Our farm began today. For years, we have been taking tiny steps, inching towards the lifestyle that we long for: self-sufficient, immersed in the beauty of nature, the joy of community, and the crafts of our hands. Inevitably, this led us towards farming. We have never wished for a large, income generating production farm. A simple homestead, meeting all needs of our family, has been our deepest wish. We found the land, bringing us a giant leap forward. Each day of progress on the house brings us one step closer to our ideal home. Yet the farm remains a shimmering vision, existing in the realms of idea and ideals. Today, our visions took living, breathing form.
Envisioning our homestead farm, we have crafted an ideal of many varied plants and animals, all working together in symbiotic interconnections, meeting many of our family’s needs for food, clothing, craft supplies, and joy. Dragonfly boy has worked diligently to research and select the chickens for his flock. 5 Buff Orpingtons, 5 Americaunas and 5 Barred Rock birds will arrive on April 19 as day old chicks. 5 Guinea Hen keets will arrive soon after, our natural tick control. 2 Nubian goat does will come to us, when they are old enough to leave their mother. There is talk of bees…
The planting possibilities embroider my mind with dramatically lush landscapes. Fruit drips from vine and tree, leafy herbs grow abundantly beneath blossom-laden limbs. I have spent months carefully observing the landscape, far before moving in, watching the natural world for signs of its subtleties. I know where the water pools upon the surface of the soil and where afternoon winter light filters through the trees. I have collected information about obscure fruit and nut varieties that survive in the long winters of the Northeast. February and March saw me writing and re-writing lists of plant orders from permaculture stand-by’s, such as St. Lawrence Nursery. Today, I mailed our order.
As I handed the envelopes across the postal counter, I committed us to a life of farming. The orders contain a substantial list of perennials, primarily fruit and nut bearing trees, shrubs and vines. These plants are not a year-to-year commitment. In some cases, we may not see the literal fruits of our labor until the boys are out of college. Yet, the investment is great. The work and care in this and subsequent growing seasons will allow for abundance far into the future. The order forms and checks, now held in some intermediary postal office along the way, seal our destiny as the caretakers and guardians of these plants for many years to come.
Having released the future of our garden into the goodwill of postal workers and nursery packers, I turned south on the county highway. 45 minutes later, the boys and I pulled up in front of the home of one of my students. Through the amazing generosity of his family, we were about to take our first tangible step into farming.
He and his mother met us at the door of their beautifully restored Victorian home. A windstorm whipped outside and we ducked our heads and headed for the carriage house out back. Inside, the air was warm and still. A peaceful calm filled the space. The sweet smell of hay filled the air and gentle eyes peered from the rows of cages. With loving enthusiasm, we were introduced to the rabbits, told of their parentage, and of their unique traits and personalities. They are angora rabbits, a mix of French and German, raised for their silky soft fiber. She taught us how to feed, water and care for the coats of these bunnies. Then, she gathered the three rabbits she had specially selected for our family.
With humbling generosity, the Subaru was packed to the gills. A pen for the two does was folded in the trunk. On top of that, a large cage with the two does peering out at us. A litter box was strapped to the roof. A bag of hay was my passenger in the front. A bag of food took the leg room in the back. A carrier holding the buck sat between the boys. I climbed into the car, feeling completely unable to express the gratitude I was feeling. All of the time spent with us and knowledge shared touched me deeply. The gift of these three beautiful animals and all of the supplies we needed to get started… this blessing felt profound.
Our drive home was peacefully quiet. The boys spoke in hushed tones and gave me frequent reports on the bunny status. We pulled up the driveway, opened the car doors to the wind, and began to create a home for our first farm animals.
The boys shouldered responsibility with great integrity, enthusiastically helping to establish homes for the new bunnies. Our property contains two buildings: the house (under renovations) and an old clay studio. The studio has four rooms. We have turned one into a little apartment, the current home of our family. Two large rooms hold all our belongings and furniture. The last is a woodshop. We cleared space in the storage room immediately outside our apartment. The ceilings are airy and the room is bright. With the boys’ help, I set up the pen, with a litter box, hay, food bin and mugs of water. We then moved the large cage into position over another litter box. Then came the challenging part.
Our two does, Maxine and Crackers (names indicating the litters they came from, depicting their family tree), were to go in the large pen, together. Blue Moon (a very fitting name!) was to go in the cage. They all needed to be moved. Our fairy godmother of rabbitry had shown me how to pick up a rabbit, but I hadn’t actually tried it. I assumed that the rabbits were feeling a lot of stress at this point and did not know how they would react.
I had been told that Maxine is the alpha among the does, so I wanted to let her into the pen first. I cautiously leaned in, attempting to slide my hands around her as I had been taught. She wasn’t having it. She kicked and jerked away. I worried about hurting her, knowing her bones are delicate. My nervousness was getting in the way. Drawing up all my courage, I slid my hands under her, gently yet firmly, and lifted her. She struggled, and I quickly moved her into a football-carrying pose, head tucked under my arm. A few steps later, she was safely in her pen. I breathed a sigh of relief. Little Crackers, recently shorn and velvety soft, allowed herself to be lifted without protest. She quickly hopped to the litter box and began to hunker down in the hay. Blue Moon easily came from his carrier into the cage.
We are all enthralled by the bunnies. They are soft as clouds and far larger than the tiny bunnies sold as pets. They have been frequently visited and petted through the evening. Tonight, as we said our prayers, each bunny was added to the boys’ lists of blessings. Blessings on Maxine, and Crackers, and Blue Moon….
We go to sleep tonight, having begun our journey as farmers. Our first animals have arrived, fittingly through the love of friends. Our garden dreams are now a financed reality. As the bunnies thump and rustle on the other side of the wall, the satisfaction and responsibility of these steps settles over me. I will call April 9 the birthday of our farm.