One of the questions I always get asked when I tell people I am a farmer is: “What do you do in the off-season?”. To be honest this question always gives me pause, we don’t really have an off-season on the farm. Yes, there are many months in the winter where growing vegetables outside is near impossible. But that hardly means activity stops on the farm. I think that the misconception comes from what people think of when they think of a farm. A good friend, from another local farm, once explained to me his belief that a large scale vegetable operation is not a farm, it’s a commercial scale garden. On the same note a dairy is not a farm, a beef ranch is not a farm – these are components of a farm. He believes that the term farm refers to a greater system of activity. Being a farmer means you are growing plants, raising animals, restoring the soil nutrients and doing your best to create a closed system. I think that there is a lot of truth to that school of thought, but I think that as soon as you need to generate a profit things change drastically. Usually it leads us to specialize, and of course open the system to allow product to leave the farm.
So with that understanding, here at Pachamama Organics we are a small farm with a large garden operation. The garden portion has an off-season but even then it is a short one. After the chaos of a growing season there are a lot of things to catch up on. We have general clean-up, paperwork, filing, season debrief, planning and preparing the upcoming season and a million side projects that aren’t priorities but need to be done. By the time February comes along we need to start planting and preparing. That might leave a week or two to sneak away (but never guilt free).
As for the rest of the farm, there is no off-season. There is not even an off day… When you are responsible for the lives of animals, especially in a place that reaches extreme lows in the winter, you have to be on all the time. There are always things that need to be managed and there is always the chance of an emergency. Every animal needs food and water each day, new bedding every couple weeks and full time protection from predators. We have two fantastic farm dogs that manage most of the protection but we still need to open and close coop doors daily. All of this means that Toby and I have to plan for late nights, sleep-overs and vacations. Often in means if one of us stays out the other has to stay in, or we can’t leave the house until sunset. We have been so lucky to have great friends and family willing to step-in and lend a hand when we want to take a trip together. This year we met a couple that lives down the road, on a hobby farm, willing to trade farm chores back and forth. That meant that Toby and I were able to take a two week completely stress free trip in the fall. If you were wondering – it was AMAZING!!
So next time you ask a farmer what they do in the “off-season” be prepared for an earful! We do all of the things we didn’t have time for during peak season and all of the things that need doing everyday of the year. Hopefully we take a little time to recharge and enjoy the short days. Just like any job there are more and less demanding parts of the season but it still a business and requires managing year-round. Most farmers do it because we love it, because there is a kind of magic about growing food. It’s a demanding, never-ending job that can be incredibly rewarding!