Hi Everybody: Sometimes people ask me how I find time to run a farm and write a bi-weekly essay, and the answer, of course, is that sometimes I don’t. This week’s Ladybug Letter will be the first one written in over a month. Spring can be a lot of work on the farm, and as I get older it gets harder and harder to keep up. It’s not so much that I get tired easier, because I’ve learned how to delegate chores well. Triage is the skill I need to master. And setting priorities. I get distracted and overwhelmed by the numbers of things that I want to do. Raising my children and staying married has to be priority #1. Almost every farmer I know has been through a divorce or two, and I want to avoid that. The second most important thing to accomplish is to meet payroll, because without a happy crew I can’t accomplish anything. Keeping the customers satisfied comes third, because without their steady checks flowing in, I’ll soon have problems fulfilling my obligations to my family and crew. And then there’s writing. I’d love to develop my writing skills to the point where I can be proud of everything I write, and I’d love to leave my children a body of letters that are entertaining, informative, and can serve as a scrapbook of sorts for the years they lived on a farm. Writing has been a lot of fun for me because of the people that I’ve been introduced to, and writing has been a good way for me to force myself to think about how and why I farm. And there’s the problem. The more I think about farming, the more kinds of things I want to try. The older I get, the less time I have to try them. The farm serves as a muse that prompts me to write, and the farm serves as a task-master that keeps me from writing. Julia says I need a “sous-farmer” the way chefs have sous chefs, but really, with Jose and Gildardo, I already do. What I really need is focus, or the opportunity to live to be a hundred. Here’s a list of the things that have been keeping me from writing.
Cows. In my middle age I’m reverting to my adolescent dream of having a cattle ranch. I leased thirty acres next door to my home ranch, fixed a mile of fence this winter, and bought two Dexter cows. There was more grass than they could eat, so I traded the extra forage to my friend Linda, who brought 15 of her Angus heifers and a Longhorn bull over to feed, because she had ran out of grass on her ranch. I got to play cowboys this winter, and when Linda took her cattle home she left me a couple of lambs and another goat for my flock.
Seeds. We get a lot of our seeds from Italy, and the Euro is doing damage to my budget, so I’m trying to teach myself to produce my own seed. This is a fun project, but it is a new project, but I find myself on a steep learning curve, kind of like the hot dog stand vendor who begins to learn the business of making the hotdogs starting from “scratch”, as in starting with a critter in a corral.
Goats and Sheep. I want to increase my flock, and this winter we had over 30 baby kids plus 8 lambs. Plus we had mountain lion and bobcat predation that kept me preoccupied.
Herbs. My home farm has very little water, so I’ve been trying to propagate herbs that go well with lamb and kid and that use very little water, like savory, nepitella, marjoram, oregano and laurel. To save on water we’re mulching a whole acre of land with straw.
Weeds. The chefs at Evvia and Kokkari, two local Greek restaurants, have been teaching me about a number of “weeds” that are appreciated in Greek cuisine, and they brought me seeds from Greece, so I’m learning to grow a whole new set of crops I’ve never intentionally grown before, like amaranth, sidewalk dandelion, and ditch chicory. I’m also trying to teach myself about Greek cuisine because it seems so earthy and fundamental.
Grass. I’m having fun trying to learn how to manage pasture organically and sustainably with cattle, sheep, and goats. Taurus, Aries, and Capricorn get along well enough in the heavens, so why not on land as well?
Food. The more I hang around cooks, the more I envy their skills. I bought a clay pot at Spanish Table to cooks beans in over an open fire, but now I want to raise a rainbow of beans so I can road-test every variety. I’ve got oak trees on my place, so cutting wood is a priority, but I’m also thinking it would be fun to learn how to make my own charcoal.
I can see a year’s worth of writing just digging into these topics. I’m currently working on an essay about cardoon; we’ll post it in about a week. I hope you like it. -Andy