One of the things I have always wanted to accomplish with our blog was to give an honest portrayal of what life is like on a small-scale, diversified farm. I feel this is especially important because I have noticed that most small farms promote their products using light-hearted and positive themes. The only time you see the negative is when a major disaster occurs.
You do not typically hear about the day to day challenges. Why? Well, I suspect most people do not want to buy brutal honesty and farmers like us know that. We suspect you would rather see the smiling farmer holding out a bunch of carrots or some other product for you to enjoy.
Pictures like the one above, showing smiling volunteers holding tomatoes at our farm are what we (and so many other small farms) push out front to encourage buyers to continue to patronize us. It's even better if you can show children.
Or, perhaps, baby animals
There is no dishonesty in showing any of these photos and then using them to promote the Genuine Faux Farm. They were all taken here. The smiles on the peoples' faces are not "photoshopped on." Those are our turklets in the photo shown above. These are real life moments.
And they do, in fact, show some of the truth that is our farm. But when things like the dirty, cracked hands holding the turklets show up for public viewing, they are not the focus of the picture and most people will not even notice them.
But, like everything else in the world, smiling people, happy children and baby animals are only part of what makes up an honest and complete story. That full story includes days when the farmers work hard while no one watches. As they work, they deal with broken equipment, human error, pests, difficult weather, life and death, and dirty, cracked hands.
It's all part of the package.
Speaking of packages. One of the unexpected "downers" we experienced recently was the arrival of our 250 broiler chicks on July 1st. To set the stage, we planned to raise two sets of 250 broiler (meat) chickens this year. The first batch was due to go to "the Park" on the night of July 1st and early morning of July 2. We also received the second batch of chicks early on July 1st. You can tell that it was going to be a long couple of days by that description.
When we went to pick them up, the postal worker said they were glad to see them go because the box "smelled." Usually, they are just glad to see them go because they are "noisy."
Having a postal worker say the boxes smelled is NEVER a good thing to hear.
Yes, twenty-seven chicks had died in the box in transit to our farm, and others were weak and unlikely to survive. This is part of the reality that we deal with as a part of what we do. Not every baby animal is healthy. And, each delivery of poultry, equipment, supplies and seeds to the farm brings promise and, sometimes, disappointment.
Later that same evening, as I was looking to put the hens away for the night, I noticed there was still a bird out by the feeder. But, it looked kind of odd - mostly because it wasn't moving. It turns out that this particular bird somehow got wedged into a corner of the feeder and it had effectively been strangled. Just another reminder that accidents happen - sometimes a chicken makes a costly error.
As I walked by Middle Earth (one of our growing plots) on the way to close up Valhalla, I noticed a big puddle that shouldn't have been there. Our irrigation sprung a nice leak that neither of us caught during the day. It's not the end of the world, nor is it a horrible thing to fix. Oh, and, by the way, we got some wire accidentally wrapped around the mower blade and the rot under the pass-through door on the truck barn has made it known that we need to fix it because the door won't close.
This is just an illustration of how things can stack up quickly.
Then there is all of that time in between that is neither happy nor sad. The moments that are not necessarily outstanding in any respect. Sometimes it feels like a bit of a slog and other times there is comfort in the constancy of the work. It's more the fact that it happens each and every day - because it just needs to get done.
This makes up the whole picture of what it is like to run a small-scale, diversified farm. For every moment where I happily (and rapidly) harvest 30 pounds of quality lettuce and feel pride in our efforts, there are others where I drop a tray of seedlings or notice that the germination rate for another tray is very poor. And for each of those positive and negative moments, there are all of those other instances where I put seed into trays, water seedling trays, transplant seedlings, irrigate lettuce and cultivate lettuce - just doing the things to help the lettuce to stay alive and grow.
The true picture of our farm and its farmers never was that single instant where Tammy or I smiled as we pulled out a beautiful head of Bunte Forellenschus (or two) for you and your family to enjoy. Behind the smiles there exists a complex picture of failure, success, constancy and persistence. Does that mean we aren't pleased that we can provide someone with healthy, quality food? Of course not!
Our smile might be as a result of a combination of things. Relief that we have managed to bring this product successfully to its destination. Pride in our efforts to produce something that looks and tastes good. Genuine pleasure that someone is interested enough in what we have grown that they are arranging to purchase from us. And the smile might also be one way to hide some of the things that aren't going so well at the farm at any given point in time.
The whole picture is never all that simple. And that's part of the beauty of it all.