I can’t think of a single aspect of farming that isn’t an act of love. It usually begins with the break of day, or just before it. I blindly feel through the darkness of the room for my boots and jacket before fumbling down the stairs and out the back door. I slowly make my way to the barn and as I rub the sleep from my eyes, I am blanketed by the stillness of the earth at dawn. The animals begin to stir in the early light. Yak the horse lets out a low nicker then brushes my cheek with his whiskers – it’s his way of saying ‘Good morning.’ Slowly, the goats and the cows follow suit as they rise from their beds and make their way towards the gate. The kittens stretch and yawn quietly until the first shot of milk hits the side of the pail, then they rush to my side impatiently waiting for their breakfast. And so it goes, the milking and feeding take place as the sun rises up over the Midland Hill, and the silence I first stepped into is carried off with the awakening of the farm. It’s mostly the silent moments that draw me in to this life. It gives me a quiet sense of solitude when I secretly crave isolation from the world around me, something I crave more often than most. It is in these moments, however, when I find I am least alone, and most surrounded by love.
I don’t always crave solitude. Farming has many opportunities for socialization and I enjoy each and every one. I can hardly resist walking through the Farmer’s Market; being amongst the offerings, catching a small glimpse into each farmer’s world. I can smell the sweat that went into each harvest, the blood that once coursed through the veins of the perfectly sliced meats. I feel honored that the farmers are willing to share the fruits of their labors, something I find it hard to put a price on for myself. Then the food slowly makes its way to our tables. Another of my all-time favorite gatherings: the farm feast. Nothing could be so fulfilling as growing and preparing the food with which your friends and family will nourish themselves. It is intimacy in its most basic form. It is during these times that I cannot imagine being alone, for the only point of all that isolation and hard work is to bear the sacrifices of your being unto the altar of those you genuinely care for. It is simple. It is love.
Many of the social aspects of farming rely on the good will of the community whether it involves help with moving a herd or help with raising a barn. Recently, here at the Crowded Acre, we found ourselves recipients of such good will. We were faced with the task of building a barn. Not too long ago, barns were built by communities, not by a single family. Not only did every citizen gather to help each neighbor build each barn, but they were required to do so. My, how times have changed. We toyed with the idea of holding a ‘barn-raising’ when we were first planning the heart of the Acre. We were unsure, though, as to how many people would actually show up to help create something which had little bearing on their own lives. We blindly moved forward, with the hope that good will had survived the many changes that farming has experienced within our own lifetime.
We spent countless hours preparing for the barn-raising. We poured over plans, had the land cleared and excavated, built footers, placed posts deep into the ground, poured concrete, and raised trusses. We got as much done as we could with a small farm to run and three kids in tow. When the barn raising was near, my parents flew out to help watch kids and prepare food for the big event. And what a big event it was. The morning was a bit slow to start. The Fire Chief was the first to make it out to help us get started after breakfast. Then a couple of friends with no building experience whatsoever jumped right in and started making cuts on the chop saw. These were quickly followed by the neighbors, more close friends, people we didn’t even know, and a decent handful of mere acquaintances from around our quaint town. Before mid-afternoon, we were even surprised by one of my husband’s highschool classmates who had made the drive from Dallas just to lend a hand for the day. We were immediately and completely blown away by the generosity of our friends, family, and community. People with previous building experience were helping to build doorways and finish framing. Those with no experience were learning, devoting time to helping in any way possible; placing strapping for the siding, hauling sand for the brick flooring of the greenhouse, helping to watch the dozen kids running loose around the Acre, or chopping tomatoes for the fresh corn salad. It was Beautiful. Generous. Humbling. Words simply cannot express what I felt.
Towards the end of the day, we tapped a keg, served up a home-cooked meal, and sat down to some live, local music. We had a chance to sit and visit with those who came out to help us bring our dream to reality. This particular dream has been almost six years in the making. It started when some close friends of ours purchased a small flock of backyard hens. I then suggested that we purchase a few hens…and maybe a goat. My husband staunchly protested this notion. Many years and several kids later, we own a small family farm. After building our barn, I asked my husband what he thought of getting paid for building a similar barn for our neighbors….”Sweetie!”, he yelled, “The ONLY reason I am building *this* barn is because I am madly in love with you. That’s it, no more, the end.” And just like that, a barn was built out of intimacy, out of love. But not just by a single individual. It was built by a person, by a family, by a community. It was built by their collective love for each other; the heart of the Crowded Acre. The heart whose beating rouses me from my sleep in the early hours of the dawn, whose beating comforts me in my solitude and reassures me that I am never alone.