Things no one told me about starting a farm

Since we started dating, my husband and I knew we wanted to live the “farm-to-table” life. At the time we first talked about it, “farm-to-table” wasn’t a phrase hipsters used yet. We’ve always lived at the confluence of all the aspects of that lifestyle, though. We’re adventurous foodies who grew up near and around farms, appreciating agriculture, and we love to be outside.

I’ve also always been an aggressive gardener. Even when I lived in a high rise in the middle of downtown Denver I had a rooftop garden and grew my own tomatoes and basil. There’s something incredibly satisfying about being able to create food from scratch yourself.

So, we watched for a long time to find some acreage that was close enough to work for us but would also allow us the ability to do some small-scale food production. We finally found the perfect place just north of Denver.

My ideas about living a farm-to-table life were pretty romantic. Luckily, I had a better idea of what we were getting into than most, but here are the things no one told me:

You’ll never have nice nails again

This might seem shallow and unimportant, but it’s true. Once you get on the chore train you won’t ever have the pristine nails of urban or suburban life again. You can get them done and have them for a day or so, but the chances of you keeping 10 nice nails clean, unbroken, and at a respectable length start to approach zero with every additional goat or chicken you acquire. Let them go.

You have no idea how hard you can work until you do it

I think back to the me of even a year ago, and I was so tired, but I feel like I wasn’t doing even a small percentage of the work I do today. People ask me how I manage to get up, work, do chores, shower, go to work, come home, do more chores, be a Mom and wife, and start all over again the next day.

It’s a stretch some days but I’ve never felt more capable than I am now. When it simply has to be done, you just simply do it.

There are times when it’s negative degrees outside and I wonder what I was thinking. How could I have gotten myself into this? But I throw on a coat and a scarf, my work gloves, and have feeding and watering all the animals down to a 20-minute routine. Animals don’t rely on you only when it’s nice out.

On the days I want to quit, I come inside and cook myself a farm-fresh egg in the early-morning silence and think about all the opportunities I’m giving myself and my family to grow. It’s hard, but so worth it.

You’ll learn more and become more creative and innovative

Who knew that there was an entire latch department at the hardware store and it was so useful? Someone with an escape-artist goat – that’s who.

From creative ideas for cheap planters (I spray-painted 5-gallon buckets and drilled holes in the bottom because for some reason actual planters of the same size were $40 each) to new ways to keep in the animals you want, and out the animals you don’t – you reach new levels of innovative when you have to. It’s amazing.

You will look at food differently

Food is something that so many of us take for granted in our lives. It takes on a new meaning and vitality when you grow, milk, or collect it yourself.

From being more careful with portions in an effort not to waste, to composting everything I can find, being an active participant in the process has made me more conscientious. It’s one thing to absent-mindedly throw away half a salad from a restaurant, it’s completely different when you sowed the seeds, watered them, picked them and then assembled them into a salad. You’re gonna eat the whole thing.

Although I have always loved good flavors, I’d never been a person to carefully consider my food. That all changed when I started to make my own food from “scratch scratch.”

Once you first make an entire meal from seeds, water, sun, and your animals, (mine was a zoodles with egg dish that I will have to recipe for you someday), it’s hard to not sit down at any restaurant and start to think about all the people, work, and inputs that go into every simple meal.

Once you really think about it, the ability to order a cheeseburger in the middle of winter is basically a miracle.

Your relationship with animals will change

I’ve always been an animal lover. Yes, I have even referred to my dogs as “fur-babies” before. They have outfits. I’m that girl. But, I’ve also spent years as a bird hunter, which is a favorite past-time with my dog. Having a pet, though, is an entirely different experience than having an animal that you’re either going to eat or which you use to procure food.

For all the guff Disney has gotten over the years for giving young women princess complexes, they should have received as much if not more for anthropomorphizing all animals, (don’t get me started on the Brave Little Toaster). Yes, animals have emotions and are complex creatures, but they are not human. Our animals should be treated well and given their due respect.

You can still love your animals and appreciate them, but also realize they have an additional purpose. I aspire to give all my animals the best possible life they can have. They free-range around a large fenced pasture, are fed an all-organic diet and are treated well. The difference is the dog, the cat and wallaby are my pets – my ducks are not my pets.

Goats, incidentally, exist in a weird middle ground, at least for now. Although I can’t imagine eating any of the goats we currently have, we have discussed the idea of getting meat goats at some point. Right now I’ll just enjoy their milk, make cheese, and take selfies with them.

You’ll never be the same

No matter what happens with our little farm, I can never fully go back. The early mornings, the aching back, finding straw in the most random places – it’s all worth it. When you walk to the gate and all the animals come running, when you see the first sprouts push out of the ground, and when you see the buds on the fruit trees – it’s all worth it.

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