Friday, July 04, 2014

Elderflowers and (Elder) Farming Thoughts

Yesterday I did something I have been wanting to do for a few years now - I picked elderflowers. I had been hearing about making elderberry cordial (or syrup as most Americans call it) for a few years. Yesterday I finally acted on it. 

Some things take me a few years to do. Are you like that? Sometimes it is a matter of finding the time. For the past decade and a half, most things that I thought about doing didn't get done because of family priorities. Now that Julia is older, I can actually do some of the things that I have wanted to do. Funny that one of them has to do with a weedy plant your see all over our area. 

Today is the 4th of July and it is pouring down rain. This means I do not have to feel guilty about not weeding the garden which is now almost knee deep in weeds after the hot, incredibly humid weather we have had this past week. We can't move the sheep today either. Oh well.

Farmers markets are in full swing. I do the Noho Tuesday Market, The Farmer does the Amherst Saturday Market and Julia is doing the Bernardston Saturday Market (her first summer job - more about that later). Market stands are now spilling over with abundance. Veggie and flower farmers work so hard growing things. The market stands brimming with flowers, berries, veggies, and greens are a major miracle. It is a very difficult way to make a living but they keep at it. 

Picking the flowers off the stems
I worry about the younger farmers all the time - I can't help it. It is the Mom and realist in me. I speak with the younger farmers at the market and I see the worry on their faces. Most of them are two decades younger than The Farmer and I. I worry they are working too hard, that they will burn out. 

I also meet a lot of young people who are in college or just out of college that want to be farmers. The idealism that is in their faces overwhelms me and I wonder if I was so naive when I was young. Yes - I surely was. I worry that as they go into farming, they won't be able to buy a house and won't be able to afford having a family. It is a real worry for sure and one I am positive their parents are thinking the same thing as their kids choose a career path. But that is the beauty of youth - they do not see all the complications and real life ahead. And thank goodness for it.

A flower is made of hundreds of little flowers
When we went into farming, we both had other jobs and we both still do. We bought our first sheep in 1980 when we were not even out of college (those were the idealistic, everything was possible days). We grew our flock over the years - changing up the genetics as our knowledge increased and we learned more. We have been living this farming life for over 30 years now and always working other jobs to pay the bills. (BTW, Happy Anniversary to The Farmer - 30 years! And I was with Julia visiting Derek and Julianne Hough. Missed it once again.)

Whenever anyone new comes to the farm, both The Farmer and I state flat out "Farming didn't pay for this place." We were rather calculating when we worked on our dream of owning a farm. We both knew we wanted to be here in the Pioneer Valley on a farm with an old house one day but we knew we couldn't afford the place that we wanted if we began our careers here. We worked for 16 years - living in the eastern part of Massachusetts, saving money in order to be able to buy this place. If Julia hadn't come along with her complications, who knows when we would have bit the bullet to move here full-time. Now, we work hard to keep our farm and wonder how long it will be possible. As I weed my garden, I look up every once in a while and thank my lucky stars I landed here. I get rather overwhelmed with the sheer beauty of our hillside and the history. But every time the tax bill arrives, I cringe! Fingers crossed we can keep it all together.

Soaking the flowers with lemon slices

Yesterday on The Modern Farmer blog, there was a post called "Stop Romanticizing the Farm." You can read it here. I do agree with several of the points the author Sarah Searle makes but I also know how difficult it is to just keep a farm going. No matter how much money comes in, it is all spent on fixing equipment, feeding animals, and keeping it all going. We have no choice but to do other things to help make a living. That's why I started teaching here at the farm in 2009. It hasn't been that much of a success financially but it helps. At this point I am really not interested in making our place be an event space. We have friends who do that. Raising sheep is a dirty business - no matter what. There is poop, heavy equipment, buckets, hay bales, rusting old equipment that might be able to work one day, overgrazed pastures (it happens) that look nothing like manicured lawns, all matters of things to "decorate" a space which are not at all photogenic and are looked upon by non-farmers as a mess. None of farming is at all romantic when you are deeply involved. It is all work and busyness and trying to keep animals alive. I am not complaining..... just making it real to those who are interested.

My brother in law David's trucks at Sunbrite Farm - their dairy farm
The sheep are getting sheared on Monday. We'll have two shearers and it will be an all day affair. Right now, it is only the four of us but I'm hoping The Farmer finds a volunteer at the Amherst Farmers Market tomorrow. It is very dirty work but it needs to be done. The sheep will be cooler and less apt to get flystrike. Hopefully the clip will be good. Fingers crossed, once again. We do a lot of that around here.

I'll be back with progress on the elderflower cordial and share the recipe soon. Happy 4th of July to all my fellow Americans. Boom boom! XO


Anonymous said...

Thanks for keeping it real.....I love your blog


Kate G said...

Beautiful post!

Hope one day at a time with enough left over for the next generation.

Well done, Ms. Nicholas.

Auntie Shan said...

*HAPPY 4TH**, Sweetie!!
And, good luck with "Naked Sheep Day"!

hawknitr13 said...

Happy belated 4th! Lovely post! Linda

Frances said...

Kristin, this was an excellent post to read on Independence Day...or even on the 5th of July.

As you know, my own site celebrates both city and country, and I admit to having a better grip on city reality.

I very much admire farmers who do persevere in keeping their farms going on year after year. That is one reason that I try to do some of my shopping, week after week, from local farmers markets. My other selfish reason is because the produce is just so very fresh and delicious!

Best wishes to you for creating delightful elderflower cordial! xo

adaliza said...

I know it's hard work. I chickened out of a life with 'my' farmer when I was 18. I wanted holidays and days out and someone who could put me first. I'm lucky I found him, and he isn't a farmer. My farmer never married. He's worked hard all his life and has a wonderful farm - just next door to our home in Wales. I think he likes it better like that. When I was 17 he didn't want me to ride my pony around the village because it looked as if I wasn't working! I'm not afraid of hard work but needed some 'us' time too - you and your farmer share so much and have a very special partnership. Good luck to Julia and the summer job.

More from Lambing 2019 + Happy Valentine's Day

Here are some photos I took over the last couple weeks at the lambing barns.  There is something so reassuring about little lambs and m...