When I tell people that I have a farm (even when I say a hobby farm) I think of Meryl Streep’s voice overlay in the beginning of the film Out of Africa. “I had a farm in Africa….” In those opening phrases the viewer hears the full character and depth of farming, the farmer’s attachment to the earth – both its bounty and bareness. The accomplishments and the challenges of relying on the land and nature, the co-dependencies of other people, and the depth of understanding of our human place in the life cycle. The movie lead-in establishes an anticipation and interest for the rest of the story.
Sure that sounds dramatic and if you know me, you know I am far more pragmatic than dramatic, but the rest of the story is a deep one. It is the story of a woman with extraordinary depth of character, adaptability and perseverance. It is the story of gaining and losing, achieving and failing, and of accepting your own best efforts. It’s the story of learning to accept and appreciate what you have and let go of the expectation for something you cannot have. It’s about putting forth your very best effort and knowing whatever the outcome that you gave it the best you had to give. That’s the characterization of a farmer and it is one I aspire to.
I remember one winter about six years ago when I was outside at about 9:00 pm working frantically to cover as much as I could for a night forecasted to be a hard frost. The wind was blowing and nothing would stay down. It was wet and cold – chilling to the bone. We had chicks that would need to be heated and plants we were sure to lose. The more I worked the worse the weather became and the more it seemed there was to do. In the end, I had to accept that I would not be able to save everything that night. In the realization that a season of growing would be lost I felt a sure sense of loss.
As defeating as that night was, a more final and sorrowful moment came one very early morning – about 4:00 am – as I was sitting on the milking stand in the goat pen bottle feeding a day-old kid rejected by its mother. One of the mother does lay close by. She was not the mother of the kid I was feeding, but she had just kidded the day before and things had not progressed well for her. She raised her head, looked me directly in the eye and made a moaning sound not natural for a goat. Her head then slumped and she died.
While the farm animals on the TNT Family Farm are farm animal with a purpose and not pets, we are mindful of the gift of life and food that they are to us. We treat them humanely and enjoy their unique contributions. The doe that passed had been the first goat in our flock – we had her the longest, she had produced the most kids. She knew me, trusted me and relied on me. I sorrowed to see her suffer and die.
The farmer in me perseveres through these trials and failures. I plant again, grow again, and breed animals again. Each new season brings new life. The new life sustains us both as physical food for our bodies, as bounty to share with others, and as reward for giving the best we have to the effort.