Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Why do we do it?

 Inca rainbow corn from our garden
We had an open farm day last weekend, and I got that same old question that I always get from people who have just met me. Why do we do all of this? You might think that I have a great answer, perfectly packaged in twenty words or less, but I don't.

We originally moved out here for lots of reasons -- to grow our own food organically, to raise rare breeds of livestock in danger of extinction, to have a real reason to get out of bed in the morning, to give our children a meaningful life with real responsibility. I suppose I could sum it up by saying that we moved out here because it's real. There is no fast food or contrived exercise on a treadmill. Our children have had real responsibility. They've brought baby animals into this world, and they've seen animals die. But now that my children our growing up and going to college, why don't we just move back to the burbs and shop at Whole Foods and farmer's markets? After all, I've been diagnosed with arthritis, and someone winds up in the emergency room at least once a year because of accidents that never would have happened in the safety of the burbs. Why stay?

Because I love my life out here, and rather than finding reasons to leave, I keep finding more reasons to stay. My arthritis is much better when I'm outside working. Sitting in front of a computer is my body's worst enemy. As I get older, the weight bearing exercise -- carrying fifty-pound feed bags -- is a good way to protect myself from osteoporosis. Switching from a vegetarian diet to one with free-range, organic meat has raised my HDL cholesterol, making my ratio even better for warding off heart disease. Losing twenty pounds six years ago made my knees much happier, and they've been a problem my entire life, because I was born with birth defects in both of them and had three surgeries as a teenager. So, there are lots of scientific, quantifiable reasons to stay here. Sure, plenty of people live in cities, eat healthy and exercise, but I was never able to keep up an exercise routine when we lived in the burbs.

I have never loved a treadmill or free weights, but I love my goats. They are real. I have to milk them. I have to chase after them sometimes. I have to run from the house to the barn when I realize one of them is in the middle of giving birth. I have to carry the fifty-pound feed bags from my car to the barn. Some people might say that it's a lot of work, but a wise person once said that if you love what you do, you'll never work a day in your life.

A guest on Saturday said that whenever you have to do something day after day, it becomes work -- like a professional football player. It might be fun to play ball with your friends on the weekend, but when you have to do it every day, it's your job. I didn't have an answer at the moment, but I've been thinking about his comment for three days. Why don't I feel like this is a lot of work? Because this is real. Playing football every day is not real. It's contrived. There is not a real reason to take care of thousands of chickens all day. One family does not need thousands of chickens. No one is raising those birds for any reason other than money. Milking goats and making cheese all day long would be a job. A lot of people have told me I should have a restaurant, but cooking for a hundred or two hundred people every day would be a job.

Another guest on Saturday told me that she grew up on a farm, and they originally had chickens running around free range. When they moved to the cage system of raising chickens, her mother no longer liked it and wanted out of the business. Whenever someone tells me that they worked on a chicken farm or grew up with chickens and they hate them, I don't even have to ask what type of system they had. It's always been a cage system with thousands of chickens in buildings. It's hot and stinky, and what joy is there in tending thousands of birds 365 days a year?

This is real. We are growing food to feed our family. We have chickens for eggs and meat. We have goats for our dairy needs. We have sheep for meat and wool. We have turkeys and pork for meat. The llamas protect the other animals and also give us fiber. Next spring, the cows will start to give us milk. We have a garden where we grow vegetables that you can't find in a store. Every day is different. Some are filled with joy and others with heartbreak, but every day is filled with real life. I'm not doing anything here solely to make money.

Money defines a job. I don't get paid a penny to make cheese or cook from scratch or milk the goats. I'm doing this because I believe in it. We became vegetarians in 1989 because we thought the factory farm system of raising meat animals was unhealthy and ethically wrong. We've been eating organically for just as long. I make cheese because it's the best-tasting cheese I've ever eaten. I cook from scratch because it's delicious and healthy. I milk my goats because you can't buy Nigerian dwarf goat milk anywhere in the state of Illinois. I grow Inca rainbow corn, blue potatoes, and Amana orange tomatoes because you can't buy them in a store -- and Amana orange tomatoes make the most delicious creamy tomato soup in the world. We grow our own pork because no one grows free-range pork around here, and I've never heard of anyone feeding them nuts and milk, which creates the most delicious pork imaginable.

So, how do I sum up all of this into a neat little package of twenty words or less, so I can give a quick answer to the next person who asks me why we do this?


Mama Pea said...

Okay, so it's probably impossible to answer the question, "Why do you do this?", in 20 words or less. But you did it eloquently in this post. Perhaps you should print it out to hand to people when they ask. It would give them food for thought.

In our society we have gotten so far away from living any kind of a "real" life. Returning to same is the only thing I feel will save us. Artificial, contrived lifestyle gives no sense of personal satisfaction and leads to diseases of the body and soul.

Geesh. Those are my heavy thoughts for the morning. :o)

Anonymous said...

Because it's good for your Soul!

Great post.

Wishing I were you

Chicken Momma said...

I think you gave the quick answer near the end when you said "..because I believe in it".

I love your blog and am always excited to see a post from you in my reader.

Thank you for reminding me why I do this too.

LindaG said...

Very well said. :)
That's why we are moving to a farm. To try and do all those things. He may not want goats, and I would be clueless how to get or what to do with fiber, but any part of that will be a start. :)
Great words!

Tifany said...

Yes Deborah! Excellent post, and summed up so many of my thoughts and beliefs as well. My five year old has seen lambs been born, and had animals die. He understands where his food comes from (helped pluck a turkey last week) and is not grossed out or "freaked" by it. It's a life that takes a lot of work, but gives back a lot of happiness. Thanks for a great post, and I think I might just have to link to it because I could not have said it any better!

Anonymous said...

Thank you. I feel like you are speaking eloquently for me.

Anne said...

Beautifully expressed. I have a mini hobby farm, and find it very satisfying. I'm raising more of my own food each year, raising chickens for eggs and meat, and two turkeys this year, too. I'll be raising a heritage breed of chicken for meat next year, because for the first time ever this year, 3 chicks have had deformed legs and I want something more natural. I love living close to nature and learning new things everyday. I love your blog and it gives me alot to think about. THANK YOU!!!

Oz Girl said...

Perhaps not 20 words, but a very convincing post explaining why you do what you do. My hat is off to you, and I can only hope in the years to come we can do more to make our 27 acres self-sustainable. My goal is to work for the next 3 years, basically paying off my car, then no more outside work and more time to spend on the property - gardening, getting more animals, preserving food, etc. Three years sounds so far away, yet I know it will go fast! :)

I have difficulty buying meat in the grocery store these days, knowing what I know. I'm trying to buy only local, grass-fed meat whenever possible. Our first year small garden has been a lesson in re-learning the fine art of gardening (my newest post on the Grit blog page) and I cannot wait to start my fall garden next week!

Kudos to you for everything you've done in the past few years, and I look forward to reading more of your blog.


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