Thursday, June 13, 2013

Building Unity Farm - Little Glamour, Lots of Laundry

My wife and I owned and operated a small winery on the Marin/Sonoma border in Northern California when we were in our 20's - from 1986-1991.   When I told my colleagues at the time that I ran a winery, they commented on the romance, art, and elegant lifestyle it implied.   It was agriculture.  It was hot, sweaty, and dusty.   You could make a small fortune in the wine business - as long as you started with a large fortune.   I relished the experience, but it was not elegant.

In many ways, running a small farm is the same.   The notion of a hobby farm or gentleman's farm sounds so Thoreau.    In reality, it's a lot of laundry.

Every morning before leaving the farm at 6:45am for the commute to Boston, I feed the animals, fill their water buckets, and clean stalls.   I make sure that no predators visited overnight, that crops were watered by irrigation systems, and that compost is moist but not too moist.

The picture above illustrates what it's like to manage the manure of 50 animals - that's a 16x16x3 foot compost pile.

Farm work is extremely satisfying and is an essential part of maintaining my equanimity.  Shoveling manure, hauling hay, and splitting wood are very Zen.

The difference between farm life  and suburban residential life is the scale.

Have you ever mulched your garden?    The picture below is the mulch pile for the trails of Unity Farm.  I run the dogs on the trails every night and they enjoy climbing the wood chip pile before it becomes trail mulch.

Weekends are filled with joyful work - every moment from 6am to 6pm is constant movement.

By the end of the day, I'm covered with hay, dirt, manure, forest debris, and animal hair.

The clothing I wear on the farm is the same tough climbing gear from Arcteryx that I've worn for years as an alpinist.   Not only does it stand up to the rigors of farm work, it also lasts through the repeated washings (at least two per weekend) needed to return the fabric to its baseline state.

The scale of Unity Farm as described in our LLC filing and Chapter 61A application (agricultural status) is

"Unity Farm raises alpaca for fiber for production to spun yarns.
        This can include milling of blankets or other objects beyond yarn.
         Also possible is the sale of cria (baby alpaca), as a result of our breeding plan

Fruits, eggs, honey, and gourmet mushrooms are planned components of the farmstand.
          Possible addition of other seasonal crops from the hoophouse
          Local flowers possible
Considerations include pasturage, cropland, location of farmstand, and web sales. Ecotourism and Northeast Organic Farming Associaton certification are to be considered."

We're not an agribusiness, we're a local community resource.    We may be the size of a gentleman's farm  but we're not very gentlemanly.   Little glamour, lots of laundry.   If you want to try it yourself, here's some of the best advice I've ever found.


Jim Thompson MD said...

Loved the post! One other rule, which is the reason I never took up farming after working on a farm for the summer: Prepare for the fact that time off is tough to schedule. Turns out live animals won't just hibernate for a couple weeks while you go away.

Randall Nielsen said...

Having grown up on a farm in Rural Washington State, it is hard to believe that you need to go to such descriptions of your work to get the point across that farming takes planning, hard labor, and sometimes an overbearing governmental harness to the fruit of your labors. To me it was just "work", when I went to school it was called Animal Husbandry, but at the end of the day we called it "life". Have a great time with your first harvests, they will be joyful AND delicious!

Anonymous said...

As far as linked advice on running a farm.. does it not fall into the "if you have to ask" category? The advice linked to implies there is some blueprint, or may offer a false sense of security. Reflexivity suggests that advice is the last thing needed. Difference is, you're doing "it" and that's why I visit.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoy reading your posts about your farm. I am wondering, are ticks a problem for your dogs and other animals?