To be a real farmer

Its close to bed time as I’m writing this, but this post has been building for some time and I think I need to hash it out before sleep.

The last two months I have been working nose-to-grindstone, fast-and-furious, burning-the-candle-at-both-ends, insert any other phrase to say I’ve been working a lot, and really, at times, too much.

A combination of too many commitments, all of which I like, came crashing down on my head starting in April. I’m still catching up, weeding out the things that are not so precious to me, and trying to find time to, well, exhale and sit.

Now add a fierce and long winter followed by a long delayed and mucky spring and you have Spring 2014.

Talking to other farmers makes me feel better. Today, honestly for the first time in at least 6 weeks, I finally looked at the blogs of my favorite flower farmers and the flower farming groups I belong to on Facebook. I’ve been avoiding them, truthfully. I had to stop because I couldn’t stop the guilt train riding me down and squashing whatever farming self-esteem I’d mustered. But today I looked and realized, no, I’m not the only one. Everyone is behind, and not in a pat-on-the-back, its not you its all of us way. Literally, 2-4 weeks is the delay we’re all facing, at least in the northeast.

So the last two months, I’ve been digging, tilling, planting, composting, instructing, harvesting, and during the time when I can slow down and the crews are quiet and working to their own thoughts, my mind contemplates this question:

What would a real farmer do? What is it to be a real farmer? Can I call myself a farmer now that I do it full time (and most weeks, far more than full time)?

This all started with a vole. A mama vole to be specific.

I left some transplants outside to harden off (and to await my bed prep). Mysteriously. Snip. Snip. Snip. Several of my flower seedlings disappeared.

I discovered the culprit when I moved said trays and found a nest of voles, including tiny, hairless babies, under my trays. Lining their nest with my plants.

Farmer dilemma.

Luckily I had the support of my coworker. We stood over the nest. What would a real farmer do? I knew they were pests. Killing my plants. But in the end, we scared mama away, carefully removing her babies to a new nest. More voles followed.

The question remained, what is it to be a real farmer?

I worked through rain until I was soaked to the skin (is this what a real farmer should do?)

I took too long to make my beds (what would a real farmer done instead?)

I said yes when I should have said no to commitments (does a real farmer do that?)

I rose with the sun when I needed to sleep (when does a real farmer work?)

I dreamed about farming when I wasn’t at the farm (what does a real farmer dream about?)

I thought about the farmers I knew, how they learned, the mistakes they made. I thought about how with farming, I had only dipped my toes in before I decided to jump into the depths, without knowing fully if I could swim.

I realized: a real farmer farms. Tries their best and still fails sometimes. Makes hard decisions based on their own experience and what they believe is right. And lives with the consequences. Wakes up each day not necessarily fresh and excited, but when they touch the soil know their heart ultimately beats there.

This is what is to be a real farmer. To love the soil, sun, rain, wind, and growing things. To care for something. To produce for others. Everything and nothing more.