Farming is full of balancing acts, as well as a seemingly constant battle between not having enough and having too much. Seasons of epic bounty counterbalancing times of lean. And this goes for more then just the vegetables, or whatever it is you are harvesting.
This goes for the harvest, and also for your time, your energy, your cash flow.
In terms of the vegetables – the time of late winter and early spring can feel lean and tight. Nothing much to eat other than storage vegetables that have probably past their prime, and if you’re lucky, a few slim pickings of greens from a greenhouse or a field somewhere. There may be enough to glean for your own eating, but there won’t be much excess to share or to sell – and even for those farmers that practice year round growing, this is typically the leanest time of year – probably their customers will be clambering for anything they can get their hands on (or at least they should be).
As crops start to come into season, the first always get snapped up – everyone seems hungry for new flavours, colours, textures and fresh things, after the long, dark winter.
But then, of course, things begin to flip. Zucchini start pumping out in epic proportions, as do cucumbers, beans, tomatoes, and so many other vegetables. And then you can quick find yourself with too much. When at first you had too little to satisfy the demands of your markets, then you have too much. Too many vegetables to sell, and too little time to process or preserve as much as you want to. So what do you do with it all? You trade, barter and sell, sell, sell. You pickle, you ferment, you dry, you freeze, and then, at some point (for me anyway) you simply give in to the flood of vegetables, and stop fighting it so much. And then you feed it to the pigs, you eat as much as you can, you feed your compost pile. You accept that you are in the thick of it, and if you have these problems, you have done your job at least half right.
And the funny thing, is that for me anyway, I am only fully satisfied with a season of farming when I have reached this point. When I have been fully and totally overwhelmed by too many vegetables. When I have stopped harvesting at least one crop (or planting of a crop) due to simply not needing it. When I feel that I have a wealth of vegetables to share with anyone and everyone around me. Then, and only then, do I feel I have succeeded. Because I think farming satisfies some need deep within me to to have enough. How much is enough? Why is it that it only seems to feel like enough when, in fact, I have too much? It’s hard to say exactly, but I think I have spent much of my life feeling that I am not enough (this on a deeper, subconscious level, not on a practical level), or worrying that I won’t have enough – for myself, but also to share with and care for those I love. Farming, and the season of bounty, helps to satisfy that need.
And all of these vegetables lead to another balancing act in a farmers life: the elusive work/life balance. Which is hard when you make your livelihood in 6 months of year, more or less. It is hard to carve out a little time for yourself, your relationships, your other interests when you have the vegetables now, and you won’t have them later. It is hard to not to give everything over to the farm, which can feel like an overbearing boss who doesn’t ever want you to take a day off. Which, of course, is basically what it is.
But I have seen one too many farmers burn out over months or years of this farm-and-only-farm-first mentality. I have felt burnt out by it. I am guilty of putting the farm before many things in the thick of the season. And while I am continually striving for more balance within the farming season – to counter this burn out I have experienced and witnessed – I have also accepted that in running my own farm, it will never be a normal 9-5 job. It will never mean weekends off, at least not from May-October, the market and harvest season. It simply can’t when the nature of your work is dependant on the energy of the sun and the long daylight hours around the summer solstice.
Instead, I try to look at the overall balance of my life – do the hectic, high energy, long days of the growing season balance out with the quiet, restful, rejuvenating days of winter? Am I able to take the time in a work day to enjoy a meal of home grown vegetables with someone dear to me? Am I able to share and enjoy this bounty with those I love? Am I able to shift my schedule enough to take a swim in the lake during the hottest days of the year, at least some of the time? Or a nap when I am in need of recharging? If I am answering yes to those questions, then at least at this point, I feel I am doing okay. It doesn’t mean I’m not striving for something better. It doesn’t mean I won’t strive for a regular day off a week during the season, or an 8-10 hour workday instead of a 12-14 hour one. But it does mean that I feel a sense of balance within my life overall. Like the vegetables, seasons of bounty alternate with seasons of lean.
And if sometimes it is too much and sometimes it is too little – the vegetables, your time, your energy – maybe the end result is that it is just simply enough.