Journey To Our First Farm-A Love Story (Arrived)

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First things first, chickens.  A few short weeks after moving in Andy came to spend the weekend.  He went with me to the feed store a few blocks away and helped me pick out the cutest, fluffiest egg layers we could find.  We chose ten one day old chicks.  We had never held chicks before.  They are absolutely precious.  Their small, soft bodies cradle perfectly in the palm.  Their innocent chirping and small frames bring out the mama in anyone.  We brought them to our new farmhouse and set them carefully in a large plastic box with a heat lamp in the crooked chicken coop.  We kissed their heads.  We cheered them on.

Each child and adult in the household went out to the crooked chicken coop several times a day to give kisses on the head, and to see what the chicks were up to.  We held them close, we named them.  These were not going to be eatin’ chickens.

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We were sad when two passed away.  We were told that was normal.  Laverne and Shirley were our Jersey Giants (at two inches tall, this was hard to believe), Lucy and Ethel were our California Whites, and Mahalia, Peep, Violet, and Daffodil were our Golden Buffs.  Their personalities began to emerge.  Peep would stop in front of you to get picked up and loved.  Lucy and Ethel were, as their monikers suggest, always into mischief.  But, they were lovable little white chickens.  Violet kept pecking at my toe nails which quickly became unnerving.  Her antics made her stand out as the constantly in detention chicken.  She was ever protective of the flock.  The Buff girls were all sweet.  Laverne and Shirley with their blue-black feathers and lovey personalities won us over.  We saved Shirley’s life by applying a cotton ball neck brace around her tiny neck and letting her watch television with us.  She survived her injury and won our hearts.

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We ignored the boards falling down around the raised beds (we are still overlooking them) and added in compost.  We planted all of the beds and waited patiently for fresh greens, tomatoes, and farm fresh eggs.  Homegrown food was becoming an obsession and we wanted to be able to provide as much of it for our family as we could.

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The store was still busy and we were doing farmer’s markets as well with our herbal medicines so the garden was somewhat neglected but we did get some produce out of it and the eggs we were getting were the best we had ever had.

One warm autumn evening, the Broncos were playing so the game was turned up high.  I heard Bumble barking hysterically from outdoors.  Bumble doesn’t really bark.  I went to the back door and looked outside and what I saw seemed unreal.  A horror movie of sorts.  A medium sized dog was running around playfully, slightly mad, with Violet in his jaws.  Feathers were everywhere.  A dead bird lay in the doorway of the coop.  A small child, not more than four, stood in the fenced in area for the chickens, a scratch across his face, a blank look in his eyes, kicking a white chicken viciously as she struggled to get away, convulsing to her death.  I began screaming.  I’m not sure who was the more crazy.  Me, the dog, or the child.

I swung over the fence with ease in my delirium and approached the young mother.  She could say nothing but sorry and blamed the dog.  I continued to scream and cry for another two hours in my yard.  Into the night we searched for missing chickens.

Lucy died, after struggling.  Violet was already stiff with rigor mortis.  And little Shirley, who had survived an injury and won our hearts, lay dead as well.

We found Ethel running around desperate to get into the coop early the next morning.  The other chickens avoided the horrid fate.  I wondered if I was cut out for this.  I have such an intense love for animals.  Perhaps farming and animals was not right for me.  We have had no other predators since then, thankfully.

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I still wonder at times if we are cut out for this.  If Katrina delivers a baby that dies, Doug and I would be heartbroken.  We do not want to lose any of our animals.  But, that is what makes us cut out for having farm animals.  These animals live very good lives.  Spoiled, and well loved.  Well fed, and even if we sell the babies or lose chickens, we will have given them a great life until then.

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The next spring we got more chickens and dug up the entire yard to make a quarter acre of growing space.  These events I have written about.  Our farmer’s market folks started to taper off at the store.  No one wanted to drive that far and if you aren’t directly in front of people, they forget you.  New folks that walked the street looking for antique stores literally looked at our sign and hastened their pace by us.  One woman walked in the store, looked around and slowly backed out of the store.  I told Doug I was going to set up a giant cauldron with dry ice just for laughs our last day open.

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Turns out it was the best thing to close the retail shop.  We are more available to folks when they need us when there aren’t set store hours.  I have many herbs on hand growing in the yard.  The farm is taking shape with its alpacas, goats, chickens, a rooster, and whimsical pumpkin patch out front.  This year we will add many more medicinal herbs, plant more intensely, and hit the farmer’s markets as farmers and herbalists.  Our lease is up next year and at that point we may search for a bigger farm.  Baby steps.  We have about mastered this practice farm.

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We are farmers.  When a passion is so strong that you cannot stop talking about it, can’t stop dreaming about it, it is your calling.  Doug’s passion is people, animals, farming.  Mine is educating, children, animals, farming.  We want to not only bring people fresh food but teach them how to do it.  Not just heal people, but teach them how to do it.  We want to leave a lighter footprint.  Lead a simpler life.  Lead a happy, peaceful, sometimes difficult and heartbreaking, but rewarding life.

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I know I could farm on my own.  I could fulfill all of these dreams alone.  But, I am so thankful to have found the love of my life to farm with.  To follow this journey with.  Each day we turn the pages of our joint chapters together, the next book to come.  Fourteen years ago this Valentine’s Day I met my future.  Together, we are making a difference and falling in love each day with each other and with this farming life.

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This is a love story.  Not just a romantic one, but a love story about the smell of fresh soil, the taste of cherry tomatoes straight off the vine, the warm sun on your face, the smell of roses in bloom, the sight of chickens running through the back yard, of fresh food, friends, family, community, and following your passions.  I’m in love.

Journey to Our First Farm-A Love Story (Part 2)

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We loaded the children up the first week of December in 2009 to find adventure and a new life in New Mexico.  I had already scouted out a few rentals in charming adobes for us and we were going to stay a week near the plaza in Santa Fe.  A week of rejuvenation is just what we needed.

As the snow fell softly outside the window, we sat in front of the kiva with its fire burning brightly and made a plan.  For me it involved a farm, a new life as an herbalist, and happy children living and playing in the land that we love.  For Doug, it was an effort to keep from crying or withdrawing.  He was still reeling from his final straw at the office.  Should he put his two weeks notice in?  Are they going to fire him?  What are we going to do?  He stressed and fought within himself the entire trip.  We weren’t sure if we could make it solely as herbalists.

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We had just completed our first summer of farmer’s markets on the weekends just for fun.  We had a small line of products that we had made and that worked for our family.  We didn’t expect them to take off the way they did and be so accepted at the Parker and Lone Tree Farmer’s markets.  It gave us hope.  Still, we didn’t have a huge clientele. (Partially because we forgot to put our phone number on the labels that first year!)  We had fallen in love with the herbals though and wanted it to be more of our life.

It had began simply enough.  A book on natural beauty.  Which led to herbal gifts, a class held at the local nursery.  Which led to picking up a book there called 101 Herbs that Heal by Tammi Hartung.  Which led to, “What?! That heals what?”  And the mission was on to learn everything I could about herbs.  Doug followed along.  He enjoyed the farmer’s markets and that we were helping people.  He learned through me.  I got a certification as an herbalist to offer some credibility to customers the year before.  We had a new career.  But one that really only made $200 a month outside of markets.

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Then the door closed.  On New Mexico anyway.  We received an email stating that there was a rather long waiting list for herbalists to get into the markets.  I wasn’t unique there.  I tried then to get my dance company into their schools as I had done in Douglas County.  Someone had beat me to it.  Then the clincher.  No one would return my calls about the rentals.  Not a single one.  We loaded the kids back up and headed back to our home we were about to lose.

“How about Elizabeth?” Doug asked.

“Elizabeth?” I responded.  (That’s not even close to New Mexico.) “Why there?”

Doug had grown up going to and working at a summer camp in Elbert (not far from Elizabeth) and had fond memories of the whole area.  It was only thirty minutes from where we currently lived and secretly he had not wanted to move so far away.

I was thumbing through a newspaper, actually looking for a job, when I came across an advertisement for a house in Elizabeth.  Four bedrooms, 2 baths, on a quarter acre.  I called.

I said kind of snottily, “Is your house still for rent?  I have nine cats.”

“Oh good, I love cats.  Yes, when can you move in?”….