Tuesday, June 9, 2020

isolation farming for now and a better future

Having committed to a year of isolation on our ever-evolving little homestead, I suppose we could say we're now farm-schooling. For me, it's also an act of rebellion and a way of working toward societal change.

Rhiannon cutting up roof rafters to make garden beds.
Soon after our family went into isolation at home, my daughter started keeping track of how much money our veggie garden was saving us. She'd pay attention to the foraged or homegrown foods we ate over the course of a day or two, then research the advertised cost of an equivalent food product from Superstore's online catalogue, and add that to her tally. After two months of keeping records, our savings total $160. We've also spent $1700 on seeds, garden supplies, chicks, chicken feed and supplies, and chicken coop building (VISA thanks us, I'm sure). It doesn't seem like it's financially worthwhile, but we're looking at the long game, here.

What we didn't expect when we started this isolation was how long it would last, nor the quickly-rising cost and unavailability of grocery store foods. Over the past few months, my daughter's research has showed us that many food items have doubled in price more than once, and food transport and supply has become threatened due to COVID-19 restrictions and fears. If there's a bigger wave of the pandemic in September, as is predicted, then that's right at harvest time, which doesn't bode well at all for our food security. Neither does it promise a return to school or community life. In addition, both my partner and I have had to take pay-cuts, either due to the economy's stumbling, or to our need to self-isolate (my daughter and I both suffer inflammatory conditions that make this virus dangerous to us). It seems evident that we're into both a longer isolation than we had originally imagined, as well as the necessity of living on less income. What do to about that?! Farm, of course!!

Taliesin building porch planters from reclaimed rafters.
We're lucky to have about a quarter acre of land at our disposal; it's not prime farming land, but it's land nevertheless, and some of it is quite good. We're planning to make the best of it. Given the uncertainty around school and social commitments, our kids have already committed to stay home from school and college for at least a year, learning online, and through farming. It's not only about food security, but also this corona-driven push towards farming is helping us realize our dreams of living locally and supporting our own community instead of just running with our noses to the grindstone, hoping to make enough money to buy whatever we can by the cheapest means. That life was no fun. By living locally we mean to do better.

Planters on the hot porch mean peppers and melons!
I've been thinking with blissful idealism about what this change means for my kids' education; their futures. And I'm OK with idealism. There has to be a certain amount of idealism to give us hope in a brighter future, and even to work towards that future at all. Our idealism is not blind nor is it ignorant. We know a quarter acre can't feed our family of four; we know our farming skills are nascent. But we have idealism and determination and a little bit of apocalyptic fear on our side, and that's got to count for something, right? Most of all we're just feeling inspired. Luckily both kids (now 15 and 18) see the potential benefit in learning to farm and provide for themselves, so we're really in this together. My daughter explains, "when I was younger and didn't go to school, I couldn't really do a lot of the [garden] work or decision-making, and then when I was older I did go to school so I was tired and didn't have time to do it. So now is the first time I can be involved, while understanding at a deeper level."

Microscopic view of the mites that came with our chicks' hay!
You probably want the details. And I'm happy to oblige! We've started a chicken flock (and if my daughter has her way we'll be adding some pygmy goats for milking). We've expanded our vegetable garden to encompass most of the free space in our yard, and working with the little bit of knowledge we've gathered from growing a few veggies here for the past 19 years, we hope to at least supply our own veggies, as well as quite a few potatoes and a little chicken meat and eggs. In addition to this we're buying grain and lentils from local (well... in-province) sellers, and I just put a deposit on 25lbs of local hormone-free, grass-raised beef which we'll pick up in December. I hope also to get a bit of local lamb, if we can.  In addition to farming, my kids have learned to cook all sorts of things that never occurred to them before, using our new staples of rice, potatoes, lentils, and current garden veggies. When the cauliflower was ready we ate it nearly every day for weeks; then the kale was ready; now lettuce and herbs. 

We've boycotted Amazon and are discovering ways of supplying our needs through local farms and craftspeople - mostly we're learning to make do with far less than we used to, and discovering that we are not wanting. We're learning to mend our clothing and entertain ourselves in the yard instead of in the city. I am even learning to offer most of the services I previously charged money for, for free, and finding that I now feel more rewarded for the work I do. This is a time of amazing empowerment.

Two of our Jersey Giant chicks - pullets, we hope, though we aren't sure yet.
At a time when disaster after disaster after disaster is upon our species, so many of us are rising up to make the changes we've needed to make for centuries or more. Coronavirus, environmental and social devastation brought by our unending exploitation of land and people; the burning, flooding, and storming of our capitalism-driven climate change... all of these things are pushing us to change. People are rising in the streets against racism, tyranny, and so much injustice. Those who can't risk exposure to the coronavirus are finding different ways to protest and to work through everyday actions to turn our backs on industrial and systemic brutality. People are stepping up to see those in need in their own communities and offering help wherever possible. We are finally finding the courage to cut ties with the industrial food complex and eat locally - sustainably. We are keeping our kids home from school, even as the schools begin reopening, realizing that school wasn't serving us well enough, and that family restructure is possible. We are discovering that the walls we built to keep us safe - the walls of capitalism, industrialism, and colonialism - are only protecting the richest of the rich, and not the rest of us. We are tearing down the walls.

Here we are doing some practice goat-feeding at my brother's house. He and his partner have recently purchased a horse and two goats to live beside their growing vegetable garden, eat weeds and fertilize the land. But mostly for love.

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