When I was a little girl, I dreamed of having an empire of animals.
A massive ranch home to hundreds of varied furry four-leggers (particularly St. Bernards and dachsunds--proof of my child's sense of humor), horses that would run through meadows alongside kangaroos and cows, bunnies and flamingos cozying up near ponds, and billions of colorful, metallic and squishy, shiny bugs. Like many children, I hosted many (sometimes weekly) funerals for small animal passings, and longed for a pony named Strawberry.
Now that we have our own farm, animals have become an essential part of my now grown-up girl dream. And they will only become more integral as our operation develops; there are the conventional farm animals such as chickens,sheep, cows and cats, but also a cast of typically unsung VIP players for a healthy farm dynamic.
Wasps. Spiders. Birds. Bees. Worms.
The critters necessary for a balanced and sustainable farm are far too numerous to list here, but needless to say it takes a team of organisms from the microscopic to the pettable to keep a farm healthy and happy.
Last week was an experiment in sedentary farming for me; I injured my back (not seriously) doing...hell, any number of farming tasks, and I was limited to what work could be done lying down in bed with--GASP--no internet.
As we at any moment have at least 300 tasks to accomplish, this was immensely frustrating most of the time, but I tried to avail myself of the opportunity to catch up on some reading and re-affirm that yes, daytime TV is the absolute spittle of TV programming, and that I just can't get into British sitcoms.
After devouring the newest Barbara Kingsolver novel (Flight Behavior. Read. It. Be. Amazed.), I revisited a couple favorites:The Holistic Orchard by Michael Phillips and The Dirty Life by Kristin Kimball. The latter is a memoir written by a Manhattan journalist who, roughly 10 years ago, interviewed a handsome, calloused young farmer and more or less never looked back. They now run a whole-diet CSA operation on 500 acres of land near Lake Champlain. Essex Farm serves more than 300 people a balanced weekly diet year round of meats, eggs, cheese, milk, vegetables, fruit, syrup and more. It's fairly stupendous.
When I first read Kimball's tale, I was impressed and inspired. Re-reading it this past week floored me. This farm couple jumped into their business doing much of the same things we're doing: cleaning, clearing, tilling, fixing, seeding, planting, watering, nailing, squinting, digging, on and on and on. But they jumped right into the world of livestock at the SAME TIME as everything else. They acquired chickens, pigs, cows and, as they were committed to making their farm horse-powered (Read: NO tractors), two gigantic horses as well.
It's both encouraging and daunting to think of their farm's beginnings and our own-- and if I'm honest, it makes me more than a little jealous. Animals will come, for as I said, it's almost inconceivable to have a sustainable farm without them. And we have lots of reasons for not jumping into that livestock sphere yet.
But I do long for them.
As Spring has rolled in on a blanket of green, waking the land up in all its incantations, I've clung to the signs of little beating hearts wherever I can get them.
It's been a thrill to watch swallowtails swooping in and out of the orchard, butterflies and grasshoppers, the rare turtle appearances and even the dagnabbed crawlers that have begun to line up for the buffet on our green bean row. (Ask me if I think they're so great this time next week.)
I've been so jazzed about the growing wild duck population gathering on the irrigation pond that on mornings when Alex heads to the farm before me, he's hounded with not only " Tomatoes okay?" texts, but also
"How many ducks?!!"
We've got our hands full now, and will assuredly always feel this way, so it'll be a little time before we welcome into the fold our furry, winged, hooved and scaled friends. But please, do not pity me.
Pity the dairy farmer, for she has risen long before dawn more days than I can stand to tally, and she hasn't seen a vacation in years, if ever. She's to be admired, absolutely, but damn--that's commitment.
And when I do finally get my hands on my first adorable pack of donkeys, trust me--you'll hear all about it.