We live in an age of instant gratification, speed, and impatience. You don’t have to look very far to see it! Folks want what they want, and they want it now, which breeds an unhealthy focus on self. Homestead-style sustainable farming, on the other hand, breeds a focus on us — the land, the plants, the animals, and the people all working together. Here are lessons I’ve learned from over 20 years of homesteading in the Northwoods and how they apply to the current pandemic situation.
Long, long-range thinking and delayed gratification
The best time to have planted a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now. When we first started restoring our homestead farm, there were many repercussions of choices made 10, 20, 50, even 80 years prior that needed mending, tending, and regeneration. Heaps of old refuse had to be hauled away, buildings repaired and built, fences made, and invasive weeds tamed.
Rebuilding soil health as a permaculture ecosystem with rotational grazing and composting is no quick fix like spreading chemical fertilizers, but through time and tending, the animals heal the land, diversity blooms, the earthworms have a heyday, and fertility returns. Chemical fertilizers burn the essential microorganism life in your soil, rendering it sterile and unable to regenerate. For biodynamic management, you have to keep your eye on the long-term prize, rather than propping up the hay yield that first summer.
Planting an orchard bears fruits years in the future. Berries also take time before they come into production. Perennials require significant tending in their first few seasons to encourage strong roots, healthy growth patterns, and winter heartiness. But once they take hold, their gifts continue for years to come. You have to think about what you’re working towards, even when it’s off in the future.
This willingness to put effort into delayed gratification is an important skill. Currently, it may seem frustrating to have such tremendous social impact on our lifestyles in the face of COVID-19, but if we see this as a delayed gratification process, it gives the situation more perspective. We put the effort in now so that we can enjoy those years to come — or allow those at risk to be able to enjoy them with us. As one friend noted, we make this effort now so that when we can gather again, no one is missing.
‘We’ instead of ‘me’
Sometimes I don’t feel like doing chores in the morning. Sometimes I just want to stay curled up under the covers. But the chickens don’t feed themselves or carry their own water. And if I don’t take care of the chickens, not only will there be suffering, but I won’t have eggs for breakfast — and I like eggs! I need the chickens, and the chickens need me. So, I get up, and I do chores. Every day. No breaks.
Consumer culture would love for us to stay trapped in “I want” mentality. It sells more stuff! But it quickly crowds out the needs of “we.” And sometimes what is best for the collective is not necessarily what the individual wants in that moment (or thinks they want).
Last summer, the ducks thought it was great fun to escape into the garden and eat the spring onions. But the onions weren’t being grown for the ducks. They were intended for our CSA shares. The ducks had plenty of grass and clover to eat, but it wasn’t what they wanted. They wanted onions! And that meant escaping from their pen to get them. Once escaped, they began roaming around the yard, exploring. Ducks love exploring, but so do foxes and coyotes and fishers and bobcats and plenty of critters that would want to eat them. Nooooo! Even though they weren’t satisfied, it was better for the ducks to be in their nice, comfortable, safe pen, rather than on ducky holiday. I love my ducks and I want them to be happy, but I also want them to be safe and for the onions to grow undisturbed.
I can’t explain the situation to the ducks. They might listen, but they don’t learn. People, on the other hand, can learn and reason. And we can look at a situation and step outside of me thinking into we thinking. “Me” thinking defiantly wants what it wants. “We” thinking weighs the benefits and risks, asks the tough questions, and considers overall good. This does not mean sacrificing the self but adding it into the discussion as part of the whole.
“We” thinking is the guard donkey in the pasture, watching for predators not only for her own safety but also for the safety of the sheep under her care and sounding the alarm. “We” thinking is rotationally grazing poultry after the sheep to break up parasite cycles and naturally fertilize the soil. “We” thinking is all about the process and relationships.
This week, I encourage you to stay the course and consider how the attributes of delayed gratification and we thinking can become new habits of strength. If we think long-term and communally, we can shift our perspective. 20 years of homestead farming have certainly shifted my perspective, helping me stay grounded and purpose-driven through these uncertain times. A heart of stewardship infused with kindness, and understanding of responsibility, and hope is what is needed most at this time. Stay the course. See you down on the farm sometime.
Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. 715-462-3453, www.northstarhomestead.com