For years I’ve been growing vegetables and raising our animals on a farm owned by my wife’s parents. It has been a privilege, one I would wish on any young, aspiring farmer. The advantages of such a situation are enumerable. Farming under the eyes of people who have done it for decades, the use of equipment, a shoulder to cry on in hard times and someone with whom you can share triumphs, someone who has shed those same tears and had those same triumphs is wonderful. Getting a tractor stuck in mud up over the tires is terrible. But discovering that your father-in-law has done the same thing many times before and therefore knows exactly how to easily get out of the situation is humbleing and encouraging. There are so many ways in which I am and will forever be thankful for the experience I’ve had over the last decade.
But there is also something to be said for building your own farm from nothing. And I’m in the beginning stages of that now. My wife and I finally found a great place to start our own farm. After years and years of searching for the perfect farm land with a “fixer-upper” house, searching and failing, we decided to switch tactics and look for a house we could live in that had some land that could be made into farmland. Bingo! We found and moved into our new place and now begins the work of turning our mostly wooded ten acres into our mostly wooded ten acre farm.
The place we’re now making into a farm of our own is almost all woods. But there is a large clearing between the dirt road that leads to our driveway and the house. That’s where the first garden will go. I’ve set about clearing the weeds and saplings and plowing up the plot. And that leads to the heart of this post.
The work I’ve done so far has caused me to cast my mind back through the ages to think on all the farmers who came before me, particularly the many generations that came before the conveniences we have today. I mowed with my new BCS walk-behind tractor, gas powered. I plowed using my in-laws’ John Deere 3020 with a three board plow. And I’ve begun picking rocks with their John Deere bucket tractor.
How did you do it? If I ever get access to a time machine I’ll have only one stop to make. Any successful farm before the industrial revolution. And that’s the only question I’ll ask. How on Earth did they accomplish the tasks they did with the resources they had? It’s mind numbing to think about. These people often carved their farms out of wilderness, literally. But even more impressive they did it without the modern conveniences and harnessed power of the combustion engine. And they did it without flashlights or headlights shining on the field. If it didn’t get done by sunset they had to wait until the next day. And every ‘next day’ project brought them one day closer to winter when they might starve or freeze to death if they didn’t get enough food or firewood put up for the winter. And this says nothing of the families who went into the wilderness and had to carve out not only enough land to farm on but even enough space for a house, which they had to build by hand from the materials at hand. Amazing.
Picking rocks is incredibly hard work not matter how you look at it. Even with a powerful bucket tractor you’re still going to maintain a nice figure picking rocks. But the time I’ve spent doing so the last few days has increased my awe and respect for those who came before us who did all this with so much less. This sort of thought has a way of stifling complaints.
Of course, like our ancestors I’m not doing this alone. Humans long ago recognized the power of certain animals and also realized the potential benefit in harnessing that power. At our farm that means pigs.
I have nothing but respect for these animals and what they evolved to do, along with our ancestors who recognized how this power could be used advantageously on the small-scale farm.
Over the next few days I’ll continue to pick rocks and make piles from which to choose those needed for the many beautiful stone walls, steps and pathways I have tucked away in my grand vision of this place. I’ll continue to work to clear the saplings from the paddock the pigs just vacated. And then I’ll be planting cover crops and beging to shape beds and get ready for next spring’s planting season on our new farm. All the while I’ll be contemplating the enormity of the same task had I been doing it two hundred years ago. And paying my silent respect to all those that have come before me. Local food. Eat well – be well.