Wednesday, August 4, 2010

the work of cold antler farm

My goal is to turn these six and a half acres into a working farm and my own small business. I want to eventually make my living by farming and writing about farming, and getting to that point is my life's work. Right now it's a mixture of mistakes, lessons, experiments, and small victories. Without the help of prior experience, family-farming roots, a trust fund, or a partner in crime: it has been a sharp learning curve. The fact that five years ago I didn't even know what a hoof trimmer looked like doesn't help either. I came into this brand-new, wide-eyed, and love struck. I'm still all of those things. It gets intimidating. It is never easy. But it's also not hard. Not at all.

I hate the phrase hard work. Hard implies suffering or unwilling effort. It gives good work a bad name, a negative association. It gives people the impression that I am struggling or under strain. This isn't the case. Oh, there is a lot of work, no doubt about it. But just because it makes you sweat, or curse, or cry doesn't make it hard. It makes me lucky. I am damn lucky to live this life and own this farm. The efforts that bring food to the table are a privilege. I relish it.

I am not a victim: I'm a volunteer. No one has to live like this in the 21st Century. Far as I know, there wasn't a draft with Holstein-spattered humvees collecting agrarians for a forced deployment of composting and weeding. I know this every single morning I get up and put on my muck boots: that I made a choice and it involves much work. That said, the romance has never left me, and it never will. As long as I am taking part in even the smallest efforts to feed myself and friends: I will continue to be amazed and grateful for this opportunity—and to the hooves, claws, eggs, and dirt that help make this possible. I'll keep doing this work, but I will never dare call it hard anymore. I can't possibly look at it that any longer... I have learned if you change your mind about work - the work changes you.

I am not a hopeless romantic though—the reality and effort of country living have made their points loud and clear. From self-inflicted food poisoning to rainy day sheep-shit mucking—I am grateful to have even arrived at the point where farming mistakes can be made. I have been rammed by sheep and had to walk with a cane. I have been doubled over with pain in the garden. I have been so sunburned, or sick, or exhausted I wanted to (or did) throw up. But all of it (even the misery!) is beautiful. There is a bittersweet reality to getting campylobacter from rushed chicken processing. I only got it because I had chickens to process. My own nuggets in the backyard were once a pipedream and now they are clucking away outside and biting my ankles during morning feeding. I may have taken a hard hit getting sick and being so foolish, but hell, gut-wrenching bacteria wants to live too. Who I am to blame them for jumping on a sucker when they saw one?

I am doing all this so that a few generations from now my grandchildren can laugh at people like me.

I told you I was in love.

I have made many mistakes, but I have also had a few successes. I've enjoyed many homegrown meals over the years, learned to cook, spin, sew, can, raise animals, garden, and play music. For someone who grew up microwaving spaghettios—this is anthem.

I know I am a long way from what Cold Antler can be, what I hope it will be. I want to learn to raise and breed a small flock of sheep for lamb and wool. I hope to expand my garden and turn it into something I could turn for a small profit at the farmer's market. I want to continue raising chickens for eggs and some meat, and breeding angora rabbits: both in personal and small-scale operations. I do this because I want to raise healthy, locally-grown food for my coworkers and community and do things like the workshops below to get people started in self-sufficiency. I want to make this my life, my living, and do my best to help others get started along the way.

I am not interested in changing the world. I am interested in changing your Tuesday. If your apartment has one snap pea plant in the windowsill because of this blog: I am thrilled. If you have a pair of hens in the shed you used to only use to roof your riding mower: I am giddy beyond words. Those are the goals, to inspire and effect small changes in the folks who read this. That is the real work of Cold Antler Farm.

I use this place to talk about where I've going and where I have been. Please understand if you read this blog you are not following a how-to manual (more of a how-not-to manual at this point)—you are following a story. I am not by any means an authority, role model, or mentor on starting a small farm. I'm a beginner homesteader and greenhorn small farmer. Sometimes this blog is foolish and ugly. Sometimes it is breathtakingly satisfying. At least to me. Those are the breaks.

I thank you for coming along for the ride.
I have a long way to go.

44 Comments:

OpenID lisasfoods said...

Great post, and I am constantly in awe by what you are doing. And I like that you're not in this to change the world, but perhaps make small changes in people's day to day lives. Thank you.

I would love to do a blogger meet up sometime - I am in the Berkshires.

August 4, 2010 at 2:25 PM  
Blogger Rosie said...

When you align with what makes your heart sing and your eyes light up with excitement it is what you are supposed to be doing and where you are supposed to be. You are aligning with your soul and your divine purpose. It is not "work". So follow your bliss, it is where you are supposed to be. Be thankful and more will follow.

Rosann
SF bay area
California

August 4, 2010 at 3:03 PM  
Blogger Flartus said...

Well, maybe you are some kind of expert...of how to recover from farm mistakes, maybe?

I know how you feel about wanting to get others on the bandwagon. I've inspired a couple of friends to try gardening--one is simply going to plant a single tomato plant next spring. But once she gets a taste, I'm sure her garden will quickly expand.

August 4, 2010 at 3:11 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

Today I was thinking about you while I was taking the ripe black berries from the fruitbushes and picking tomatoes. It feels like sharing an experience and that is why I really like to visit your place. And you have the talent to write about it so eloquently.

Thank you for sharing your story.

August 4, 2010 at 3:22 PM  
Blogger Sara said...

I'm not lucky enough to have hens of my own yet, but your book has made me much pickier about the eggs I buy at the grocery store. And I thought about you this morning as I walked around the house shaking a jar of cream while I did my chores. =)

Love,
Sara

August 4, 2010 at 3:32 PM  
Blogger sara amber said...

jenna, that photo is gorgeous.

August 4, 2010 at 4:35 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

taken by Joanne Chattam!

August 4, 2010 at 4:36 PM  
Blogger Norma from Misty Haven Alpacas said...

I love your hard work versus good work statement. I've been on a somewhat similar journey and it's hard to explain to people who just don't get it.
The other day, I was skipping around the bedroom at 5:10 am, all excited to drive 2 hours to bring my yarn to a farmers market. I don't ever remember being that excited to commute into office work.
It's a life, not a job.

I have scars from working in the barn. My friends have their scars from skiing, biking, whatever.
Same deal, but this is my deal.
Great pics by the way!

August 4, 2010 at 4:56 PM  
Blogger David Shearer said...

This is one of your best post yet! Keep up the good work Jenna.

August 4, 2010 at 5:25 PM  
Blogger Diane said...

beautifully said!

August 4, 2010 at 6:04 PM  
OpenID chickadeeworkshop said...

Ah, Jenna, but you ARE changing the world, one reader at a time. You are younger than my children, but because I was lucky enough to find your blog and your book, I am changed. To do what you are doing, just for yourself, is great. To share it with us--your blog readers, book readers and newspaper/magazine readers--will definitely change people, one at a time. And that, my dear is exactly how the world changes--one person at a time until the balance tips.

Words like these "Far as I know, there wasn't a draft with Holstein-spattered humvees collecting agrarians for a forced deployment of composting and weeding" are the perfect example of why YOU are a writer.

And, once again, thanks for starting me on old time fiddlin' last summer. One year later and I can play almost everything in the book, minus two or three that I'm hung up on. You caused a 50-something person, who had never played an instrument, to go out, by a fiddle and learn to play real music. I'm not good, but I enjoy the sense of satisfaction that I can make real music (loosely defined) come out of my little wooden box with strings. My humble, everlasting gratitude for that.

August 4, 2010 at 6:18 PM  
Blogger jkizmann said...

I'm both impressed and envious of your life's work. I'm a graphic designer from the 'burbs, but the farmland is calling me, too. One day, I know I'll be out there. Your blog is certainly an inspiration. :)

August 4, 2010 at 6:24 PM  
Blogger Alicia said...

Great post, Jenna. I love your reflections about hard work and good work. It is a frame of mind- something changed with perspective.

While I understand you consider yourself a "beginner homesteader and greenhorn small farmer," what matters in the end is that you are you; that you have stuck with your dream; and that you take everything in stride and have learned from your "mistakes."

My maternal grandmother once told me: "Fear is a doorway. Step over the threshold and discover the gifts just beyond." You have gone above and beyond that step by doing what you do. And there are not many people who even acknowledge the doorway.

August 4, 2010 at 6:39 PM  
Blogger Cheryl said...

The wonder of your blog/life is that you take us along with you! It is the mis-steps and triumphs that keep me reading. You are real, not a made up reality show that is scripted for ratings. I thank you for sharing the ups and downs inside and out. You are the shepherd (if you will) of what is possible in a seemingly impossible world. I will continue to read your posts and books as my family and I search for our place in self sufficiency. After, I will need to read even more to help us figure it out. A network of homesteaders bound by one simple principal - Self sufficiency!
Thank You Jenna!

August 4, 2010 at 7:14 PM  
Blogger Eileen said...

It is the very best kind of tired, at the end of a productive day working on your own little corner of the earth.

August 4, 2010 at 7:31 PM  
Blogger Conviently Crazy said...

Jenna,
Every morning I get up for work the third thought of my day is "I wonder what Jenna is doing today?".(The first two are "OMG it's unholy bright for 6:45am." and "If my husband tells me to get up one more time, I swear I'm gonna...") I work 8 hours in a half cube with blinking fluorescent lights everyday and while I love my work, I am afflicted with a case of barnheart that cannot be appeased with 3 little growing containers on our apartment porch. The time I spend reading your blog heartens the small snippet of my soul that desperately longs for her own farm. I am so thankful that you have included those of us who follow your blog in your everyday life.
Always
Danielle

August 4, 2010 at 8:08 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

Thanks guys. After a low-self-esteme day yesterday I felt like saying why I do this.

Chickadee: i teared up reading that.

August 4, 2010 at 8:35 PM  
Blogger Emma said...

I am glad to be following your story!

I stopped by to share this, which I just read. It made me think of you!

(Oddly, the article does mention the phrase "hard work," but nevermind that...)

http://alarmpress.com/15532/features/music-interview/william-elliott-whitmore-voices-poetic-discontent-on-animals-in-the-dark/

August 4, 2010 at 8:41 PM  
Blogger Andy said...

What an excellent post. You write very well about your farming/homesteading experiences. Plus, I like how you put your words together.

Ever since I read your article in MEN last summer, I like reading your blog and past,present, and future writings. Hopefully the next few years I will have a small farm for myself just like you.

I think farming could be hard work but at the same time it could be very rewarding. I can see why more and more people are going back to farming/homesteading these days. It is more like a simple hard life comparing today's modern world. Plus, farming is like a home business.

Keep up the great work Jenna.

August 4, 2010 at 8:45 PM  
Blogger Katie said...

Always a pleasure to read your words. THANK YOU.

August 4, 2010 at 8:48 PM  
Blogger Karen said...

Your blog nearly always makes me smile. When you are writing about your loves, your passion shines!

August 4, 2010 at 9:29 PM  
Blogger Carissa said...

Jenna, I've been reading your blog for a little while and read your book -- and I loved them for exactly the reason you mention: that it is a story. What I really got from you book was inspiration... Not a whole lot of new or detailed information, but I was so in awe of the way you wanted something and just struck out and did it, making mistakes and learning along the way. I want many of the same things you do, and am working towards it on a small scale, but have let a lot of things (finances, lack of knowledge, etc.) hold me back from really going after my dreams as you have.
I just wanted you to know that your "how-not-to manual" is an inspiration to me! :)

August 4, 2010 at 9:39 PM  
Blogger Aaren said...

From a 30-something 3 years into the dream, it seems almost impossible to make a living just farming. I have an acre of veggies and a flock of 40 birds and almost 8 volunteers who help me tirelessly for free weekly and I just break even. The labor, tools, supplies, feed, and equipment are really sucking most of the profit from my pockets. Coming home from the Saratoga Market today with an almost full truck of beautiful veggies is heartbreaking. The market may be getting saturated in this area and many of my colleagues go all the way down to the city once a week. I hope it will be easier for you, as you will have less perishable goods and a writing career. I am a very deflated farmer and that is why I read you, to remember what I once was- an optimist. Thank you for keeping me hoping and dreaming. For me, today, as I sit here in my beautiful farmhouse on my 15 acres of beautiful land, the work seems more hard than good. I know it is not about money, but tell that to the bank! I am contemplating homesteading and a full time job again next season. Just be careful dear one.

August 4, 2010 at 9:47 PM  
Blogger Sense of Home said...

A terrific ride it has been!

Around here (North Dakota), hard work is something to be proud of; farmers are proud of their land, their animals, the products they produce, and the work it took to get where they are. One hundred plus years ago this land was homesteadeded. My grandmother (96 yr.) can tell stories of her parents homesteading here, this heritage provides a connection to the land.

Enjoy every minute of the journey, and thanks for sharing it with us.

-Brenda

August 4, 2010 at 10:20 PM  
Blogger Cindy said...

It is interesting to me how many comments referred to grandparents. Jenna, you are reflecting the values of previous generations, with a modern twist of course. Our ancestors valued "good work," but appreciation for getting a workout doing something productive has been lost in this age of air conditioned gyms with juice bars.
I am sure your grandchildren will enlist voluntarily with a grandmother who can tell such great stories. They will love your blog even 50 years from now.

August 4, 2010 at 11:40 PM  
Blogger Baking Midwife said...

What you've done is incredibly inspirational, especially at such a young age. I know you'll accomplish your goals, and can't wait to read all about it along the way! I've been following your blog for about a year and a half since I read your book, and this year we've been enjoying eating from our 1st real garden! Thanks for you words and honesty.

August 4, 2010 at 11:46 PM  
Blogger Paula said...

We all have a long way to go. I'm learning too, and I haven't taken on near what you have..

August 5, 2010 at 12:32 AM  
Blogger mush said...

"Little by little one walks far"

August 5, 2010 at 3:00 AM  
Blogger Jack said...

A marathon is run one step at a time, and as long as you can keep moving, you will reach the finish line.

August 5, 2010 at 3:15 AM  
Blogger Affi'enia said...

Yes! That is exactly the words to explain what this "hard" work is. Trying ot get co-workers to understand that making bread and weeding and getting up early when you're on holiday to let the chikens out is not "hard" it's worthwhile is one of the most difficult things I have tried to do. Might just direct them to this post next time :o)

August 5, 2010 at 3:46 AM  
Blogger Crit said...

I love your love story :)
Bravo to you for being brave enough to live your dreams--that is no small thing!

August 5, 2010 at 9:06 AM  
Blogger Harpy 101 said...

WE LOVE YOU.

August 5, 2010 at 11:13 AM  
Blogger Heather said...

I am but one example of people whom you have inspired- I, too, bought some acreage in the country and have a similar dream...the writing and the farming. But how to get there has been the problem...thank you for being a reminder that it certainly is a possibility.

August 5, 2010 at 11:28 AM  
Blogger The pale observer said...

Great work so far - it's amazing to witness a life and dedication to a lifestyle so far from where i am on the globe!

Keep up the good work - we'll be reading!

August 5, 2010 at 12:05 PM  
Blogger Sue Steeves said...

Bravo & well said Jenna! I salute you.....with hands dirty and scratched up from cleaning rabbit cages and trying to tame unruly squash beds :) -Sue

P.S. I totally thought of you as I spent last friday night canning 6 pints of strawberry jam and 5 pints of tomato sauce....I too am a very exciting young person!

August 5, 2010 at 12:28 PM  
Blogger Toni aka irishlas said...

Great post! Well said. I think you've inspired more folks than you know.

August 5, 2010 at 12:50 PM  
Blogger daisy said...

Jenna, no matter that you feel you are not a role model, mentor, world-changer. You are half my age and wise beyond your years. You have inspired me in so many ways. I have come to realize my true passion and how to go about following that bliss. I've started a blog of my own, thanks to you. You may not have intended to be part of my life, but you have changed my life's direction in many ways. I am thankful for each thoughtful phrase, each inspired photograph taken by a woman who early on realized what she wanted and wasn't afraid to go for it. I am eternally grateful to you and your open heart. daisy

August 5, 2010 at 2:19 PM  
Blogger Mrs. Q said...

You rock! I love your blog and only recently discovered it because of one of my readers. I have serious "Barnheart" and I don't know if it's curable. Thanks for taking us along in your journey!

August 5, 2010 at 2:41 PM  
Blogger E said...

Sobering food for thought for want to be farmers:

"The problem, Rogers makes clear, is a widespread lack of infrastructure for supporting small-scale, ecologically minded farmers. The public resources that might do just that are siphoned off by the industrial food system, in the form of commodity subsidies and largesse to the corn ethanol industry. Farmers like Pitts have to pass on the costs of their ecological stewardship directly to their customers in the form of eye-popping prices, which still don't add up to a decent salary, while industrial-scale farms can generally trash the environment with impunity, letting society as a whole, or distant communities, pick up the bill. See, for example, the Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone."

http://www.grist.org/article/food-why-eaters-alone-cant-transform-the-food-system/

August 5, 2010 at 2:42 PM  
Blogger Conny said...

I'm happy to visit your blog each day. CAF blog has become springboard for so many wonderful things. You've inspired much in me: fiddling, canning, sewing, chicken keeping, etc.

So glad you keep up the blog. :)

August 5, 2010 at 3:17 PM  
Blogger Stargazer 2 said...

JENNA,
Missed your CAF BLOG for a few days, & when I return to catch up with the happenings it never
ceases to amaze me that it's always
a great inspiring read!!!
Your goals will be more than
achieved, & you will BLESS many along the way, & INSPIRE many along
the way, & I will be one of those
that will "THANK YOU" for sharing your AMAZING JOURNEY with us!!!
CHEERS with a health drink!!!
Ronnie

August 5, 2010 at 9:11 PM  
Blogger Sara said...

I love reading your blogs and your pictures are great. Keep it up. The story is wonderful and we want to hear.

I dream of land. I just want 4 goats, a couple of chickens, 2 horses, a pond to fish in and an acre garden. I already have the rabbits, cats and dog. Though I'll need/want a guard dog and not the little thing that I rescued from the road. HA!

You inspire those of us dreaming to keep reaching for the dream. Keep it up.

August 6, 2010 at 10:38 AM  
Blogger hlbrack said...

Jenna, just got to reading this post and I was touched by it. Thanks for being an inspiration to us all! May God bless CAF.

August 9, 2010 at 11:51 AM  
OpenID yogini cowgirl said...

Jenna,
Your writing ... your life ... is inspiring and awesome. I just moved from Los Angeles to Montana and aspire to a life not too dissimilar from your own (although, mine is a little more yoga and not so many sheep!). Thanks for sharing all the ups and downs. It's gorgeous and a gift for all of your readers!

August 11, 2010 at 2:15 AM  

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