How I’ll do XYZ farm task differently when I own my own farm someday.
STORY BY MORGAN HOUK
ILLUSTRATION BY SONYA MONTENEGRO
At 7:30 this morning, I felt great about my last-minute decision to pull on long underwear. Standing in the kale beds that we’re over-wintering for early spring brassicas, I could no longer feel my fingers. Even while I tried to pick only the plants touched by the first trace of sun, the wet, just-above-freezing kale only allowed my fingers to accomplish the repetitive task at hand: crack, bunch, twist. Meaning, the call from Chris, with notes on how many bunches of beets to pack for market and the final wholesale orders for Friday, had to live in my brain, because penciling them into my pocket notebook was an unthinkably demanding task at present.
That pocket notebook was a Christmas gift from my cousin, Kelly, who made everyone in the family these decoupage notebooks with phrases outlining our basic personality traits. They sat in a drawer for several years, but since neither my mother nor I can throw out anything possibly useful, the stack of notebooks lay waiting for the perfectly sized side pocket of my Carhartts.
I’ve worked through my “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” and my dad’s “Gone Fishin’” notebooks. I’m scribbling on the last few pages of the graph-paper notebook designed for my engineer mom. They’re now filled with a vegetable ratatouille of harvest quantities, wholesale leads, and staccato thoughts on how I’ll do XYZ farm task differently when I own my own farm someday. It’s so easy to conjure up daydreams of detailed harvest regimens and orderly invoicing procedures, especially when, as a farm employee, I’m not the boss yet.
This past weekend, Nico and I may have visited The One. The farm. My farm. Where I’m the boss. Maybe best described as a compromise between our budget and our “wish list.” Imagine, a picturesque five acres of sandy loam, an antique farmhouse cared for by a family for nearly 50 years, a year-round creek, greenhouses, and — get this — the woodshop of Nico’s dreams.
It’s less acreage than we imagined and farther from work than we hoped, but we’re renovating the kitchen and laying out crop rotations in our minds. We’ve been here before, though. There’s always the inevitable big fat BUT, looming in our farm search.
Turns out that before the sweet couple who raised their five kids in our family’s future home can move out, they have a “wish list” as long as we do for their next home. Who knows when they’ll be ready to sell? We’ve learned to hope for the best, but we’ve braced ourselves to be crushed. Again.
The long farm hunt has allowed me a lot of time to consider my self-employment farmer dreams. And as an over-thinker of both big life choices and what to make for dinner, I’ve put myself through some self-confidence ups and downs. Some days, I come home thinking, “I’ve got this! I’m a farming goddess who will change the world, one pasture-raised chicken and heirloom tomato at a time!” And other days, I tell myself I’m an ignorant wimp of a wannabe farmer.
I’m coming to terms with my stereotyped concern that I must master everything about farming before I venture out on my own. This is a ridiculous notion for any farmer to consider. It’s impossible to know everything. Right? Irrigation systems and tractor mechanics make my head spin, but I move nimbly through QuickBooks and post-harvest handling procedures. Thinking about what I don’t know and the mistakes just waiting for me to make, still make my stomach curdle.
Thankfully, today was a farming goddess sort of a day, even given my defrosting fingers. Our dinner dishes are still in the sink, but I’ve cozied up with the dogs on the couch, and it looks like a clean kitchen isn’t in the cards tonight. I’m reading an ambitious tome of a biography on Teddy Roosevelt, and when the politics of our first national parks inevitably lulls me into sleep, I hope I dream about my future farmhouse — not the long list of icy vegetables ripe for picking in the morning.
Morgan Houk is a full-time farmer and financial consultant for fellow farmers and foodie entrepreneurs. She’s online at www.fishingdogconsulting.com and @fishingdogfarm.