I love the idea of farming, of growing my own foods, of having more than enough and being able to sell (or share) the excess. That said, I've never farmed. I do have two raised garden beds for veggies and a couple of fruit trees. I look forward to planting in the spring. I watch and note with delight the emergence of my tiny green seedlings. It is pure joy to, later in the season, eat a freshly harvested grape tomato or a juicy raspberry. I admit to harboring romantic notions of life as a real farmer...the constant connection with the natural world, the supreme joy of harvest, the pleasure of eating fresh, delicious, and wholesome foods, the sense of rightness at being part of the great scheme of life. It turns out that in my imaginings I've gotten parts of the farming life right, and many parts wrong.
I recently had the enormous pleasure of reading, The Seasons on Henry's Farm, A Year of Food and Life on a Sustainable Farm by Terra Brockman. Terra is part of a multi-generation Illinois farming family. Instead of a continuous life on the farm, Terra spent many years traveling and teaching in Japan and in New York City until she felt a pull to return to her ancestral lands and help with the farm. Now, she plants, tends animals, weeds, and harvests in addition to writing. She writes a regular "Food and Farm Notes" column that is goes out to Henry's Farm CSA customers (Community Supported Agriculture). It is available on-line at: http://www.henrysfarm.com/ for all the rest of us. Terra is the founder of The Farm Connection, a not-for-profit working to "...save farmland, to train new organic farmers, and to connect consumers with fresh, local foods." As Henry's Farm is located about halfway between Chicago and St. Louis, near Evanston in central Illinois, I had hoped to read this book and pick up useful info about our local climate's growing conditions, tricks of the trade so to speak. What I have learned instead is a profound appreciation for the quality and the quantity of work performed by Henry, Terra, their families, their farm workers, and the farm's apprentices.
With organic farming in particular, there is so much deep knowledge needed: when to plant, the current temps, the future forecast, the ground conditions, plus the varying needs of the many hundreds of different types of plants. It feels to me like working a Rubik's Cube on a timer...always something must be fit into place before the buzzer goes off. Aaaghh! I knew farming was hard work, demanding long hours. Now, I know it demands all the daylight hours and many more before sunrise and after sunset hours spent in lighted workspaces like the barn or the kitchen. What Terra shares in her book, beyond the long, hard workdays is the pride and the delight she and her family take in farming. She shares the joys of having to (getting to!) eat the fruits that are so ripe they explode when gently set in the delivery truck (the Cream of Saskatchewan watermelon doesn't easily make it to market); the perfectly delicious ripe peach, bursting with flavor, but with a blemish that keeps it from going to the consumer (but with the blemish cut away is a wonderful treat for the picker); the invigorating properties of the mist given off when harvesting hundreds of bunches of basil and parsley; the unusual, and healthful plants such as Aronia berries and burdock root, which are never appear in grocery stores.
Although my back hurt in sympathy for all the planting, harvesting, lifting, sorting, and washing work being done, I was constantly laughing as I read this book. Terra is a wonderful writer, bringing life, death, humor, and recipes (!) to every section. She covers such topics as "thanking the hens", dealing with over-sexed male ducks,"Corn Porn", the smell of post-asparagus urine. There are Far-Side cartoon references, and quotes from Marcel Proust, George Washington Carver, the Brockman Family Christmas party, and more. One of my favorite quotes (no author given) was this question and response: "Mommy, where do tomatoes come from?" "Well, Honey, it all starts in December when Mommy and Daddy sit very close to each other, reading the seed catalog."