling garden and bedding plants. Keith likes planting trees better than any job he's ever done, and he's learned what trees and shrubs are good for what purposes and locations. The first thing we have to do is order and plant a variety of seedling trees and bushes and get them started toward landscaping size. One important problem we'll have to solve is water . . . we'll need a big pond or a deep well for that.

When Keith's not working at the nursery, building on the garage, gardening, or out on the tractor—and when I'm not cooking, cleaning, baking, freezing, canning, mulching, mowing, mothering, milking, feeding, watering, visiting, or writing—we try to remember last January and how bored we were cooped up in the house. 

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