Musings: Life At The Farm Continues

Many lives have been changed by the SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) pandemic; some have argued that our lives will never be quite the same. Strangely, though, life here, now, hasn’t changed as much as it might otherwise have. Spring means new life, growth, and opportunities to learn.

Being a homesteader has proven very useful during these uncertain times: we cook most of our food, make our own bread, raise animals that provide eggs and meat, make our own wine. We’ve kept our guts (where an estimated 70% of the microbiota responsible for immunity live) healthy by making and consuming various probiotic foods, like fermented veggie (various krauts, pickles, and kimchi); live drinks like water kefir, milk kefir, and kombucha; and eating mostly whole, clean food (limited processed food, without additives like preservatives, fillers, colors, etc.).

Homemade sourdough bread – it’s fermented, too!

Keeping the farm running also means many opportunities to get a workout: daily activities like hand-pulling pasture greens for the pigs, pulling the cart loaded with feed buckets, water pails, chicks going out into tractors for the day…less frequent but strenuous tasks like mucking out the barn, cleaning the waterfowl coop, clearing swales of leaves that the wind has blown in, moving bales of hay, bringing in 50# bags of feed (we sometimes have as many as 20 of these bags to unload and place in our storage area, meaning we move 1,000# in that single feed run).

Raking and gathering hay is a good workout…and that hay comes in handy later!

Do we feel it afterward? Sure, DOMS happens, but I take comfort in knowing that we can still perform these tasks with minimal aftereffects…and that we’re not injured doing so. Functional fitness is key on the farm: an injured farmer still has to figure out how to get the animals fed, watered, moved (if needed), and secured in the evening because the animals depend on us, and failure to do so means they suffer or possibly die due to predation. That is a great deal of responsibility, but that’s how it goes; back in the pre-social distancing days, it meant leaving dinner parties to lock the animals up at dusk. Non-negotiable.

Sometimes, I marvel that I used to live a suburban (even urban) existence. Sure, there was more free time: on the weekends, I could count on having some “down” time, for catching up on shows, reading, hobbies, day trips…now, weekends are just like every other day, with the same chores to be done and farm-related projects and tasks to be completed. And vacations? Nope. Being away from the farm means entrusting the care of the animals to someone else, and I frankly don’t know anyone I’d consider outsourcing the responsibility to, even for a few days. Does it sound limiting? Sure, it is. but I accept the commitment in exchange for the rewards of farming: the fresh eggs, the bone broth, the time spent with the animals and outdoors, the exercise, and, perhaps most importantly, the satisfaction in knowing that we can feed ourselves, that we know how our food was raised and handled, and that we can run a small farm in a sustainable way that works respectfully and harmoniously with the environment.

Being prepared, being knowledgeable, and being capable are always useful attributes, but this pandemic has really illustrated how far removed many of us are from our food, from sustainable animal husbandry, and from doing things that challenge us, physically and mentally, on a regular basis. Homesteading and farming aren’t fads; regardless of the existence of the pandemic or any other crisis, being able to provide for at least some of your basic needs without relying on big businesses will always be important, for those who choose to lift the veil and see what could be. Complacency may easily fool people into thinking that they’re doing ok, that things will always be the way they are – until they aren’t. And it seems like that day may have arrived…when it’s good to be a farmer/homesteader.

It’s never too late to start taking steps toward becoming more self-sufficient. Make it a priority to learn new skills, including teaching yourself if mentors or teachers aren’t available to you. Find online communities for resources on raising animals, growing food, and other aspects of homesteading. Learn to appreciate whole foods and – importantly – learn to cook. Even if, someday, life returns to “normal”, the lessons from this pandemic experience should remain with us: the knowledge that life as we know it can be upended without warning, that fear-induced panic can make ordinary folk act irrationally (toilet paper hoarding??), and that the established food systems can break down. What better argument for being prepared can be made?