The call to do something we feel we want to, or should, do is often ringing loud and clear inside of us. Yet, how often do we actually listen to it?
Maybe we don’t believe we can or should do something simply because it doesn’t seem to fit into our lives at this time. These are the moments that we must take a leap of faith and trust that our intuition (or whatever you’d like to call it) is guiding us down the right path.
For me and my family, it was moving to a farm.
Nothing about the decision made complete sense. Our work was better suited to the city and my frequent travel meant being close to an airport was ideal. For years, we’d been “city people”—having lived in New York and Vancouver. We loved everything about our little neighborhood coffee shops, markets and ramen bars!
But the idea of trying out a different lifestyle kept nagging at us.
Then, one Saturday, Janna saw a place on Facebook Market that looked like the perfect farm to rent. Curious, we called and set up a visit for the very next day. We fell in love with it and accepted residency on the spot. We rushed home to patch the holes in our walls, put our life in boxes and, by Friday, we were sitting on the front porch of our farmhouse having coffee, wondering how on Earth did this all come together so fast?!
So, other than that “feeling,” what drove us?
- We wanted to grow our own vegetables. Knowing where our food came from and what had been used to help it grow, in addition to not travelling hundreds of miles to reach our plate, greatly appealed to us from an environmental perspective.
- Additionally, we hoped our food expenditure would be less and we wouldn’t be as reliant on other sources (i.e., a grocery store) for our food. (Ultimately, it didn’t end up costing us a lot less in our first season growing veggies, but we learned a ton—like when NOT to plant garlic—and we accumulated seeds to sow next year.)
- We wanted our girls to feel the freedom of just going outside and exploring without having to ask us (or us having to worry about what might happen). Cultivating that, we believed, would help them feel independent and get them into nature more spontaneously.
- Having grown up in a rural community ourselves, meant we could wander creeks and explore forests letting our imaginations guide us. We wanted that for our girls as well—where they could feel like young explorers using their imagination to turn molehills into mountains and villages and whatever else they could dream up.
- The pace of city life had been wearing on our nerves. We wanted to slow down and teach ourselves to pause more. When I say “we,” I include my wife and, hopefully, our children. Creativity is born in the space of doing less (not more). Our hunch is that it will always be easy to do a million and one things, but the skill of doing less, or taking pauses to relax and appreciate the beautiful world surrounding us, may become a lost art—if we didn’t re-instill it into our lives.
- This doesn’t have anything specifically to do with living on the farm, but I did get my hunting license shortly after we moved. Janna is mostly vegetarian, and the girls and I eat meat, so we decided to hunt the meat we’d eat at home. The deforestation and inhumane treatment of animals during the mass production of meat (and dairy) products is simply horrendous. I learned a great deal about the law and spirit of fair chase, as well as the wildlife and habit management and conservation achieved hunting this year. It completely changed my opinion. Sharing meat with my cousins, we added wild-caught goat, moose, elk and deer to our deep freeze. Eating meat you’ve spent days, if not weeks trekking through mountains or laying still in a frozen marsh to hunt yourself leaves you feeling a deep sense of gratitude for the gift of the meat and that it isn’t right…if no animal shows up or we don’t have a successful hunt there is no meat! As such, we always say a prayer of gratitude to the animal If you’re asking did I shoot the animals myself? I haven’t yet. I’m still learning how to use a rifle. Shooting the animal in the wrong place may cause them A) to run off injured and be unrecoverable, B) die in unnecessary pain and C) cause needless waste to parts of meat.
What we learned:
Nature soothes anxiety. By the time we’d moved, we had all felt varying degrees of anxiousness. Mother Nature certainly knows how to soothe souls!
Chores we did:
- Planting the garden
- Spot-cleaning chicken poop
- Overhauling chicken coop—out with old straw, in with new
- Watering 3 gardens daily, more on hot days
- Sorting through compost—some for chickens, some for bin, some for fertilizer
- Picking weeds in garden
- Harvesting food
- Collecting eggs
- Treating chicken—head to toe assessments for health maintenance
- Garden maintenance—health/death/pests
- Mowing the lawn
- Chopping wood for fires (inside and out)
- Moving wood to various piles to keep dry or burn
- Collecting kindling
- Wasp nest watch
- Cleaning up leftover mouse/bird/bunny carcasses
- Weed whacking
- Collecting herbs
- In-home chores including daily maintenance & deep cleaning
- Spontaneous fun chores like taking care of baby rats & injured animals such as birds, chickens & bunnies
- Feeding the cat
- Hunting the meat (we haven’t yet attempted to prep the meat ourselves but we will in the years to come)
Living on the farm by the numbers:
- 2—the number of days per week I worked in the office downtown Vancouver. I usually just slept at the office to save driving time. The rest of the time I worked from home.
- 12—the number of pieces of chopped firewood we’d usually burn in a day to keep our house warm so as not to use the furnace.
- 1-2x/month—the number of times we took the girls into the city for “city days” as they came to be known. We’d visit friends, museums, cafes and just wandered urban neighborhoods. (before COVID)
- Chart for total harvest:
- Kale—7 bunches
- Spinach—5 bunches
- Lettuce—10 bunches
- Arugula—5 bunches
- Brussels sprouts—20 nuggets
- Strawberries—50 +
- Cherry tomatoes—300 +
- Field House tomatoes—23
- Butternut Squash—16
- Celery bunches—8
- Parsley—6 bunches
- Chives—10 bunches
- Rosemary—still growing strong
- Sage—3 large bunches
- Oregano—2 bunches
- $442.72—the amount it cost us to buy all seeds, dirt & plants for the year.
- 16—the number of chickens we have (Babies, roosters, and hens)
- 28—the number of eggs they gave us each week (took 6 hens 21 weeks to start laying)
- Chickens put themselves to bed each night when they notice the sun going down
- Roosters are debonair gentlemen. They protect, alert, find snacks and generally have the wellbeing of all the hens in mind. Rare situation for us with 2 roosters & 6 hens.
- 2—the number of months it took us to build 4 planters & gardens (including herb garden), chicken coop, and chop firewood for the winter.
- 3—the number of hours I spent mowing the lawn each week (love/hate relationship with that much grass!)
- 2—the number of composts we had. The chicken droppings and old straw became the basis for one of our composts; the weeds and food scraps from the house became the other. The chickens also liked our leftover veggies and (some) food scraps.
- Banana peels, eggshells and coffee grounds became special super-charged fertilizer. So, waste was most certainly minimized once we got the hang of things.
- Recycling the chickens’ own eggshells to make sure they got the calcium back into their diets.
- 1 yard in 4 months—the actual amount of dirt we made with our first compost.
- 15 +—the number of birds, mice and bunnies our former apartment cat (turned full-blown predator), sadly killed?
- Seeds we managed to store for next year: 3 variations of tomato, TPS (true potato seeds), pumpkin, butternut squash, spaghetti squash, cantaloupe, peas, beans, mint, basil, cilantro, marigolds
- 2—the number of times a windstorm kicked out our internet and power.
For more fun-filled information about farm life, you can follow us on Instagram at Hardy Feather Farms.
The best Lessons from the farm:
- The most exciting adventures are always the unexpected ones. For example, when we had frogs in the house, baby rats growing in the chicken coop, hundreds of termites in a piece of chopped wood, homemade chicken-beak stabilizing reconstructive surgery, cutting the chickens wings, saving baby bunnies from our cat and learning what TPS was and what it meant for our garden!
- Bees literally run the farm by pollinating the trees, the fruits, and vegetables that we eat. They are worth protecting—each and every one.
- Sometimes the kids (and us adults) need to be forced to go outside before they remember how fun and good it feels.
- Watching the world around you respond to the seasons is a beautiful message for respecting the seasons of our own lives.
- Starting the day with a fire & coffee will never get old.
- Collecting heritage breed chickens is becoming a real hobby AND collecting eggs throughout the day is JUST as exciting for an adult as Easter morning is for a kid, but it’s every day!
- Celebrating every inch of real growth from the chickens, to the garden, and my girls with nature around us has only made me appreciate the rhythm of life all more deeply.
- Nature connects us all, literally. We eat it, we revel in its beauty, it dictates what we do each day, it makes us feel glad or sad, we work with it, respect it, play in it, cry with it, and every new life is a miracle, be it plant or animal.
- Trees are amazing & they take care of everyone; the bees who pollinate our garden make homes in them, birds who eat the pests rest in them, we take shelter from sun, wind & rain under them, and they remind us of the important lessons in letting go.
- We can handle more than we think we can—even if it feels chaotic at first.
- We always have each other—to help and be helped.
- School can literally be anything you might need or want to learn on any given day from to why we can only have one or two roosters (and how that might be similar to our human lives) to how seeds grow and our left overs become dirt.
- I can make *almost* anything.
A final thought:
One evening, standing barefoot next to our fire pit, the aromas of meat and vegetables slow roasting in our Earth oven, I couldn’t help but feel incredible gratitude. A thousand shades of green stretched into the distance; the 8000 ft summit of Cheam Mountain loomed, golden red, against the setting sun as flocks of geese, swans and other avian varietals headed south across the horizon.
Wisps of soft clouds danced in the sky and a subtle breeze whispered across our land, swaying the grass and rustling the leaves.
This gratitude was one that can only be born of closeness with the mother—Mother Nature. By being held in her embrace. Held in her balance, and learning how to be part of it again.
An invitation it seemed…
…to an education unfolding before us. It would be foolish to assume the bliss and relative ease of our first season on the farm would be a constant. The effortless and challenging would share equal parts of the adventure ahead. Yet, despite the mystery, we’d found a place to call home.
Thanks for reading,
Janna + Joel
4 thoughts on “What we Learned our First Year on the Farm”
Loved reading your blog and how your farm life began and so nice to have actually visited you and actually know where you are in Agassiz. Think we will forego the invitation to sit outside and enjoy a cup of coffee or wine for now. Weather isn’t really conducive to sitting around. See you some time in the future and we know where to find you
Totally Sandra! It’s been a wee bit rainy of late : ( For sure next summer!!
LOVE EVERYTHING about this post (except that it means that Jack has had zero access to his best friend during covid + that we really do miss you all terribly!!)
Sending much LOVE from the city!! Xxxxx casa downing
Quinn: I really miss you Jack, I’m glad you liked the post! We would love for you to come and visit as soon as you can. I hope that I can see you guys soon in the city too.
J & J – We miss you guys too! Can’t wait for you guys to see this special place. xoxo Hardy Feather Farm
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