I’ve been sketching farms for as long as I can remember; stacks of fences, chicken coops, barns, gardens and houses. I’ve written intricate plans for buying land and building farms, I have thousands of idea to make the place pay for its self. I came up with most of those ideas as a little kid with a big notebook and plenty of them are still great ideas. It just so happened that I’ve spend the last quarter of college actually planning a farm on the property we will be moving to. I haven’t around much becuase it turns out that planning a 30 acre farm in three months is a lot of work while you’re actually living life. Who woulda thunk it!It’s safe to say owning a farm has been a long time goal for me. My path to that dream has been filled with what would appear to be detours, namely devoting years to a college hundreds of miles away from where I want to live and farm one day. Aside from a few subject, I will use what I’ve learned in college all the time. College was a necessary stepping stone to reach my farm, even if it trapped me in a place I have a complicated relationship with.
I thought living in western Washington would mean all year gardening since it didn’t get hard freezes. I had crazy gardening dreams that first year. What I didn’t know is that instead of freezing solid and being covered in snow, western Washington turns into a swamp during the winter, thoroughly suffocating garden plant that survive the onslaught of moisture loving diseases.
I didn’t give up that easily though, the first summer here we had a huge garden. I learned some hard lessons about the difference between clay soil and sandy soil; many a seed rotted that year. There were plenty of failures but enough successes and lessons that it was still very much worth the effort.
If the gardening doesn’t get you down, there’s the dreary cloud cover that sticks around for 85% of the year. Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration but I swear, a cloudy day lasts six times longer than a sunny day.
In addition to the challenges of gardening in a climate I’m unfamiliar with, we are renters. We rent from renters who rent from an owner who wants to sell the property we are living on. Our chickens have a reasonably nice run; fenced but not covered and probably three times the size of our apartment. Alas, it’s right next to the Log Palace that the realtors love showing off so much. Our landlords are afraid that if our chickens are free ranging either the owner or the realtor will complain and cause problems for all of us. So the chickens only free range when they jump the fence or when I have particularly defiant days.
The run is down to mud wallows, hard packed earth, tufts of dead grass and feathers. It’s a barren wasteland and it makes me angry and guilty every time I see it. My chickens deserve better than this. We deserve better than this. Our chickens are board and our eggs aren’t as beautiful or as nutritious as they were before.
I want my birds to be able to forage. I want them to trim the lush grass that’s just on the other side of the fence. To fluff the pine needles, pick for grubs in the flower beds and manure. I want them to hang around waiting for treats. I know how much happier they would be and it kills me that I can’t give them that kind of life. Seeing all that un-foraged pasture everyday makes me want to scream to heavens, the injustice is unbearable!
Even though our chickens don’t live the way I would like them to, they still have it a hundred times better than industrial chickens. When they wake up in the morning they jump down from their roosts, flap their wings, stretch up on their tippy toes and take a run to the food bowls. Industrial chickens wake up in one of two places: a tiny cage with other birds or an open barn with a thousand other birds. Full body flapping and running? Not happening for those industrial birds. The birds in those concentration camps are on wire or packed manure all their life. There’s nothing interesting, there’s nothing to do. Since the chickens have nothing to do their foraging instincts are redirected to the only thing they do have: each other. They pick at their neighbors, sometimes to the point of death. To prevent the birds from harming each other they have the tip of their top beak burned off as chicks. This prevents them from picking other birds but also means they will never forage like a chicken should naturally forage. Our birds have space to get away from each other and places to forage. They get to keep their beaks and act like chickens.
Even on the worst day, the life our chickens lead is a dream compared to the life of an industrial chicken. We want to do even better: we want to feed all organic and allow them to free range. Eventually we’ll be able to that but I have to remember that what were doing right now is worth while. Being renters limits your options but it shouldn’t discourage you from doing what you can with what you do have.
So many of us are working towards our dream life and putting off learning skills and starting projects because we still have that nine to five job, live in town or rent. You may not be able to have the vineyard you dream about, the herd of goats or the free range chickens yet but there is always a place to start. You can find someone in the county to goat set for, start reading books, tour a vineyard or start a grape vine in a big pot on the porch. These little things are not pointless. They keep your passion burning and keep you focused on your big goals. Every time you see that little grape vine growing up its trellis you’ll be reminded that some day you’re going to have a whole field of grape vines. You head off to work with the grape vines in the back of your head and the day won’t be as terrible because you’ll know it’s only temporary and its helping you get to your vineyard.
I made it through college on dreams of gardens, chickens, goats, and pasture. I try not to count the times people told me I should get rid of my animals, that there would plenty of time for them later. They didn’t realize my animals were why I was sticking with college in the first place. Find something that keeps you going, something that keeps you focused on your goal and never loose sight of it.
My dreams seem so close right now but I’ve still got a lot of waiting to do. Waiting is a required skill for this lifestyle. We wait on seeds to sprout, rains to stop and start, animals to grow and skills to develop. Waiting is an act of endurance; we get better at it as time goes on. Our culture doesn’t encourage or teach the art of waiting. People want what they want now, even if getting it now is harmful in the end. If we get ahead of our self we have seedlings without a garden to grow in, animals without fences and trees without an orchard. There is a natural order we have to obey and fighting against it will only give us grief.
No matter how important, waiting is still awful. I’m no patient monk. Right now I have a roaring case of homesickness, garden fever, spring fever, cabin fever and senioritis. It’s a wonder I’m not running naked in the woods singing about chicks and tomato plants. Seriously, I’ve had about all the waiting I can handle. But here I am, waiting some more.
Waiting isn’t easy or nice but we have to survive waiting because on the other side of waiting, live our dreams!
I can see the fields with happy goats frolicking in them from here but instead of making it easier to stay here, it’s making it harder. It seems to be a universal truth that endings and beginnings are the hardest and it’s no different in this case. It works the other way too, if a situation becomes unbearable it’s probably about to come to an end.
So, as you’re struggling to stay on track, remember you’re not the only one in that situation and eventually, if you don’t give up or jump the gun, one day you’ll be out in that field with the goats, you’ll be picking grapes in your vineyard and your chickens will be fluffing pine needles and trimming the grass. The waiting, will be a memory.