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Saturday, May 18, 2013

Cultivating Abundance

Photo: www.organicveggiestarts.com
I read an article a couple of days ago about a Vermont family who farms with Fjord horses. I couldn't help but think "Wow, what a great life that must be". It has been buzzing around my noggin ever since. As always, the question "what if?" kept rolling around my head as it so often does and it's lead me to a strange and seemingly random thought: What if I wanted to do organic farming with horses? On the surface, the idea seems a bit crazy. But the more I think about it, the less crazy it appears. I know that part of this train of thought (and the randomness of my new obsession HAS hit me a bit like a train) is that my daughter and I struggle to eat healthy. The healthier we eat, the more we struggle with bills and we STILL aren't eating the way we would like to. Poor diet has damaged us both, though not yet irreversibly: I have type 2 diabetes and my daughter is pretty severely iron deficient. NOT cool. The problem isn't knowledge or portion control. The problem isn't that we like to eat crap--we don't. The problem for us has been the cost of healthy food. I know that's pretty ridiculous in this country, but food insecurity is a very real problem for many families and getting worse all the time.

And that's not the only problem. I'm feeling more and more scared and paranoid about where our food is actually coming from. Monsanto continues to do what it does, despite the mounting evidence that GMOs can and do cause significant health problems. Unfortunately for the majority of folks in this country (myself included) the farm subsidies that this agricultural giant continues to enjoy mean that they are the only affordable option. Not cool.

I have had little gardens in the past (though I can't here in my fourth-floor apartment!) and have really enjoyed and appreciated being able to go pick myself a fresh salad whenever I felt like it. I have grown everything I like at one time or another (thanks to my grandparents who turned me on to gardening) and there's something very satisfying about the work. It's kind of funny, really. I'm germ-phobic and bugs freak me out, but I have no problem at all with getting my hands garden-dirty and picking bugs off plants. It's like I go into a zone. It's very similar to the kind of zone I went into when I was cleaning stalls: I (and my friend Autumn) called the flashes of brilliance that occurred during stall-cleaning "Muck-piphanies" and well, I kind of miss them. I tried to replicate the same sort of conditions with walking, but there are just way too many people around to really get 'in the zone' and I ended up doing this to myself (oddly enough, I have cleaned stalls with lots of people around too, and it wasn't at all bothersome. Horse people are different: We would either all be in a zone, or engaged in easy, pleasant conversation). Add to that the weird limbo-like disconnect that I've been struggling with; it makes the idea of getting up with outdoor, physical work to do every morning sound especially appealing.

When I moved to town, I thought I would appreciate how easy things were. I thought I would like to have the chance to sleep in, to not have the constant pull of things needing to be done. I thought that the time and space would help my writing, and that the proximity to people would provide me with a sense of security that I felt I lacked in the boonies. Financially, I NEEDED to do this and the financial pressure was significantly relieved for awhile. But this isn't who I am. All I've done since I've lived here is fantasized about having horses again, getting my hands dirty and seeing stars unencumbered by the lights from town. I miss hearing the friggin' crickets and frogs. I will admit that I did feel a bit more secure for awhile, but then my neighbors started selling drugs and shooting at each other and that tiny bit of security that I felt disappeared. My writing didn't flourish (though I did finish a book and start another): I struggle like crazy with focus--a problem I didn't have when I had fresh air and physical work to do. And do you know that I haven't really 'slept in' once? I guess I'm just not wired that way.

Initially, I tried to talk myself out of even thinking about this. It would require major life-changes and quite a learning curve. I know how to work with horses, though not for farming. I know how to grow vegetables, but not what is involved in growing certified organic vegetables on even a small commercial scale. Perhaps the biggest obstacle appears to be start-up costs. I did a quickie internet search with this in mind, and found an obscene number of grants and resources available for organic farm start-ups. It lead me to do a quick market analysis which indicated a HUGE demand that appears to be an upward-moving trend.  What if?

What if I were able to procure a grant and buy a small farm? What if I rented part of it to a farmer committed to humanely raising grass-fed beef? What if this farming-partner was willing to do the things I really hate about farm life (haying and mowing) and all I had to worry about was growing great vegetables? What if I decided to add raspberries and blueberries? Maybe some eggs? What if I could use my horses and land to sustain myself and feed others?

I am very well-aware of my tendency to chase rainbows. I also know that I continue to chase them because doing so has been reinforced by varying degrees of success. I have learned a lot this way, and am ready and willing to learn more. Right now, I'm going to sit with this for a bit and treat it like a research project. Maybe the research will turn into a business plan, and maybe it won't. In the meantime though, it is certainly an interesting idea:-)

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

In a Word, "No"

I'm procrastinating, but just a bit. The truth is, I'm out of spoons (see Spoon Theory if you don't understand the reference) and have been for a few weeks. Normal for this time of year as multiple, big, real-life issues require my immediate and undivided attention whether I like it or not. C'est la vie. I wish everything didn't tend to converge on the same sharp point in time, but it is what it is. Ergo, spoonless. Anyhoo, I thought I might have a little fun addressing one of my pet peeves, and give myself a bit of a brain-break from my stress level. This week's pet peeve, boys and girls, is society's general (and frankly, ridiculous) disdain for the word "no". Perhaps my current spoonlessness was influential in choosing the topic of this post. I'll let you decide;-)

I have been reading SO MANY posts lately on the EEEEEvils of saying "no" to both children and dogs. First, let me give you a heads-up: If your children or dogs don't have a working knowledge of the word "no" and what it means, do not expect me to be around them.  And I am a parent and dog owner, so I'm not just being touchy. Since I live in a building full of children that just went back to school after a vacation (!!), let's begin there:

I just read an article that essentially said that putting limits on children and having behavioral expectations is mean and unnecessary. The article then went on to say that if you don't put limits on children and let them have the freedom to do what they want, then they don't get upset, and we don't want to be the cruel sorts of people that upset our children, do we? Okay, seriously. WTF. This idea scares me on a primal level. The REALITY OF THE WORLD is that there ARE limits. You absolutely CANNOT do everything you want to, just because you want to do it. It's terrifying to think of an entire generation of children growing up with no coping skills whatsoever for the reality of limits in their lives and believing that they can just continue to do whatever they want. Maybe it horrifies me so because I was raised to respect other people as well as myself, to not only think for myself but to incorporate the ideas and wisdom of my elders, and to understand what limits are and to learn not only to work within them, but to know when it might be appropriate to bump up against them. I was a very lucky little girl to have the wonderful upbringing that I had, and I've gotta say, being friendly and polite is a pretty powerful way to open doors for yourself, especially when it's innate and genuine. I am shocked by the behavior of many of the kids I encounter these days, and it makes me feel a bit sorry for them too. They are in for an abrupt and bumpy induction into the world of adulthood. Well, provided they survive being a teenager.

My belief on this topic is this: Raise your children to believe in themselves and their abilities. Love them unconditionally and treat them with respect. Teach them, with love and gentleness, how to cope with the natural limits that life imposes, how to thrive within that structure and to ultimately use it as a springboard to propel themselves forward into well-adjusted adulthood. Teach them good manners so doors will open for them, then others, who won't love them the way you do, will want to help them to succeed. Show them how to treat people by being kind and respectful toward others yourself. What you model for them is far more influential than anything you will ever say. If you are a parent with young children and you subscribe to the 'never say no' philosophy, remember that someday they WILL be teenagers. If you don't have their respect (and I mean respect, not fear. I abhor spanking and believe that teaching through fear is failure) and attention before then, it is your child's safety that is at stake, not just your peace of mind. Trust me, as the parent of a young adult, I know what I'm talking about. I have been SO GRATEFUL for the relationship I have with my daughter. It hasn't always been smooth and I'm never going to win any parent of the year awards, but I'm proud of the person she grew up to be and love the continued openness of communication that we have. 

As for dogs? Well, they don't speak human so they don't really have any negative association with the word "no" unless YOU have created it. In my household, the word "no" is just communication, not the end of the world. My quick-brained pupper would get incredibly frustrated very quickly if I just stood there staring at him while he threw behaviors at me. He doesn't want to just know when he's on the right track, but when he's on the wrong one too. The word "no" doesn't devastate him and crush his spirit, it just means "try something else". As far as he's concerned the quicker he can get to a reward the better, so he seems to appreciate the feedback! We can use that for games, too. I play fetch with Murph in the park each morning. Sometimes, I throw the ball far enough that he loses track of it before he can get to it. I always see where it lands, and can direct him to it by just saying "yes" and "no", kinda like a game of "hot" and "cold". Murph seems to really enjoy it, and I suspect at times that he loses his ball on purpose:-) It was especially fun watching the faces of a construction crew (there to build a baseball field) as I directed Murph to his ball and he totally understood what I was doing! I get the premise of giving a dog something positive to do instead of just saying "no" to an unwanted behavior, but there needs to be some common sense applied too. Like children, dogs need to understand limits and to learn impulse control. For some dogs a soft touch is absolutely required, but others need something more. All dogs are simply not created equal, they are not robots, they don't all respond the same to the same training methods. And I have 20 years of experience to back that up.

Ultimately, the reality is this: Neither children nor dogs innately know how to behave within the rules, and they need for YOU to teach them and prepare them for life in the real world. Not to do so is to fail them.

Phew! I DO feel a bit better:-)