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For the past 20 years, we have been both farming and raising children. I’ve come to the conclusion that these two endeavors have a lot in common. Here are some of my basic tenets of farm-rearing.
Just when you think you have something figured out and under control, it all changes. I listen patiently while Steve expresses strongly a conclusion he has reached about growing a certain vegetable. It is the absolute opposite of the conclusion he strongly expressed about that exact thing a few months before.
You give it everything you’ve got, and it still wants more attention. The work of farm-raising is never done, and we live with our work all the time. Steve’s one day off per week evaporates during the summer, and we just can’t manage to get it back. Each year we try to figure out a solution to this during the slower winter months, but once the season gets going, family time and free time too often become casualties of the farm.
You do your best to raise wonderful fruits and vegetables, and still they will manage to embarrass you in public. I beam as a farmers’ market customer glowingly praises the strawberries he has just bought from me. He takes a bite out of a large scrumptious-looking berry and finds a live earwig inside.
It helps to have a healthy interest in insects. Sure, some creepy crawlies still make us a little queasy. But as any kid could tell you, bugs are fascinating creatures if you watch them closely enough. We may as well learn to appreciate them, because they are an important part of the farm biosystem.
It is hard to entrust the care of your farm to anyone else. We are lucky to have several wonderful farm helpers so that we can take an occasional vacation. Still, it sometimes seems to take weeks to get back on track when we come home.
Every farm is an individual, with individual qualities, needs, and reactions. When we acquired our property on Lewis Road, we were once again in the position of applying our knowledge to a new “child.” We learned that the things that worked for one piece of farmland didn’t necessarily work for another. As much as we tried to do our research and apply the “right” methods to suit this farm’s particular needs, it still seemed that a lot of what we learned was through trial and error.
Year after year, your farm teaches you new things; it develops its personality as it changes and adapts to your care. After 17 years with us, our home farm is maturing into a responsible, more predictable, entity. It still throws us for a loop now and then, but Steve has learned to work with its different soil types, slopes, and weed seed banks on all the different parts of the farm. .
Sometimes the farm is not picture perfect. Like children who are regressing before a major developmental breakthrough, the farm can sometimes look like a mess. Fortunately, the farm landscape changes weekly (sometimes to the disappointment of the children, who find cover crop “nests” or favorite foraging crops mowed down.)
There will always be things that are out of your control. Growing vegetables are constantly subject to pressures from the outside world—weeds, insects, diseases, changes in weather. We do our best to protect and nurture them so that they can be strong enough to handle what the environment throws at them.
Mistakes are a wonderful opportunity to learn. Often we need to revise our expectations of a given crop, or even completely change our strategies. But it’s best to look on every failure as a new opportunity to do better in the future.
*This article was originally run on Sep 14, 2011. The measurement of years and use of tenses have been updated to reflect the passing of time.
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