A Farmer’s Dirty Little Secret


Farm Notes

As a farmer that sells direct to the public via farmers’ markets, I get to talk to people every week about our farm and the foods that we produce. And since we are a diversified farm, raising and selling chickens, goats, and making cheeses and gelato, customers invariably ask, “How do you get everything done?!?” The dirty little secret is…we don’t. We don’t get everything done. In fact, many things go undone. Of course, this is true for all of us, isn’t it? We all lead such busy lives that it is impossible to cross everything off the to-do list, right?

But farming is different, of course. Farmers have to-do lists that are ever expanding and never ending. You plan your days, expecting to get such and such done. But then something happens. Whether it’s the skid-steer springing a new leak, goats that have gotten through the fence and are in the neighbor’s yard or a frozen water line, the farmer must switch gears quickly to adapt to very immediate needs. My husband and I often joke that “if it isn’t bleeding or on fire, it can wait.”

Suzie texts a photo of a down tree to husband, Peter. He'll have to come later with chainsaw in hand so we can clear it away and fix the fence.

Suzie texts a photo of a down tree to husband, Peter. He’ll have to come later with chainsaw in hand so we can clear it away and fix the fence.

And then there are the times when the weather dictates all. A stretch of hot weather with no forecasted rain means you are doing hay—no matter what else you had planned. A storm may come through, knocking a tree down on your fence line and grounding out your fencer. Or if it’s raining like it did this spring and your corn planting is washing away before your eyes, well, you go back to your spreadsheets and your checkbook and you try to figure out how you’re going to feed your animals and pay your bills. Believe me, those are the sobering times when a long to-do list is a welcome distraction.

Of course, this means that the “little” things—family vacations, weddings, or the birth of a niece or nephew out of state—often take a back seat. And forget about cleaning the bathroom or sweeping the stairs, because those things will always be there.

Both my husband and I have farming in our extended families, but neither of us grew up on working farms. So when we started our own farm ten years ago, we had only an idea of what we were getting into. We were both thrilled to buy a farm that had been a working dairy since it was built 150 years ago. The previous owners didn’t have enough time—or money—to make big changes to the woodwork or tear up the lovely old floors. We spent that first year bringing back an old farmhouse gem. Good thing…as we haven’t had a moment since.

So that is why, when you talk with a farmer about spring planting, making hay, or harvest time, you will get the sense that they’ve seen it all. It all gets done eventually…or it doesn’t. But it can’t be a long conversation. We farmers always have to keep moving—that to-do list is always calling!