At the farmers markets, we love discussing differences between our two breeds of meat chickens, and we can wax eloquent about the virtues of our old-fashioned hogs. We can explain how we keep our animals outside eating greens, and why that’s unique and important. We speak with some authority about these things.
We are able to speak with authority because we’ve had help. Almost four and a half years ago, we uprooted our family of four from our beloved South Minneapolis home so we could follow our dream of farming, and we started to fix up a farmhouse that sat vacant after a foreclosure.
The wind whipped and wailed around the house like a chorus of querulous voices, and enormous farm equipment moved through the vast black fields at night, looking more like space ships than tractors. Inside the house, we tackled the leaky windows, distressed carpet, and stolen pipes. We bought 50 chickens, and my husband built them a coop. When I looked up from my work long enough to form a thought, I marveled at our hubris.
Then my husband Ian did something that changed our life: He bought a used dehumidifier. The man selling the dehumidifier had an antique tractor at his house, and so he and Ian started chatting. They talked for more than two hours, and after that, my husband had dehumidifier and a friend.
My husband’s friend Chuck grew up farming in Iowa in an era when a family farm looked more like what you see in children’s books. They had a menagerie of animals, and they rotated their land through pasture, hay and corn, to protect the fertility of their miraculous black soil. It is the kind of arrangement that supported people for many generations, and it’s the kind of farming we would like to do.
Chuck had plenty of advice about how we could keep our first little flock healthy. He also had advice about machinery. Early in their friendship, he and my husband drove out to buy our tractor together, then spent hours in the garage, working on carburetors and leaking gaskets.
Four years later, Chuck still puts in time on our tractor, but he has branched out. When we got 8 inches of rain, and our chicken coop flooded, I called Chuck. When we weren’t sure we could finish building a coop before the arrival of some laying hens, Chuck was there swinging a hammer. When we sit down to plan what our farm will look like in 10 years, he’s there with ideas.
Sometimes, when I have a moment to look up from my work with chickens and hogs, I still marvel at our hubris. The thought is overshadowed by respect for the people who have walked this path before us and who want us to succeed. Our friendship with Chuck has helped us stay rooted us in a solid tradition of farmers. For that, I am grateful.