What a difference a year makes! We just finished spring seeding here and with the recent moisture we’ve found some time for rest and have been reflecting on how different this farm season has been going so far.
This time last year, we were only just settling into our new life on the farm, and full of anxiety and uncertainties. While we still have much yet to learn, I really feel like Nolan and I are beginning to become more confident in our capabilities. We still often go to Dad with questions and are always, always researching, but I think having made it through one year, just knowing we can, makes all the difference in the world. I feel like we have learned so much in the past year, so I thought I’d summarize some of the lessons that I want to remember throughout this season to keep me focused, healthy, productive, and happy! Here they are, in no particular order:
10 Things I Learned In Our First Year Farming:
1. There will always be questions.
At about this time last year, I was feeling silly and incapable simply for not knowing more. How could I have grown up on the farm my entire childhood and still have so many questions!? Certainly I must not have paid enough attention or not retained enough information!
When I think back, my parents had lots of questions about farming when I was growing up, too. I remember conversations like: “This field first, or that field first? . . . Should we seed barley or rye there? . . . How to we get rid of this weed? Is the flax ripe enough to combine? . . . Should we try harrowing one more time?”
They questioned things, they tried things, they figured out what worked and learned from what didn’t. With the start of this season, I am reminding myself that questions are a good thing – good farmers ask questions!
***Another thing we learned is “Yes, you can Google that!”
2. Don’t worry about things you can’t control (like the weather).
Farming is a lesson in humility. When your crop’s success or failure is dependent on whatever mother nature decides to do, you have to learn not to worry.
Last year, I prayed fervently for rain. I dreamt about rain and woke up in the middle of the night, disappointed when there was no sound of it on the roof. I would have done a rain dance if I knew how. I stressed about it, a lot.
We didn’t get as much as would have been ideal, but we got enough. This year, even though the spring started out even dryer than last, I was much calmer. I realized how much energy I had wasted worrying about rain, and then hail, and then snow! What is the point? Why let the weather (something you can’t control) disturb your peace (something you can control)? It really is simpler than we make it.
3. Take it one day at a time, and stay flexible.
No two days are alike. Some days we wake up with a plan and I get to cross everything off my to-do list. Other days, our goals completely change because of a breakdown, life, or a change in weather. Again, we are not in control, even when we think we are. It’s just important at the end of the day to look back on what you did accomplish and the knowledge you gained, even if it didn’t exactly match up with your plans. It was supposed to happen the way it did today, and when plans change it’s a good reminder that we won’t ever feel bored!
4. Health first, farm second.
This is a lesson I learned the hard way last year. From a 3-month-long bout of bronchitis in the spring, an injured shoulder during haying, and vertigo and a sprained ankle during harvest, I have learned this lesson! I went into seeding this spring with a newly developed allergy to animal proteins, so I am preparing myself to practice putting my health first this year. I don’t know how many productive days I lost last year simply by not taking rest when I needed it, and pushing my body too far.
5. Take breaks.
When your job is just footsteps outside your front door, and the to-do list seems never-ending, it can be hard to learn how to balance things. With my old nine-to-five job it was easy to leave work at work and make time to rest when I got home.
With farming however, it’s so easy to get caught up in overwhelm and I have caught myself more than once in the past year working steady instead of working smart. Working smart, I have discovered, means taking breaks regularly so that you are more rested and focused on working more productively. When I think of this I will always remember the all-nighter I spent baling last summer. Covered in hay dust, exhausted and cranky at about 4 am, I stopped tractor and shut it down completely. I took about 10 minutes and stood outside drinking tea from my thermos and taking in the beautiful night. I listened to the wind rustling the trees and let myself become mesmerized by the starry sky as I lapped up deep breaths of the pungent green scents of the field. I went back to my tractor focused, refreshed, and peaceful, and was able to bale faster and with even less plug-ups than before! This seems a simple lesson, and one that I thought I knew already, but it made it’s way onto this list because I have learned that it is incredibly important to remember as a farmer.
6. Always, always appreciate.
It’s no secret that farming can be stressful. The best way I have learned to cope with this is to count our blessings every day. It is so easy to focus on what goes wrong, even when there is so much that works out just right. The perfect timing of the rains this spring; a sale falling through, for an even better one to come along the next week. Even something as simple as spotting a broken bolt on a piece of equipment, saving us from a much more difficult repair if it had been left unnoticed. There is so much to be thankful for!
7. Language matters.
This relates back to my last point, and it astounds me some days at the difference it makes. I touched on this in my previous blog post about creating positive language around farming, and it is something that I think about all the time.
I have noticed that the day-to-day language we use around the challenges and successes of farming can influence the level of stress vs. appreciation in our lives immensely. Something as small as “Wow the flax is coming in really nice in the lower spots” vs. “It’s too dry on the hills, the flax needs more moisture, damn this drought” can totally determine the outlook for the rest of the day, and type of language one uses can influence the people around you. It’s not just about being appreciative, but also about communicating that appreciation to the people you’re working with. Just being aware of our language and level of appreciation around farming every day is the first step in changing how the farm lifestyle is viewed in general. Talk about what you appreciate!
8. Keep organized, and make lists.
I make lists to keep track of everything from which field should be worked next, to what meals to make and freeze before we get busy with haying. Keeping organized is absolutely necessary for me to defeat any feelings of overwhelm. Right now I am working on my comprehensive to do list for the summer, with all the tasks rated by priority, all to be transferred onto a dry erase board for easy updating.
9. Look back.
I have been so grateful for the wealth of information that old farm diaries have provided. I keep the more recent ones (2007 and later) on-hand in a shelf in my living room.
Whenever I’m feeling discouraged, I can study them and realize how much this farm has come through, and look at how my parents problem-solved and experimented to make things work. It’s a good reminder that challenges are part of farming, as is the constant learning.
10. You can actually fall in love with a career.
I have never felt quite the way I do about farming about pretty much anything else in my life. When I say “I love farming,” I actually get a tickling achey feeling in my chest. When I am in the field on my hands and knees digging around for germinated seeds, the glee I feel while furrowing my fingers under the soil is totally encompassing. Every time I dump a truck or combine and watch the river of grain pouring out, I am filled with a sense of accomplishment and pride. When I work a field and watch the bright green turn to dark, fresh soil and see the ravens flock behind me, peace overwhelms me. Nothing has ever given me the same satisfaction as farming does.