Farming and raising children–especially when both parents are still working off-farm–is like trying to run a marathon uphill the whole way, barefoot, with a sack of rocks on your back. At least, that’s what this summer has felt like. Maybe I only feel that way because I’m 6 months pregnant. Or maybe that’s just how it goes when you try to cram 2 days’ worth of work into 1 day.
Whatever the reason, we might not have made it this far in the season without critical help from our families. I’m intimately familiar with the forceful love that drives parents to do unlikely things for their children. Before becoming a mom, I had never made peas talk in falsetto voices or served someone a sandwich at 2am. But this season our parents are taking their love and support of us to new heights. Who knew that our farm adventure would suck them in too?
Last month my mom helped us butcher 100 chickens. And then she volunteered to do it again just 3 weeks later! If you knew my mother, who is squeamish even about cooking lobsters, this was a major leap, not just a baby step, out of her comfort zone. But she surprised even herself by actually enjoying it – well, maybe less the second time once the novelty had worn off. Still, she was part of a team that made processing day smooth and even enjoyable, in the way that hard physical work side-by-side with good people is deeply rewarding.
My brother, visiting from Australia for a short two weeks, chose to spend one of his precious vacation days on our processing crew. In fact, we’re starting to suspect that he enjoys it too, since all his visits to the US over the past 4 years have occurred during our chicken processing days. Coincidence? Hmm. Whatever the reason, having a skilled volunteer join us repeatedly is invaluable, and Travis has a sense of humor that keeps the crew’s spirits high during the long hard day.
My dad played a similarly critical role both chicken days by entertaining our 4-year-old daughter, proudly sporting his SuperGramps t-shirt. He had help during the first round from my sister-in-law Sarah, visiting with my brother and their infant son Samson from Australia. Their job may have been less dirty, but it was no less physically and mentally demanding!
Kathie, my mother-in-law, has so far avoided chicken processing, but we know she will have her share of filthy farm adventures since we will be living on the farm with her and Brian, my father-in-law. Still, Kathie had a stickier and sweeter adventure with me recently, helping with our first-ever honey harvest! Our two first-year hives, which were started on bare foundation, surprised us by producing 100 lbs of honey from the Spring and early Summer nectar flows. We set up an extracting station in the barn, with our trusty hand-crank 2-frame extractor and a serrated knife heated by a thermos of boiling water to uncap the delicious frames of honey. Kathie came out to the barn in her pajamas, simply curious to see how the process worked. Nearly three hours later she was still working the extractor and scraping filters. What a trooper! 4-year-old Rowan helped a bit too, but mostly with licking the empty frames.
We are blessed to have not only the emotional support of our families, but also the physical support. This is how farming was possible for people for centuries, so it feels intrinsically right to be working side-by-side with family. Soon we hope to have all 3 generations of our family involved in farm projects!