December is the month I’m busy preparing for my favorite event of the year—our annual Christmas party. The house is finally cleaned after months of being ignored. Decorations cover every wall. Fun, new cocktails are devised. And I cook the whole week—pulling bounty from our freezers and filling the house with holiday cheer. Ever since our very first year on the farm, we have held a Christmas party and invited our friends and neighbors to show our gratitude and love.
I had always thought that farming—by its very nature—is a lonely profession. I can go for days without seeing or talking to another soul outside my own family. It is often what draws people to farming. If you like to work alone, if you like animals or working on equipment, if you like being outdoors…farming may be the life for you. And if you live on a quiet country road like we do, you know who is driving by just from the sound of their vehicle. “There goes Brad!” or “Cindy’s home from work!” are things we say on a daily basis.
But farming brings people together in ways I hadn’t expected. Before we moved to Herkimer ten years ago, we lived in a city about the size of Utica. We lived there eight years before we met any of our neighbors (and that was only because I had locked myself out of the house). We were surrounded on all sides by people we saw every day, but knew none of them. Contrast that with our first day on the farm, when we were visited by FOUR neighbors. Henry’s barn had burned down the month prior and he wanted to inquire about our bulk milk tank. Eric grew up in our house. Joanne was curious. And Bob wanted to know if we would be willing to rent hay land to him. All of them wanted to introduce themselves and see what the new neighbors were like. In the following years, we have been to weddings, graduations, and funerals—celebrating life and mourning loss with our new-found extended farm family.
When we moved here and started farming, we had a LOT to learn—and still do. Animals get sick. Animals die. Equipment breaks down. Ice storms leave you helpless and stranded. Our farming neighbors took us under their collective wings and helped us at every turn. And it was often just a kind word that helped the most. In my early days of tending to newborn goats and assisting new moms during birth, I made my fair share of mistakes. And when I would lose one, just having my neighbor Rob say, “It happens!” made all the difference in my outlook. It gave me the courage and the confidence to keep going and keep learning.
Early on, we often joked that we only saw our neighbors in an emergency. When our chimney caught on fire that first winter, all of our neighbors showed up. After this spring’s floods, we drove down the hill to see what nature had wrought and found many of our neighbors doing the same, ready to lend a hand if necessary. Truth is, neighbors show up when they are needed. I can’t imagine making hay without Brad, Catherine, Joey and Jacob or not lending a hand when Steve or Joe are pouring concrete. You go, roll up your sleeves, and help. Not just because they are our neighbors, but because farming is awfully hard without them.
If I were to offer one piece of advice to new farmers, I’d tell them to go meet the neighbors and make them your friends. You WILL need them, and you will learn from them, and you will be a better farmer because of it.
Better yet, start a Christmas party tradition to thank your new-found extended farm family.