BABY WATCH.

It’s early morning and the sun is barely up when Hannah calls for me from upstairs. I scramble like an idiot to see what’s wrong, nearly knocking over the chair and everything else in the cabin––maybe even the cabin itself––because something in her voice tells me it’s about the baby.

They say most people feel the baby by twenty weeks, and we’d made it into week twenty-one without feeling the “quickening” or bubbles they talk about. It’s hard as first time parents not to feel nervous. About everything. And the baby’s not even born yet. So we’re nervous, because unlike “most people,” we hadn’t felt the baby. And when I hear Hannah call, that fact, and all the subsequent terrifying implications of that fact, is what is going through my mind.

But when I get to the top of the stairs Hannah’s just smiling curiously with her shirt pulled over her belly.

“Watch,” she tells me.

And for a couple of seconds all I can see is her heartbeat until suddenly something begins pressing against her belly, lifting the skin slightly, then disappearing again. Over and over. It’s kind of creepy and all sorts of amazing. And for the next few minutes, then the next few days, we play this game, where we watch this creature––presumably a baby––kick and turn its way around Hannah’s stomach. It’s incredible to observe, and by all accounts it will only grow more intense and interesting. Sometimes I suppose you just have to have faith in the system of birth which has successfully created billions and billions of humans over the years. With faith restored, I now look forward to Hannah calling for me––baby in her voice––with hopes that I may get to watch our little dude––or dudette, respectfully––bumble about for a while.

- Jesse.

kitten and bump.

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FIRST GLASS OF MILK.

first glass of milk.This past week has been the start of a new journey for me – milking a cow. We are sharing a lovely lady named Lily with our Bugtussle family, and she calved a little over a week ago. Cher and I have both been at every milking, morning and night, trying to figure out this new routine and rhythm. It has been difficult and educational – and I just now feel myself understanding the flow, the muscles, and the energy needed for the task. You can read Cher’s thoughts about it here.  Soon, I will take over a few milkings a week on my own, but for now we both have been working at it together. We’ve worked through enormous rock-hard udders and weirdly small teats and mastitis fears. Slowly but surely, we are getting it.

I love it. I love resting my head against Lily’s warm body, I love watching the little calf sleep near her mother’s head, I love the calm and stillness and magic of it. I can’t wait to be better, quicker and stronger – without the sore hands! But I love it still.

I will take pictures of sweet Lily soon, but lately I’ve been too busy trying to get the process down. I did snap a good one, though, of the view from where I milk.

- Hannah.

sparrow.

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WILD ANIMALS.

IMG_2460We rotate our goats and our pigs through the woods, often daily. This can be an incredibly annoying chore (dragging electric fencing through the forest), but it is how we are slowly clearing our land.  The animals don’t need to be wormed because they are constantly moving, and they always have a fresh supply of food. As often as they move, they never end up over-grazing or impacting one spot. This is good for the animals and the land. So while we may dream of clear pasture as the fence gets caught in every (literally EVERY) tree root and branch, we also know that this is what is best for everyone. And at this very lush time of year, it makes for some very pretty pictures.

- Hannah.

olive. santos. goats.Mow.

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A SUNDAY IN THE LIFE.

scooter.This completes the week of “Day in the Life” posts, but I can’t imagine not doing more of these, or more double negatives, in the future. Anyhow, I give you the last day of our week: Sunday, August 10th.

5:15 – 5:45 a.m.
I wake up at my usual time, but unlike usual I lay in bed for thirty minutes. It’s Sunday, which is technically supposed to be a day off of sorts, so I try not to feel the guilt self-employed people feel when they’re doing something that is not work, when they’re doing anything that doesn’t lead to money. But I eventually get corrupted by that guilt anyway and get out of bed to do chores.

5:45 – 6:15 a.m.
I galumph slowly about the farm collecting firewood and kindling to get the fire going. As often happens on Sunday I feel fatigued and inhibited by Saturday, by the previous week, or by the season. This Sunday it is all three.

6:15 – 7:30 a.m.
Writing. I have articles due and blog posts I want to write and a whole host of other projects I’m insane for getting myself involved in as a farmer, but oh well. If you want something done, I tell myself often, give it to a busy person. Then I tell myself, “Now stop talking, I’m busy.”

7:30 – 7:45 a.m.
I take a few minutes to listen to NPR’s Weekend Edition because it has become tradition for Hannah and I to play the puzzle every week and for her to do infinitely better than me.

7:45 – 8:45 a.m.
The sky looks like rain so I decide to go ahead and move the goats. But honestly, I would be happy for it to dump rain all over me so long as some of that rain hits the ground, too. The rain cloud dissipates without raining.

8:45 – 9:15 a.m.
I drive up onto our neighbor’s pasture to check email and such. Yep, our closest internet is about a mile away. But if nothing else, the views are exceptional––especially the view of me standing in a pasture holding my device into the air looking for reception.

9:15 – 10:15 a.m.
I consider taking the rare midmorning nap, but determine I should probably do some more writing instead. Or rather, the guilt determines this for me.

10:15 – 11 a.m.
A large, dark cloud begins to form in the Southeast so I decide at random to transplant a hundred and fifty rutabaga plants. I feel the pressure and excitement of racing this rain cloud and fly through the planting at blinding speeds. Rain drops begin to hit my head as I bury the last plant. Then suddenly, nothing happens. The rain cloud completely blows over the farm and I’m left standing there sweaty, dirty, and out of breath with an empty tray of rutabaga transplants in my hand. I walk back to the house and decide to listen to “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me” instead of crying. We need more rain in the next two days, or we’re right back into a drought.

11 – 12:15 p.m.
“Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me.” No crying. Brief nap.

12:15 – 2:40 p.m.
To celebrate our anniversary (which isn’t technically until December) we go out for lunch at our favorite barbecue place in Tompkinsville called Frances. There we eat catfish and tater tots because that what the baby wants for lunch, and I don’t argue with babies.

2:40 – 4 p.m.
I’m not entirely sure what happens in this time. There’s some reading and talking and phone calls and kitties until the next thing I know it’s four o’clock. Time doesn’t always fly when you get older, sometimes it just flat out disappears.

4 – 5:45 p.m.
The guilt returns and to oblige it I go out into the garden, work up soil and transplant some cauliflower. The guilt becomes momentarily satisfied, a moment being about as long as it is ever satisfied.

5:45 – 6:30 p.m.
We go fetch water together from the spring and Hannah tells me about all of the things she’s been reading on raising babies. Apparently babies like contrast in faces and that’s why they tend to like guys with beards. This explains a lot for me. For a somewhat wild-looking and awkward person with a long beard and messy hair, I have always been a smash hit with babies. Who knew facial contrast was my best feature?

6:30 – 7 p.m.
Earlier in the day we had grabbed some lamb from the freezer so I do some writing and start thinking about dinner. My stomach joins in the thinking so I stop writing and get to work.

7 – 9 p.m.
I collect firewood, cook dinner and Hannah and I listen to “Sound Opinions” and “Radiolab” until we can no longer hold our heads up. It occurs to me that I mentioned four different NPR shows in this one post, and that’s not including the snippets of “A Prairie Home Companion” or “On Being” or “Car Talk” or “This American Life” we heard in the day. It can never be understated how much we love our radio.

9 p.m.
Bed.

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ENDANGERED FARMERS.

imageThis past weekend, farmer Bren Smith penned an op ed for the New York Times titled, “Don’t Let Your Children Grow up to be Farmers,” and I cannot tell you how accurately it describes us and every farmer we know.

The premise of the article is neatly summed up in the second paragraph with “The dirty secret of the food movement is that the much celebrated small-scale farmer isn’t making a living.” It goes on to state that negative $1,453 was the median income last year for farmers. Ouch.

The reasons for this are myriad, but if we want the food movement to continue––for local food, grown with well-meaning hands to still be available––something has to change. Something big. In the article Bren makes an interesting point, that it is time for farmers to start shaping their own agenda. He goes on to say we need “loan forgiveness for college grads who pursue agriculture; programs to turn farmers from tenants into landowners; guaranteed affordable health care; and shifting subsidies from factory farms to family farms.” But farmers, who make up such a small percentage of the population, can’t do it alone. They need, and I cannot overstate this, their shareholder’s help.

You hear often that small farmers make up less than one percent of the farming population. Most farmers are conventional farmers. But that percentage is skewed, because it does not take into account CSA and market customers who, at least for the season in which they are participating, are in some ways farmer’s themselves. Our friend Brent once said of the Bugtussle CSA that he and his wife can’t farm––be it time or knowhow, they cannot grow the food they want to eat––thus they hire farmers to grow their food for them. And have for over ten years. They are investors, partial-owners or shareholders––however you would like to label them––but they depend on the success of Bugtussle in order to get the food they desire. So they, too, and every market shopper like them, have vested interest in the success of their small farm and should be counted in that percentage. With that in mind, for every small farmer who runs a CSA or who has regular market customers, they should know there are tens, if not hundreds of families in it with them. That percentage suddenly doesn’t look so small.

But the farmers need those shareholders to step up now––now before it gets to be too out of hand. Farmers need grant writers and lobbyists. The new agrarians need political allies, if not their own political party. Moreover, the country needs to create an environment in which young people would want to become small farmers––would feel the support. Because the world needs small farmers. They need them to protect wildlife, to increase habitat, to improve land and air quality, to prevent erosion, and to offer chemical-free, healthful food to those who want it. But they can’t do it alone, and they can’t do it for negative money. Farming has to be able to support a family, but right now it barely supports itself. If we want to keep small farms from extinction then, everyone has to acknowledge that we are all farmers, and do everything possible to keep ourselves, our farms, afloat.

- Jesse

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