Thursday, January 9, 2014

Farming, Together

The cold weather had us in a little bit of a slump. We don't usually mind it, I almost like it- but the work of keeping the house warm, the livestock safe, and some other non-farm things we were just kind of grumpy. It happens to the best of us, I suppose. We spent the day working on the next CSA delivery, rendering lard, making rounds of pizza dough, taking freezer inventory etc. We caught up on office work, filled out forms for bulk purchases, started looking for some must-have equipment. All in all, it was just an unremarkable day. So many times I feel like I can wax poetic about the drearier aspects of farming, the weight of a shovel full of manure and what not- but some days are just drudgery, and that's okay. It makes the other days shine a little brighter. But then we got a little out of comfort zone, and I left the slump behind.

We're lucky enough to live within a prominent farming community. There are a lot of opportunities to collaborate and share experiences with other farmers. In the winter, there is a group called the Farmers Research Circle, which examines different subjects based on reading, experience, or experts. Last night's topic was "Couples in Farming". So after the day's work wrapped up, and against our own sluggishness, we bundled up and headed down to the FRC, just for a change of pace. Folks don't always believe me when I say it, but we are both kind of socially introverted. We like spending time with people, but we also can be a bit reclusive, preferring a quiet night in over much else. We don't know the FRC group really well, other than a select few, but the topic caught our interest.

It was all unexpected. Here we were, sitting in a room with couples who had been co-farming and married for 30+ years. I haven't met many couples married that long, let alone married and working together that long. The conversation was really engaging, with folks sharing how they saw there relationship as an asset to their farming, and how working together changed their relationship. They talked about raising children, finding time to not-farm, being successful, and resolving conflict. It just really resonated with me.

When customers, acquaintances, friend etc find out we work all day together, there is usually only one reaction. An exclamation, really, of "I could never do that, don't you get sick of each other?!" It rarely varies. The short answer is, no. We live and work together, but the days are long and we spend huge parts of our time apart on various projects at separate ends of the farm. The time when we are working together, the focus is usually the work. There is no one on earth I trust more implicitly then Kim, whose judgement I respect more, or whose input I find more valuable. It makes the hard, crazy moments more manageable to know that we are really, truly, in it together.

"Don't you fight?"
Yup. We do. Not all that often, and only if one of us really feels like it's worth it to have a difficult conversation right that moment. It's got to at least feel important enough to go to a place of argument. More often then not, we have a heated discussion, someone offers a course of action to solve a problem, and the other person backs down. There is no where to go when it gets rough. You can go cool off at another part of the farm, but this is both all we have- we want to work it out. We want to succeed, so you learn to figure out to speak honestly, a little more gently and then just let it go. And one of our biggest struggles this year was the vegetable production. It was so difficult to make a success that it caused tensions between us- another factor in deciding to scrap it for right now. We both are passionate, strong willed, stubborn people. That's why we are good at what we do, and the price of admission is worth it. 

A theme that kept arising in last nights conversation was the idea that we, as a society have become so estranged from all of our animal instincts, including the act of companionship. We're never alone now, with technology- you can reach anyone, any information, at any hour of the day. But that's different then living, working, loving another human, who you depend on for your survival. The survival of our farm, our livelihood, our dinner, our heat- depends on each other. And I'm grateful for that because it allows us to interact in a way that is both tangible and profoundly inexplicable. The farm physically can not survive without the two of us, working. And it wouldn't exist without both of our dreams, and our relationship together.

I know that this life isn't for everyone, or believe that every relationship would thrive in these close quarters. And I don't think one way of life is better than another. I'm not assigning a value. But I'm so glad for our life together, including working to build a business together. I love being a hub of family and friends, where we get relatives kids off the bus, can schedule in a mid-day hospital visit, and sit and drink coffee, or eat dinner at 9pm because that's what the day allowed for. I love knowing that my wife is as invested in our success as I am, that this is truly the product of both of our passion. I love knowing that as a co-worker, she won't write me off, that our relationship is such that we must respect each other's opinions, there is no HR rep to intervene. She is my wife first, and our relationship has grown as we work full time together. 

We live in this world that is so about individuality, notions of success tied up in money, going with what's convenient over what is of higher quality. Having a strong sense of self is admirable, as is financial stability. And it's ok to take a short-cut here and there. But when those become the only values, I think we miss things. It's unusual to work full time with our spouse. But I get to spend time with the person I love most, and I get to think the good of the whole (farm) along with my own needs. It's an amazing thing. As hokey as it may sound, I feel wealthy beyond measure. And after a day of the mundane, it certainly feels a lot more remarkable. 

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