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Finding the Farm

pastureentrance

  

In the stilled place that once was a road going down

from the town to the river, and where the lives of marriages grew

a house, cistern and barn, flowers, the tilted stone of borders,

and the deeds of their lives ran to neglect, and honeysuckle

and then the fire overgrew it all, I walk heavy

with seed, spreading on the cleared hill the beginnings of green, clover and grass to be pasture.  Between

history’s death upon the place and the trees that would have come

I claim, and act, and am mingled in the fate of the world.

 

“Sowing” by Wendell Berry

 

Going through some old posts the other day I stumbled upon my original farm-related entry, a first attempt at capturing the thrill of possession just weeks after we had closed the deal, as I was steaming across the Pacific Ocean on the first leg of a 6-month deployment.  Still in shock that we’d actually made it all happen.  Savoring the feeling of groundedness and promise amidst the clamor and bustle of life on a warship.  From March, 2006:

 

This is the last few feet of the road up to the pastures – the heart of the farm. You can see the grassy hill swelling up past the trees, past the gate, and the distant treetops peeking over, marking the far edge of this central pasture.

 

Even now as I look at this photo, I can remember standing there, bundled up in the 30-degree cold, feeling the forest surround me, the quiet winter-hushed Kentucky hills stretching away on all sides, neighbor’s farms well hidden in the adjoining hollows, and thinking how very wonderful it would be to own this. To become related to this place, to follow my dreams, to work as hard as I want, to live my days out here.

 

That morning it was just a shimmering, tantalizing possibility. I had traveled back to this beautiful area with two good possibilities picked out from my exhaustive Internet search, to find my farm. I knew this with my whole heart.

 

And though my husband does not exactly share my passion for the life of a farmer, neither does he discourage it in me. In fact I’d say he respects it very much. He knew why I went there. He knew I would find my farm. And he had already decided once I’d made my choice, we would take action.

 

I didn’t know that yet, that morning. I was just acting on this impulse that has powered me since childhood, and trusting that it wasn’t going to fling me over a cliff and break my heart. Trusting this identity that I am both once again, and finally, stepping into like a pair of well-worn jeans. I am and have always been a farmer. Just never had a farm.

 

And so I walked up this road, and walked the pasture edges of this farm with my camera in hand, the cold January wind numbing my hands and my face out in the open of the pastures. I stepped into the woods, warmed suddenly by the lack of wind, and felt the hush of the bare trees, the forest floor thickly carpeted with fallen leaves, the thin grey winter sun streaming through the branches. I walked for three hours, from one end of it to another. I turned and squinted and tried to estimate how large the pastures were, and I stopped in several spots to imagine a house here, or there – was the sun the right direction? Would it be protected from the wind?

 

Then I went back down the hill, and sat and talked with Bobby and Alene for another two hours. They took a liking to me, I could tell that right away. They liked that I was in the Navy, and I felt they were proud of that. I told them why I wanted a farm, why it was important to me, and we talked about cattle and sheep and chickens and the tobacco Bobby’s family had raised there when he was a kid. He was born and raised on this farm.

 

I told them I would have to wait 6 years before I could retire and come live there. They spoke about their children and grandchildren in Oklahoma, and their other family in Florida, and made it clear they hadn’t really decided which direction they would move, if at all. They liked living in Kentucky just fine, they said. I told them it would work well if they wanted to stay for a time, to take care of the place. We talked pleasantly, not making any promises, since I was just there looking, like other people had been, and didn’t know if I would be able to make an offer.

 

We talked slowly, and quietly. We talked about the war, a little, and about the economy, and about farming. They showed me the rooms of the house, and I went out with Bobby to look at the shop, and the tractor. I complemented him many times on how well he had taken care of the pastures, and how solid and well-built the fences and gates were. He was pleased to hear that, I could tell. This old man, stout as a barrel, hard of hearing, labored of breath – this man cared for this property as though it were his childhood home, because it was. And I recognized that, and thanked him for his efforts, and I could tell, the deal would be made.

 

And it seemed to make no difference whatsoever to him that I was a girl.

 

I may tell the rest of the whole story at a later date. But now I owe answers to your questions, or I will never be able to catch up.

 

Some of you want to know, “What type of farm is this? Dairy, agricultural … or horses?”

 

Well right now, it’s a low-maintenance pastured livestock farm; Bobby only runs about 25 head of Angus feeder steers on it each summer and has a neighbor cut hay once or twice. There are dairy farms in the area, but dairying is a labor intensive and complex operation, even on a small scale.

 

In a nutshell, my farming will be small-scale, diversified, and follow sustainable organic principles. Bearing in mind I won’t have to pay a mortgage or feed six hungry children with the profits (nor will I have their help with chores!), I will probably start with a small herd of grass-fed beef, a small flock of sheep, perhaps a small milk cow or goat, a few chickens, a few laying ducks, raise a hog for the freezer, and of course grow fruits and vegetables. The main intent will be to feed ourselves and make enough profit on the excess to pay for supplies, vet visits, and such.  Those of you who know me won’t think that sounds like too much work at all. 

 

One of the first things I’ll do once I get there will be to buy my team of Suffolk Punch horses, some basic horse-drawn implements, and learn to work them. This could take several years. (That should spawn a whole rash of questions which I am perfectly willing to answer – please ask!) I should be able to eventually raise an acre or two of corn, and oats, and other livestock feeds, and I will practice rotational grazing by subdividing the pastures into several-acre paddocks, and move the cattle and sheep and horses and chickens between them to maximize the forage health. I will improve my pastures by spreading manure and minerals, overseeding, and managing the grazing levels. The ponds will be stocked with fish, providing yet another source of meat.

 

The double-wide trailer home will be an excellent transition residence while the timberframe-and-log house is being built up on top. I will want a barn and perhaps some outbuildings built up there as well, so I’ll need to be there on scene to oversee the work and perhaps do a portion of it myself. We anticipate that D will remain in San Diego at his job as long as possible, and I will move to The Farm a few years earlier, once I retire to get things started. The sale of the house in San Diego will cover the construction of the buildings and any startup costs I’ll have such as livestock and farm implements.

 

Once The Farm is up and running, my retirement check should cover operating expenses, and in a few years the critters should about pay for themselves…

 

And so the dream began, three years ago.  I am still awestruck at my good fortune in finding this property, having the leverage from our San Diego home to pay for it by refinancing the mortgage (surely couldn’t do that now!), having the support and complicity of my life partner as I leapt off the cliff in pursuit of my life-long dream, and most importantly, in having been blessed with this lovely old country couple who were content to remain in place after selling it to us, and take care of it until I can get there.

 

God has surely smiled down on little Thistledog.  And now the Suffolks are a reality, thanks to good people who were willing to help with a plan to give me a head start with them.  Lordy, I surely could not be more blessed.

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