Once upon a time there were two very impractical and impoverished young people who got the wild idea that they wanted to marry and raise a family on a few good acres where they could grow their own food, spend lots of time outdoors with their children, and live in contact with nature and the seasons.
There is no limit to the fanciful dreams of the young. They knew, of course, that only professional people with very good incomes and a great deal of disposable wealth could afford this dream.
They themselves had very little income and almost no disposable wealth, so they rented a house on the poor side of town and grew tomatoes in a little bed in the back yard. They made compost in a little compost bin in the back yard. They grew babies on a mattress on the bedroom floor.
And they saved a little money so that in about seventy-five years they would be able to buy an acre or two of rural land and then they could start saving money to build a farm house.
They were very impractical people. After all, both descended from grandfathers with second-grade educations who had had the same dream.
Come to think of it, the grandfathers had had farms as well as dreams. And babies. And tomatoes.
The nature of Nature has changed, of course. Where once a small farm was a nursery from which people and domestic animals derived the necessaries of life, nowadays it is a money sink which swallows up cash as fast as a Manhattan subway swallows up commuters. Lumber for barns and fences, tractors, four-wheelers, registered livestock, hay, commercial feed and vet bills come with a substantial price tag. Faced with costs like these only the commercial farm of gargantuan size can hope to pay for itself. The cute little mom-and-pop farm that sustained itself with a garden, a cow, a few chickens, and a pig grunting in the pig sty is an icon of a pre-inflationary and medieval past.
In the Middle Ages, after all, commercial animal feed cost only pfennigs a day.
Back then cows ate grass and had baby calves, chickens scratched in the manure in the barnyard and laid eggs, and pigs rooted in the pig pen and ate clabber and had piglets. Hay was extra summer grass cut and dried and stored. Vegetables where what was in season in the garden, and fertilizer was what you cleaned out of the barn with a shovel. Gardens were plowed with a garden fork and feet took you where you needed to go on the farm. If a job was too big to do by hand it was probably just too big.
Today, when we have rototillers to churn the garden soil, it would obviously be a waste of our modern educations and our valuable time to turn it by hand. Likewise now that there are four wheelers to take us anywhere over rough terrain it would be foolishness for a person to walk all the way out to the barn to feed the registered quarter horse. Besides, it might make him late to the gym. Payback on hours and hours in the garden is no more tomatoes than could have been bought with just a single hour’s pay at the city job. Chickens are chi-chi right now, but they smell in wet weather and after all, Walmart sells pastured eggs with brown shells for just three dollars a dozen. Nowadays who can afford the small family farm?
And so the two Foolish Dreamers went on taking homesteading magazines and learned to make logs out of wet newspapers and spent their savings on football uniforms and orthodontics until their children grew up and got corporate jobs just as far from the compost bin and the tomato garden as they could and for lunch they ate grilled heritage pork in trendy locavore bistros.
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Once upon a time we met and after a lot of fighting and a certain amount of hand-holding and snuggling we told one another of our dream to marry one another and have babies and live in the country and raise our own food. After all, our grandfathers did much the same thing and it seemed to work out all right for them because after all, here we were, weren’t we? So we went to church and got an apartment and raised a garden in a vacant lot and chickens too, before they were all filched by someone of admirable skill and enterprise, and we took homesteading magazines and shopped garage sales and talked about what we were going to do when we found our dream farm. And one day after a kissing a great many frogs we decided maybe a frog was just what we needed because it was definitely all we could afford. So then there we were in a decrepit little shack on seventeen steep, stony acres of some of the worst land on the continent but it was paid for and mortgage-free. And we bathed the children in a bucket under a maple tree but only for a few weeks because while it was picturesque there was really no reason not to go ahead and fix the bathroom plumbing, and we hand-dug our gardens and put some chickens in the shed and Shawn went on with his city job so we could afford things besides eggs and tomatoes. Every year or so we built a shed or bought a second-hand tiller or chain saw and every year or so we had a baby. We read books about how to raise the babies but the babies seemed to raise themselves, and we read books about how to farm but the books all assumed that farm animals have to be fed commercially formulated feeds with bone meal and feather meal and rendered beef tallow in them. The feeds got to be expensive and we began wondering what people fed their animals before commercial animal feed was invented because of course we knew they didn’t really have Purina Layena in the Middle Ages. But we could find no books about this so we thought we would see if the animals would show us themselves like the babies did.
This blog is about what we found out.