I’ve encountered the oddest idea lately – that farmers have the winter off because there isn’t anything to do on a farm in the winter when no crops are growing. You know, like how teachers have the summer off. What those of you who don’t happen to have experience with farms don’t know is how hard all of the other readers who DO have experience with farms are laughing right now after having read that first sentence. Just give them a minute to catch their breath and we’ll go on…
Winter on a farm is when you do all the work that doesn’t have anything to do with actually plowing, planting, tending, and harvesting crops. It’s when you do all the things you don’t have time to do in the summer. This winter’s list for Healing Springs Acres was full: renovate a barn, build chicken coops, set out mushroom logs, build a rainwater collection system, and install solar panels on the renovated barn.
One of the things my ex-wife was always the most right about was the multiplication factor by which she adjusted my estimations of how long a given task, process, project, or function would take. Let’s just say that I’m usually a bit over ambitious about how quickly I can get something done, or how much I can get done in a given time frame. If I recall correctly she multiplied by three. If I said it would take 30 minutes – whatever “it” was – she would count on an hour and a half and not really begin to consider than anything had gone wrong unless it took significantly longer than that.
OK, this winter’s project list might have been a little ambitious for one person with too little funding…
Then, of course, there’s also Maslow. His hierarchy asserts that one’s basic needs for shelter, safety, and security jealously trump all aspirations for higher order productivity. In my experience, he was right.
Late last fall we began setting up a trailer on the farm as a temporary shelter until something more permanent can be built. I have a friend in Texas who has had an entire house built from scratch in less time than it has taken to get this trailer set-up and ready to satisfy the county. There are still a couple of repairs that need to be completed before the plumber can finish. I was explaining to a friend that I’d been waiting on dry enough weather to get back into where the trailer is to finish it and she just laughed as she said, “Welcome to farming!”
Unfortunately all of the other higher order projects depend on having power to run tools (for the most part). Power depends on the trailer. All of the electrical work is done. The transformer is set and, the meter boxes are wired, and the trailer is connected. All that has to happen to have power at the farm is for the county to decide that it’s all OK. So, the plumber and I wait for things to dry out a bit and all the other projects wait for the most basic needs of shelter and power. Welcome to farming.
There has been progress though, even if not as much as I might have projected or preferred. Two of the most vital issues that had to be resolved for me to move onto the farm and increase the productivity over previous years were shelter and transportation. With only a few weeks’ exception, the need for shelter at the farm has been met. Power and water follow along with shelter. The mushroom logs will be inoculated the second week of March and symbolize the beginning of a cash crop to help offset expenses with farm based income. If you’ve followed previous blog posts you’re familiar with the saga of trying to solve the problem of suitable farm/family transportation. That need has been met as well.
I finally resolved the NC title issues with my old ’77 Volkswagen camper and traded it for a new old truck (2001 F150XLT 4×4 Super Cab). It will haul everything important; both the food we grow to give away, and my daughters when they are with me.
Along with the new old truck, I got a nice dual chamber barbecue smoker. The smoker was just an added bonus in the deal and rather serendipitously provides a solution to two conundrums I’ve been pondering since this journey began. How does Healing Springs Acres go from being a project to being a community – without a bunch of people moving to Healing Springs? And, how do churches relate to the farm in a financially supportive way without cannibalizing their budgets?
That’s where the smoker comes in. I’ve already booked a couple of BBQ fundraisers for the farm which are being hosted by congregations. Within an hour or two of the farm, I can show up early with the smoker, have BBQ ready for a Wednesday night fellowship meal or other special event, and bring something of the farm to the congregation. I’m betting that if the BBQ’s good, I can find a handful of churches which will welcome some variation of this once or twice a year.
The BBQ fundraiser provides funding in the form of money that would have been spent for food anyway (who’s not gonna eat some good BBQ every now and then…?), without taking money from the church’s mission budget. I also assume that these regular annual, or semiannual, visits would inspire occasional crews for workdays at the farm. The doing of it regularly nurtures an ongoing relationship in which the congregation can become truly aware of, connected to, and involved in the ministry of the farm.
Chicken coops and a rainwater collection system would have been nice to have this spring, but they weren’t critically necessary items. We may not have accomplished three times as much as would be reasonable to expect for an underfunded operation, but we did solve the critical problems. Moving onto the farm with power, water, and a decent farm truck will allow us to tend twice as much land this year as last. The ability to irrigate will make all of the land we tend more productive than last year. That’s progress – and I’ll take it. Please forgive me though if I continue to project three times as much progress as is fiscally possible. It’s just what I do…
Winter is a time of dying. The cycle that feeds the earth – and thereby all of us – cannot continue without the death and decay of last year’s growth. The soil is amended by reclaiming the life it produced. It is made ready to produce the new life of the coming spring.
Winter is also the time of Lent. I did not grow up in a liturgically minded tradition, but I have come to appreciate the work of dying necessary to the Lenten journey. The dying of ambitious striving to make a way for satisfaction with the accomplishments which bring new life.
Part of what is still slow to die in me is the idea of self contained sufficiency in this project. To those of you who have already chosen to be part of the community of support for the ministry of Healing Springs Acres, thank you. Thank You. Thank You. Thank You!
Spring is coming. May we all finish our winter work to make way for spring’s new life…