Let me tell you about my day in the life of Katie. It started with running out the door to take my son Cedar to daycare–forgoing a shower in order to catch an extra half hour of sleep. I returned home to work remotely; starting at my desk indoors and then moving to my desk in my greenhouse so I couldn’t be agitated by the mess in the house. I love working in my greenhouse. It’s warm, it smells like photosynthesis, and I feel removed from the house enough to focus. On that day I was feeling particularly smug about the amount of work I got done and the experience of actually working from a greenhouse. My greenhouse is in our pasture; the pasture is home to 12 chickens and our goat Lucy; sometimes I let our half-St. Bernard pup named Abiqua play there too. Abiqua and Lucy were play fighting in front of me outside the greenhouse to show off, and suddenly Lucy got this crazy look in her eyes and charged straight at me, shattering the greenhouse and making me scream and jump back. I was fine, my computer was fine…..but Lucy had a huge bleeding gash in her head. I was alone. I had to pick my son up from daycare any minute, and suddenly I had to do goat first aid before I could leave. What followed was an hour of goat wrestling with gloves and gauze. Got it stabilized enough to wash the blood off and go pick up my son from daycare. My husband helped re-wrap it that evening. I called the large animal vet who said it sounded like we could take her in if we wanted to, but it was totally acceptable to deal with it at home. Which led to a “farm decision” moment: this is OUR goat, what do we do?
See, we don’t live out in the country surrounded by other farmers. We live in an urban environment. Lucky for us we stumbled upon this beautiful 0.67 acre lot that is half fenced as a pasture; not far from strip malls and highways. It’s in a little pocket that likely was country in the not too distant past, but has since been swallowed up. We count 40 oak trees (some small) on the property. We enjoy living close enough to the City to get good coffee and such, but to come home to our “farm” life. But we are the only people on the block with farm animals.
So “why?” you may ask. “Why go through all the extra work?” There are several layers of reasons. A main one is a love for growing things. I’ve loved gardening since I was a child, and it’s my main stress relief activity. I must do it. But it is also important to me to eat healthy food. And to me, “healthy” has a lot of components. Non-carcinogenic is one. Ripe and full of nutrients is another. And that goes for vegetables, fruits, meat, milk, eggs….everything. It is really important to me to feed my family delicious, nutrient-rich foods. But we are not rich, and to buy organic, local food is expensive. One of our favorite books, “The Backyard Homestead“, claims that on 1/4 of an acre you can harvest “1,400 eggs, 50 pounds of wheat, 60 pounds of fruit, 2,000 pounds of vegetables, 280 pounds of pork, 75 pounds of nuts”. That goes a long way toward being self-sufficient. And we have 3 times that space available. This seems like a crazy amount to produce for those of us used to living on those size lots with not one bit of food produced. But two different people who have lived in China have told me that people there are self-sufficient on 1/10 of an acre. They just utilize every bit of ground available to produce food. And they are good at it.
Without being too “doom and gloom”, I also don’t have total faith that the current system that supplies grocery stores with food will keep working indefinitely. At least not at the current prices. Just think how much large-scale agriculture is dependent on Big Oil (for one thing–there is a lot more wrong with it). Most farmers make a very small profit per pound. They are dependent on mass production to make a profit. And some crops, especially corn, are subsidized by the government. This means they do not currently make a profit; the government pays them to make up for the money they are losing. It takes oil to run the tractors to work the land, oil to produce the fertilizers they are dependent on with those farming practices, oil to run the tractors to harvest, oil to process, and oil to transport to stores. Imagine what will happen/ is happening to the price of food as the cost of oil goes up? Can you imagine what would happen to the cost of food if our wars in the middle east led to no more oil imports from them one day? Right now the cost of food is small in most people’s budgets, but what if it was suddenly 50% to 75% of your income to secure food? Would you be interested in knowing how to produce your own food then? Food is a basic need for survival. Knowing how to produce my own gives me that much more control over the type and the quality of what I eat, and that much more security that if things get crazier in this country, I can take care of my family. And it feels right at some deep, ancestral, human level to have that relationship to the earth.
But if you think that when everything goes crazy, you will just put some seeds in the ground and grow your own food, you are wrong. Well, yes, something will grow. But it takes A LOT of learning to be able to reliably produce your own food. I have been interested in this stuff since high school (12 years ago) when I was the Greenhouse Manager, and I am just starting to get a grasp on producing a reliable crop. You need to plant at the right time, have the right soil fertility, know what to do about pests and predators, how to preserve food. And livestock is a whole another ball of wax. And how to make it all work together sustainably. And to incorporate in the native plants and critters of my place.
The “for real” part is that is also has to fit into our busy lives. Both my husband and I work close to full time. We have a 1 year old. And lots of social and family stuff going on. I’m not a stay at home mom, or retired. So scooping the coop and harvesting and planting and all that needs to fit in amongst all the other business. Which, if we’re talking about a potential reality where everyone produces some of their own food, is an art that everyone would need to figure out. That is why I want to blog about it. I don’t have it figured out. Far from it. But I think that what I’m learning could be valuable (or at least entertaining) for others. If you read some of these urban farming books, you get the feeling that it is super easy and idyllic. It’s kind of like when I was pregnant and watched the “Orgasmic Birth” film that, as you might guess, suggests that if you just relax enough and breathe the right way, birthing can be very enjoyable. But for me, after 30 hours of laboring at home followed by a transport in the back of the Subaru and a C-section, I did not have an orgasmic birthing experience. I’m calling their bluff. Or maybe that did work for some people, but not me. I feel like some urban farming books are analogous to the orgasmic birth film. They just don’t talk enough about what could go wrong, and what to do. There is not a chapter about when Lucy runs through the greenhouse and has a to-the-bone head injury a half an hour before I have to pick up my son from daycare. These things you just have to figure out as you go…but I hope to pass along what I’ve learned.
Which brings us back to Lucy. Suffice it to say that I did end up bringing he to the vet, and she got staples. And is fine. So don’t worry about Lucy. But there is a whole lot more to the story. And this is already long. So that will be its own post.