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Dirty Mama: I give up

Jul 13th, 2010 | Category: Columns

by Shona Hilton

“I give up.” Periodically I throw down the hay or hoe and declare I have had enough and am moving to a condo in Florida. This usually coincides with a particularly busy time of year when there are not enough hours left at the end of the day to finish the chores and I am very, very tired and in need of wine (or having a whine). The saying the simple life is not so simple can be so true and whether you are farming to feed your family or to make an income then you will know just how much work there is always to do.
Sometimes I try to decide which is easier, raising livestock or growing fruit and vegetables. I mean the cauliflowers don’t try to eat the cabbages and the carrots don’t break down fences and make a run for it – but on the other hand, the amount of time I spend weeding, watering and waging organic war on bugs definitely takes up more time than the animals do.
However if a potato dies or gets sick it’s not as upsetting as if your best goat gets ill (it’s always your best goat) or your favorite chicken becomes a hawk’s dinner (it’s always your favorite chicken). So, it’s difficult to decide which creates the hardest work and most stress but I think I am learning more and more that much of it has to do with how good my infrastructure is, how much experience I have with a crop or animal and how organized I am, the being organized bit a very big part of it.
Working with the seasons is part of a farmer, gardener or livestock owner’s privilege, but in order to get it right and not be panicking at the last moment one does also need to plan ahead. Is it just me or does everyone, even after years of growing food, still feel surprised when the winter gardening catalogues arrive in early-summer BEFORE the beans have even sprouted and then realize these seeds need to be ordered – now.  I know that for our household if we want to have homegrown food year round or have pork, eggs and chickens for sale I need to be thinking six months in advance to make it all run smoothly. This to me does not come naturally – an editor of mine back when I was a newspaper reporter once remarked how in this age of technology I must be the only person who still writes a job list on the back of her hand in ink. Good thing he never saw how my life now is held together by notes on scrap paper, balling twine and duct tape – he would wonder how I ever get anything done. (Although he had previously been a shepherd so perhaps he would understand!)
But although the work may never end it’s also true that just when I think of moving to that condo in Florida something happens to make me realize that what I am doing is where I want to be right now. It could be as simple as listening to the birds while I’m weeding, spending 10 minutes with my goats and coming out a better person for it, or – when reaching the end of the month and there’s no money for groceries – realizing I have meat birds ready to be eaten, last year’s pork in the freezer, a coop full of eggs, milk in the goat and a garden that is producing in abundance. And that’s what I call being satisfied.

Shona Hilton lives in an old log cabin on a small farm in the South Fork Valley of Whatcom County and contends with mud, rain, dogs, small children, pigs and poultry and all the other things which make country life worth living. She can be contacted at

2 Comments to “Dirty Mama: I give up”

  1. Marian says:

    That’s my girl!

  2. old editor says:

    Hi Shona
    Yeh Shona
    I always knew about the notes on the hands – but you were always on my right hand.
    Im back into sheep ( careful) and me and my son are about to get back into cattle big time.
    If you think times were crazy at the paper in your time – you should see us now !!

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