farmer’s diary

A Busman’s Holiday
by John Lee

Dear Diary,

Today I took the day off from work at the farm and guess what? Life at home was no different! My wife, God bless her, had a list of things for me to do that would have made cleaning the Augean Stables look simple. Now, mind you, I am a farmer and am somewhat acquainted with the daily tasks of production agriculture. But occasionally, I hope to get a brief respite when I am not at work. No such luck today!

I suppose I am fortunate to have an off-the-farm life that allows my wife and me to have a bit of quiet rurality here on our burgeoning home- (becoming farm-) stead. But, lately, things have gotten a bit out of hand. The cutting garden has become a greens garden; and in the mode of waste not, want not, the back 40, which I have tried in vain to think of as conservation land (mow it once a year) is destined to become a micro-Mendoza with grapes, berries, vegetables and an arcane antediluvian irrigation system. I ask you, what’s a man to do when faced with excess opportunity and a partner in crime who thinks we can feed the world and do it with a certain style and grace? Did I mention a white tablecloth at the farmers market?

For instance, last year we “needed” a few hens for the obligatory farm-fresh eggs. So I rescued 15 well-bred, handsome hens. I fixed up a run and congregate housing for the girls. Between the lot of them, they only managed to share a half a dozen eggs a day. Poor production in light of such amenities! I packed them off to purgatory in New Hampshire. Cute didn’t cut it. This year we have 10 sex-links who are just plain randy-looking but generously throw us 10 eggs a day. (Is there no happy medium?) Maybe the price of eggs will someday justify the price of grain. Naturally, our girls only get the best organic (but not hand-milled) grain from Vermont (and, of course, a green salad from the garden every day!) I do think they lay very tasty eggs, nonetheless.

Now the back 40 has become a hodge-podge of small-plot projects and mowing it efficiently (not an operative term on our ranchette!) has become impossible. The solution to this new set of woes is to build a predator-proof mobile poultry palace with the idea that it will be grand enough for the girls, won’t displease the neighbors and be lightweight enough for us to move around the field by hand (we do everything by hand). Frankly, this little project is really going to cut into my fishing time but at least I won’t have to clean the barn if I move it often enough.

You can see where this is all going. Fantasies about a peaceful retirement are headed for the compost pile as complete self-sufficiency rears its ugly head. In a few years, I will quit farming to “farm” some more but without the prospect of fungible remuneration: live to farm versus farm to live. One acre of boulder-bearing meadow might support a goat or two (that’s what she wants next!) but not a milkmaid (a synonym for day off). I am blessed with the curse of opportunity and secretly loving it.

John Lee is the manager of Allandale Farm (Boston’s last working farm), which specializes in naturally grown local produce. Each summer, John manages an outdoor children’s program on the farm. He writes for local new outlets and is deeply involved with farming and locally grown issues in Massachusetts.

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