Written by Arlee Sheets.
Thinking about writing an article has led me down numerous avenues of thought. Giving customers a window into everyday occurrences in my life that are normal to me but foreign to them was a kernel of an idea. Life on our farm with its many daily repetitive idiosyncrasies seems foreign to many of our visitors (customers). It sparks their wonderment even further when I just shrug my shoulders and carry on with the task at hand. Pondering this, I began to think of the many things I do that are normal to me but unfamiliar to others. I wondered how it would be if I could go back to my grandfather’s young adult farm life. In observing him in his everyday chores, I am sure there would be the expected differences but also similarities.
Last year for a magazine I wrote about the beginnings of our local farmer’s round table and how it brought a sharing of ideas and thoughts to our locales. One of the effects has been an outpouring of support for a member who was hospitalized, leaving his wife with the burdens of spring farm work. Many members of the round table volunteered to help with her daily chores. A bee day was organized with many ready to help in the spring planting of their market garden. When I mentioned this to my father, his response was that this was normal back when he was a boy. Neighbors banded together always when a crisis hit a family farm, making sure the livestock was cared for or the field work done, etc. Even not in time of crisis the neighbors helped each other, especially during harvest. This was a normal occurrence, no special, but habitual.
At the last round table talk, we met to observe a member’s root cellar. This root cellar is utilized by six families in their neighborhood. Holding root vegetables throughout the winter at ninety-five percent humidity with a temperature just above freezing seems daunting to us, but it is normal for those involved. Potatoes harvested last September looked heavenly in mid-April. Amazingly this root cellar is only 10ft by 10ft with a 7 ft ceiling! Relying on a prefabricated cement telephone switching structure with modern Styrofoam insulation and lots of dirt. Their consumption of their own produce through winter months is normal.
In the spring of 2013 we held farm tours for 500 local city students. Spread over 4 days in groups of 75 or less, we showed what our little farm does in the spring. The children, from 4 to 9, kept rapt attention as we showed them numerous aspects of livestock, maple syrup, and vegetable production. The biggest excitement was getting the chance to hold a day-old chick, rivaling the tour of the sugar bush on a hay wagon pulled by our faithful Percherons. I think the most humorous question was “Where did you put the batteries for the horses?” The amazement was just as great in one class of grade 12 students as in the kindergarten class. What is normal for me is a total new world for them.
Now that spring is in full stride and the workload is doubling, everyday tasks are still the root of my schedule. The simple matter of harnessing a team of horses seems like a foreign ritual to a potential customer of mine. He was further amazed when I showed him my new Pioneer Homesteader multipurpose tool cultivator. His question was “Do you enjoy your new toys for your hobby?” I don’t know what he thought when I showed him my 100 year old riding row cultivator I used last year to cultivate 5 acres of corn twice. The simple matter of accomplishing farm tasks with draft horses is normal to me and I feel pangs of remorse when I hire the neighbors to break sod with their 25-foot disk and 200 hp Deutz tractor.
The easiest way to stop traffic on the road in front of our farm is to start cutting hay in the nearby field with the horses. This repetitive task of going around and around with lush green windrows left in an exhaust of patterns seems to be from another galaxy. Passers-by stop and snap numerous pictures with cell phones as I speak soft murmurs of encouragement to the three mares pulling the haybine. The increased connection to God’s creation I gain from this normal task is irreplaceable.
Recently in conversation, a regular customer asked if I had a new time management app for my smart phone. When I told him I didn’t have a cell phone, had no use for one, and didn’t foresee needing one, he couldn’t believe that I could live without one. It is such a relief to have that disconnection from the buzz of the modern world and just concentration the task at hand. Time does slowwwwww down in the mundane efforts of making a small farm successful. This everyday normalcy helps to inspire my continued efforts in being a farmer.
Frugality is a routine that has developed with the necessity of being a full-time small farmer. Three years ago, a small fencing company wanted to know if we could use some free firewood. Of course we took them up on their offer. The free firewood turned out to be two large hay wagon loads of rejected planking and studs. The free wood has never seen fire as now numerous renovation projects, construction projects, and honey-do imaginings have grown into fruition and completion. The only concern of the fence company was that I wouldn’t sell the free wood, and I very hastily relieved them that the wood would never leave my farm. This week we will use the last of it to make raised strawberry beds. With a work history as a diesel mechanic and a father who loves to construct with wood, no task on our farm is too daunting, whether it be repairing a burst water pipe or replacing a clutch in my daughter’s car. A good friend said I had multi-skill level qualifications. I just told him that was normal for a farmer.
I have eluded to the fact I don’t use cell phones and fumble with new technology. It was baffling to me how at such young ages both my daughters could navigate the computer. Texting, instant messaging, emails, social networking was foreign territory for me. In fact, only a couple of years ago I learned to copy and paste. “Girls!!” I would shout from the office, “How do I get this…done on this contraption?” “Why, Dad its easy, do it this way,” and their little fingers would fly over the keyboard. “Everyone knows how to do it,” as the would flounce away to return to their play. What was a normal undertaking for them was complete bafflement to me. As I observe the rush to smaller and faster technological devices used every day in our world, a recurring question comes to mind. “How do they expect me to use one when the buttons are too small for my large fingers?”
I once heard it takes 10000 hours of experience to master an artisan craft. Living the way I do, using tried and true methods of agricultural stewardship, a sense of contentment is building within me. With this is an increasing feeling of mastery that has become normal. Life will always be rewarding for me as I routinely expand my horizons of thought and experience. Now…if only I could figure out how to use a walking plow…that would be the pinnacle of success…hmmm…guess I will try again this year.