At The Farm: Dig’n Deep And Goin’ Long

You know what they say, if you build it they will come…..Nothin’s wrong with today yet!…Y’er burn’n daylight…..A bird in the hand is better’n two in the bush….Sweat never hurt no one…..stop talk’n n start work’n…..Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Mike Splitting Firewood For Next Winter’s Heat

All these old sayings pour through our thoughts as Mike and I get up early with our coffee and plan our days, these days. It’s spring you know, and that proverbial kick in the butt that the emergent warmth provides stirs all sorts of notions of multi-generational effort, all channeled into a single day’s burst of energy that never seems to manifest in a totally completed job anywhere on our farm. We wrestle with the notion that Rome in fact WASN’T built in a day in hopes of appeasing our somewhat frustrated minds. Then we encourage each other with that notion that a bird in the hand, or for us, materials we have here (like our own lumber we mill with our own mill from our own trees) is better than two in the bush. Thus, for us to have and sweat over milling our own is better than trusting that lumber is either available or affordable at Lowes in the future. So, we add another to do to our list. Then, deeply immersed in long to do lists and honey dos, we remind our worn and weary bodies that the next generation will soon arrive at our farm, our grandson Asa, arriving August 1st and we have a schedule to keep. A to do list to complete. A farm to continue building.

We swing, oh Lord do we swing. Back and forth, our minds wrestle with the tasks of the day, the unfinished projects we left still waiting for completion and our dreams of the future here at HiBar Ranch. I bet we aren’t the only ones. We are pretty convinced that all of you homesteaders, whether just starting out or having been doing this all your lives, swing too with the thoughts and to do lists of the present and the pressures of the past and future simultaneously flooding the senses. It is this push and pull that drives us crazy. But, then we take an overnight drive to Nashville or something of the sort, only to long after a few short hours to be back on the farm. We are torn between the wonderment of this being hell or this being heaven. Alas, we conclude we live in heaven and this is INDEED our ideal life.

Mike is 75 now and I am 53 this week. There is an age difference though we don’t notice: Never did. I can’t keep up with Mike as he goes from morning until eve on the farm with a persistence and focus that is awesome to my mind. I think this place keeps him young. I think it inspires him. And in turn, he and his efforts inspire me. Folks who don’t live this way who visit always ask us why we work so hard in retirement. Neither Mike nor I really know how to explain to them the rewards of this type of work. If folks haven’t grown up with it or haven’t tried it, it’s hard to explain how truly rewarding doing things on your own really are. Growing our own food, raising our own meat, milking our own dairy goats, collecting our own eggs, milling our own lumber….generating our own heat through wood and solar, collecting our own water, saving our own seeds and then planting them again……it’s so rewarding: All of it.

How do you explain to people so dependent on the system that NOT being dependent on the system is so great? It is the antithesis of their own source code. What we love to do is what strikes terror in those who need the opposite. In a way, the notion of such freedom seems to scare or threaten some I’ve noticed. The notion that living independently is “radical” is in and of itself a radical thought. Imagine those held so tightly to the need for government to provide that they are fearful of those of us who generate our own. I’ve seen this evolving fear of ‘rural’ people and ‘mountain living’ as the urban versus rural pseudo-divide that is being pushed by elites to drive ever more subservient indenture hood by the slaves of cities. Okay, so we are scary, because we grow stuff. I truly believe we are tipping toward significant mental illness by the masses if they believe critical thinking, freedom of thought and expression, and independence and self reliance are bad things. It’s almost comedy at this point how insane the notions of dependency and group think as ‘good’ and independence and self reliance/freedom as ‘bad’ are.

Anyway, I digress. Back to the point. How do you explain to folks who say, “why do you work so hard?” When they can’t see what we achieve and can’t surmise its value or perceive our joy and sheer pleasure in doing it? So, we don’t….we just shut and lock our gate and head back up to our gorgeous farm and sit on the porch observing the smoky mountain vistas and smile. No need, we think – no need to express the inexpressible. You either know, understand and have or seek wisdom in it all – or you don’t.

Around here things are really picking up speed. It’s like that every spring.

Grapes Beginning To Bud Out

All the lambs and kids have been born. We are hatching out ducklings now. The chicks are already underneath heat lamps in the mini barn. No baby calves or foals this spring, but next year for sure, so the breeding has begun. The trees are all budding out with the dogwoods, forsythia, daffodils and now apple trees blooming.

Three Hatched Ducklings So Far
Final Two Baby Goats Born – Twins April & Rain

The greenhouse is loaded with starts I’ve been doing for the last six weeks and the garden is tilled and ready to go. The raised beds have new compost from manure we have accumulated over the last two years. So, we are ready when we get passed April 15th when last frost is to arrive, to get starts in the garden.

The log mill is back home and out of the mountains an hour away where we have been milling for two years due to the big forest fire near Gatlinburg a few weeks ago. We brought the log mill home and will be continuing to mill lumber here at home from now on.

Greenhouse Seed Starts
Mike Working On His Log Mill At Home

I’d like to say that this spring is like every other spring; but it is not.

We have always had the craziness of spring and the massive to do lists that come along with homesteading. I mean we’ve been at this way of life for a long time. But, it feels different this year. I am not sure if it’s because we are older now. I don’t really think so. I think it’s because the world around us has radically changed. We are living in much more unpredictable times these days and the notion of ‘being prepared’ and ‘having what you need’ is becoming rapidly more in focus for many, not just the few.

We just spoke with our hay guy this week and he shared that the bigger issue with cutting grass for hay isn’t fuel though that is a big price problem, but no fertilizer on the fields. That may not be a big deal for some areas of the country where they have awesome soil, but here in the south where there is a lot of clay and bad soil, it is a rather huge issue. We’ll get all our hay early this year with first cut, but we were warned, do not wait until later in the season when heat hits and soil lacks the fertilizer for good grass. Wow. Okay. So, it’s not just fuel prices but no fertilizer.

Then, I am reading that bird flu is taking out chicken flocks. Meanwhile, raccoons and opossum have killed literally our entire chicken flock and were moving in on our duck flock with one already killed. Once again, we had to pivot to yet another non planned project to find out how the critters by passed a completely chain link enclosed chicken coop to kill our birds. No farmer likes to hear about their own dead animals due to predators while shortages in the exact same area are being bantered about. I check craigslist everyday for egg laying aged hens or a rooster. There aren’t available within a 100 mile radius. That is not normal. In previous years you could always find laying age birds this time of year from other local farmers.

Then I was told that trains are making grain and feed shipments second priority to other higher priority goods being shipped and to see grain shortages. So, this is a problem, obviously, for farmers. Not to mention the fact the feed prices have already skyrocketed. And that is before the soy and other grain staples for the feed go bye bye due to no fertilizer on the fields this year to grow the feed inputs.

So, once again we hustle and build a plan. This of course adds more items to our to do list, mainly growing our own chicken feed aka sunflowers in MASS!! Goodness. That’s going to be a lot of sunflowers and Cushaw squash (because they get like 20 pounds per squash and store well.)

Now back to those folks who don’t get it about farm life …..so when I share all these details of the shocks to the food system that we as farmers just deal with and prepare for, they think I am trying to ‘scare’ them. Now, understand – I am just sharing about our day. I am like, “I am growing a ton of sunflowers this year.” They’re like, “why?” I proceed to tell them about the input costs going up or going away. They are like, “why are you trying to SCARE ME?” I am like…………”huh?”

Mike just chimed in saying, “It’s not that all city people don’t get this (which I concur). It’s simply that they are so invested in city life they are locked in. Put it this way, it’s like they have walked really far out on a limb and it is being sawed off behind them. And, that reality scares them.” Mike has a way of saying things doesn’t he?

It’s like that these days. It’s crazy. Some people seem to REALLY not want to understand their food system. It’s weird. Or maybe they just don’t understand how it all works. It’s like folks think things start in the store — viola milk is on the shelf. Mike thinks that they may not understand the risks against the food system working well everyday. It is vulnerable to many interruptions. Think about it – fuel, trains, trucks, fertilizer, stores, labor, feed inputs, currency, trade, supply and demand. All of those elements are currently in flux and THAT is what is different about this year.

I suppose those who think food starts on a store shelf will become aware when the pictures of no milk or eggs on a store shelf sweep instagram or some such social media. I guess that is their way of getting educated. It’s just for those of us who farm, that ‘wake up’ moment starts so much earlier in the cycle – starting with soil. If there is no fertilizer or drought or flood, we pay attention. The result of that reality won’t hit the shelf in a retail store for another full year because this year’s ag yield is next year’s food product. Then next is fuel and and transport. Within that context resides labor to execute those functions. In that as well is the ability for China or another country to buy all that product before it hits our stores. You see that with hay on the west coast, all getting wrapped and loaded on ships to China.

One of the reasons we enjoy farming is because it does give us a much deeper view into the earlier inputs and puts and takes of food production. We both find it interesting and highly contextual. It is both physically rewarding and good for our bellies but keeps our minds active. It’s ever changing, hyper dynamic and constantly changing. This is all part of the urgency, motivation and excitement we feel every day which makes us ready to tackle each day head on. It also feels good to know we are preparing well for each other and our daughter and soon to be arriving grandchild.

We don’t find these things scary. We find them emerging as no surprise. What we do take note in is that they are all transpiring at the same space and time which drastically increases the risk side of the food equation for the masses. It highlights a sharpened risk scenario for cities and individuals totally dependent on this system to work. Yes, that we do notice. And it is both sharp and pronounced.

Our Free Range Rabbits At Sunset

So, we go about our day busily with focus and a goal on being productive. We see the big picture but try and stay focused on the present and what can be done today. We make what we can and save what we should. We always say we have what we need otherwise we’ll invent our way through. That approach along with prayer and love, we sit on our porch every evening as it warms and watch the sunset and say to each other, “today was another good day.” Rome wasn’t built in a day, neither was America. And, neither will our farm reach full optimization for a time. But, like all great things – we will get there. We are focused, persistent and have our eyes on the prize. It doesn’t matter if we are old, graying, have sore backs or what not. We keep going, doing, building and dreaming — and that is why we are called HiBar Ranch. We set a high bar……and we will keep plugging along even into this next window of potential chaos that hopefully ripples through our farm in only slight if not insignificant ways. We can’t stop the flood, we can only deflect as much of the water as we can. And that is what we intend to do.

Be well everyone. Until next time ~

Mike and Lori

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