Friday, November 22, 2013

Farmer Amnesia

I have farmed "professionally" since 2002.  Eleven years ago this fall, we took our first crop - popcorn, pumpkins and Swiss chard - to the Auburn Farmers Market. That year, and every year since, I've reached a point in the year where I'm absolutely burnt out.  Some years, it's been the grind of 70-80 hour work weeks that wears me down.  Other years, it's drought or disease problems.  When I reach this point, a customer's innocuous comment about high prices at the farmers market, or an unexpected expense, is enough to make me REALLY grumpy - and I wonder if it's worth continuing to farm.  Thankfully, each autumn I suffer an extreme case of farmer amnesia - the anticipation of the coming year makes me forget the struggles of the 12 months I've just lived through!

When I grew vegetables, the onset of farmer amnesia usually coincided with the arrival of the Johnny's Seeds Commercial Growers Catalog in my mailbox.  My friend and fellow farmer, Jim Muck of Jim's Produce in Wheatland, calls this "farmer porn!"  Invariably, I'd find a new variety or a new tool (or both!) that I was anxious to try next year.  Despite my best attempts to remain realistic, I'd experience a growing sense of excitement for the coming growing season and a deep desire to get my hands in the soil again.

As our farm transitioned away for crop production and became focused on sheep, the onset of farmer amnesia occurred when we took the rams away from the ewes and settled in for that restful period between breeding and lambing.  As the nights grew longer, I found that I no longer needed to work 12-14 hours each day.  I started looking forward to lambing (which I like to think of as six weeks of Christmas in February and March).  I forgot about the six months of moving irrigation pipe, building fence and hauling sheep!

This phenomenon must be related to the cycles of the year.  In the summer months, I find myself working sun-up to sun-down.  In the winter, I still work sun-up to sun-down, but the time between these two events is much shorter at our latitude.  Dina Moore, a friend who ranches in Humboldt County, says that winter's shorter days force us to rest.  As the days grow longer after the Winter Solstice, I find my optimism and enthusiasm about farming returning.  Thank goodness for farmer amnesia!

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