It’s a sunny morning, with only a few passing clouds. Overhead, I can hear the buzz of a small propeller airplane. I look up to see the shiny metal object floating past. My mind floats up to the pilot and potential passenger, who may be looking down on the farm.
“Aw, look at that. They’re out in the fields. How bucolic.”
Meanwhile, down below, I’m coated in mud and dew, my hands scuffed and scraped by zucchini prickers, and the handle on my harvest tote just broke. Somehow, the 1000-foot view of farming is a bit different than the up-close and gritty version.
Often, the gritty parts consume the day, and keeping the broken held together is much of the work of the homesteading lifestyle. The sheep bust down a gate and are everywhere in the barnyard, the mice population explodes and they are trying to chew into everything, or a storm wreaks havoc overnight.
Just the other day, I was admiring how Grandma’s aging mystery apple tree was so laden with fruit. With the recent rains, the little apples were starting to plum up nicely. While parts of the tree had not made it through the winter and had to be pruned in the spring, other parts were doing their best to make up for it. Well, apparently, they were trying a little too hard, and in the morning I found one of the lowest branches had cracked at the top, with its heavy load on the ground. Oh, no!
Thankfully, the branch had been low enough to the ground that it had not broken off completely, so we gathered around the issue and tied a tow strap around the branch to pull it back into place, propping the fruit-loaded branches up with sawhorses. Hopefully, enough of the branch is still connected to the tree to ripen the apples. Quite possibly, the rest will give way sooner or later this season, but at least we are trying to work with the brokenness of the situation.
Our PVC chicken tractors are also quite exemplary of keeping something going even in its brokenness. Over the years, torrential rains caught in tarps have crushed them, storm winds have picked them up like kites and tossed them yards away (we stake them down now with T-posts before storms) and roosting turkeys have split internal supports. We’ve spliced in PVC splints, replaced bracing, screwed in angle brackets and zip tied our way through two decades of use. As I tuck the dolly under the back side and Kara pulls from the front each morning, they creak and groan, but they keep on going.
Patches and repairs, tinkering and fixing, bailing twine and duct tape … all these are an integral part of the everyday life of homestead-style farming. Steve likes to say that his alternate name is “Daddy Fix-It,” and often you can find him in the garage, repairing a mower or power washer or truck or pump. There is never a lack of things to fix on a farm, and his knowledge of motors and engines is invaluable to keeping things running.
Last fall, one of our manure spreaders broke down — royally broke down. I mean, this was the pitch it out with forks because there’s no way it’s going to unload at this point kind of broke down. Links in the chain were broken; the bars that move the load to the back paddles were bent and mangled. It had to all be taken apart, new pieces ordered and sense made out of the mess. This summer, as Steve was working to put everything back together again, he was underneath the spreader, hands and feet holding up the chain and bars, getting the frightfully heavy elements to line back up again.
And they did, so we’re able to spread our barn and coop cleanings once again, keeping the broken going for at least a bit longer. The pastures and hay fields are much appreciative of the nutrients!
While there is plenty of frustration in limping along a broken thing a bit farther, there is also a satisfaction to knowing that you’re preventing waste. Instead of the short distance from manufacture to landfill, repairs and repurposing increase the useful life of what would otherwise be thrown away. There’s an honor in that process, especially as knowing how to fix things becomes a skill that has grown scarce.
So, even though we don’t have fancy new and shiny cars, modern tractors or the newest whatnot, we keep it all working. This week, instead of throwing away or giving up on what is broken, see if you can find a way to fix it and move forward. It might not be the most bucolic of situations, but the grit of it builds character and long-term resilience.
Fingers crossed that we get some apples off that compromised tree limb! See you down on the farm sometime.
Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery 715-462-3453 www.northstarhomestead.com