Two nights ago my mom left a message on my voicemail:
**sigh** Your father’s crying. One of his favorite pigs just died, the coyotes killed another lamb last night, and one of the ewes delivered a set of twins that were so huge, the second one died before we could pull it. **sigh** I’ve been mowing all day, and I’m too damned tired to do a thing about it.**click.**
After spending a day in the full sun battling weeds, covered in scratches and sweat, so was I. I deleted the message and slammed the receiver down. Adding to my despair was the fact that I’d spent the last four years nursing along recalcitrant blueberry bushes that looked beautiful two weeks ago. A visit to their part of the garden a few hours earlier led to my discovery that two of them were dead, two mostly dead and one was dying. When I came inside to express panic, frustration, and woe, Bob’s ears were completely unsympathetic. One of his bee hives was swarming for the sixth time in 5 days, and he was seriously considering lighting fire to the boxes and walking away.
That’s farm drama. It happens every other week during the growing season, every few hours during lambing season (which is now) and haying season (which is starting). If any of us truly sought sympathy, we would be wasting time seeking it from each other, much less any other farmer. This degree of failure is just part of the day for folks like us, and any sad stories are likely to be easily one-upped by the next farmer.
If pity is truly what we need, we seek out the non-farmers…those folks living at a safe distance from the vicissitudes of nature who will reward our tales of woe with gratifying looks of horror, hugs of sympathy, and encouraging hyperbolic platitudes complimentary of our heroic vocation: Thank heaven there are people like you in this world who can do this kind of work. The rest of us are counting on you. We owe you so much. If there is anything we can do to help, tell us.
Maybe that all sounds hokey, but that’s powerful medicine. Sometimes it is all we need to hear in order to climb up to bed, utter prayers of gratitude for all things still living, and start fresh in the morning. This is part of the beauty of our slowly de-centralizing food system. A few years back, the industrialized food system left us farmers detached from the rest of the culture. Transport and processing systems kept us far away from the people who ate our food and depended on us. Our relationships were more homogenous: Many farmers socialized only with other farmers, and the natural annual cycles of the work meant that many were emotionally and physically isolated from each other all at the same time. That doesn’t bode well for mental health and safety.
We talk about the benefits of a local food system because the farmer gets a fair return for their labor; because non-farmers are able to get fresh, local, more nutritious food; because our local biodiversity is improving. But one of the best parts is that, as we localize our food, everyone grows closer to the land. Everyone becomes keenly aware of the dramatic events that play out in the course of growing supper for the table. Not everyone may put their hands in soil or inside the birthing canal of a sheep. But because of the local food movement, everyone in a community is now playing a part in growing the food. That sure makes my days a lot easier.
Shannon Hayes: People ask me, “How do you do it all?” The answer is, I don’t … and there’s a good reason for that.
It begins with small farms working with natural cycles and ends with fresh food and stronger communities.
Scarcity of certified processing facilities is one reason the meat industry is so consolidated—so farmer Bruce Dunlop invented a mobile slaughterhouse.