We happened to be downtown Frankfort last night. I was wearing a short-sleeve dress and sandals while the KSU marching band occupied the street and the town prepared for the lighting of the big tree on the Old Capitol Lawn. It was weird. It has been a strange season. All of the seasons have. I do wonder what this winter will bring and what the temperatures will mean for our next growing season.
I keep considering the risks we are taking up here on this lonely ridge. Thirty or so minutes from any kind of pizza place does not sound like much, but there are days when it feels like too much. I have been hesitating about writing this post because I think that farmers are not supposed to talk about their hardships. Maybe adults aren't supposed to talk about hardships. I am still learning how to be an adult, too.
Thoughts from a girl trying to be a farmer:
-Farming is not just physically isolating. I feel at times like an FBI agent who isn't allowed to talk about her job. Animals get sick, they get hurt, and they die. This is never easy. It is always painful to witness no matter how many times you see it. The fox is so well fed, we have lost nearly half of our flock this year... the unfortunate and unspoken side of letting chickens free range on pasture. Day old chicks most often die within their first 48 hours of life. Baby piglets are crushed under the weight of their 700lb mother because we don't hold her in a gestation crate, not ever. I know it is a little difficult to read, but it is extremely difficult to pick up those dead tiny bodies and carry them to the burn pile.
-Farming is listed as 1 of the top 10 most dangerous jobs in our country. Let that sink in for a minute. Every single day I am in pain. My body has not adjusted to the workload. There are cuts, bruises, tears and twists to tend to throughout the day. The end of the first year of farming was celebrated with surgery on my spine from a fall that nearly left me paralyzed.
-Farmers, especially small family farmers, have a very limited and unreliable income. Our family operates under the Federal poverty guideline. (Family of 5 making less than $28,410.) We work part-time jobs to pay for things like gas in the car, sports for the kids, dog food, car insurance, etc.
-Farming relies on experience (something we definitely do not have). The expertise in knowing when transitioning pullets to a new house, it is best not done when there is even the slightest chance of rain. One of many lessons learned the hard way. When we mess up, living things die.
-Is sustainable farming smoke and mirrors? I know what it costs to raise and slaughter a hog in a thoughtful, humane way. When you make the decision to buy those chops, you support us and encourage our style of farming to continue. I'm so grateful for this, because I like treating animals well. But, this decision alone is a privilege. We often take the ability to make a decision for granted. I want our pork chops to be available to all income levels. How do we make that kind of shift as a society? As farmers we already operate in the red. Cheaper feed? More land for more livestock? More SNAP benefits for local foods? Competing slaughter-houses that offer much lower fees or even a sliding-scale fee for small producers? Lower vendor fees at markets and credit card processing? No bank fees for micro-business? Tax incentives for growing your own vegetables or small flock of chickens? I'm getting on my own nerves now. I should STOP.
These are some of the perils I have been mulling over the past few weeks. The big obvious risks like unpredictable weather patterns and the market economy are secondary in comparison to the hazards of this life and the quality of it we experience.