Sunday, July 11, 2010

In Awe and Appreciation of Women Farmers

It has come to my attention that with each little hobby I add to my list of things to do (in the few spare hours that are allotted to a working gal) . . . I seem to acrue more and more clutter & disarray in my home.  I have "UFO's" all over the place (a clever term--not coined by me--for "UnFinished Objects").    My dishes are piled up in the sink.  There is always laundry either begging to be done or done and waiting to be put away.    I have papers, bills, recipes, knitting and crochet patterns, catalogs, books, magazines, things that I intend to sell (if I could only get organized enough) and a myriad of snippets, beads, thread, yarn, roving and the other odds and ends strewn all about the house.  Then there are the errands of going to the grocery store, the drug store, the little trips that seems to always eat up a good portion of my time.  I obviously lack in the "art of managing time" (and money for that matter).   I continue to spiral into a mad woman's self-made mess  (with the best of intentions of getting organized  . . . tomorrow, and tomorrow, and . . . yah, who am I kidding!)

Meanwhile, it has caught my attention that there are a lot of women out there who work very hard, do a heck of lot more than I do and manage to keep order in their lives.  I first became awed by the accounts of Laura Van Divier who's website I have subscribed too: .  She sells the most beautiful and diverse fabrics you've ever seen.  If you are a quilter this is your go-to site!  I don't quilt, but just in case I do anything in the sewing department, I know where to get the best fabric prints.  I love her emails because she always ends her lists of new fabrics with her "Family News".  It's a very homey account of her life on the farm in the state of  Washington.   I feel like she is a friend I haven't met yet.  When you visit her site she has dozens of pictures of the many animals, ducks and chickens on her farm.  She has a family to take care of, a huge farm to tend to, she runs her fabric business and she even finds time to write a little paragraph with each email to keep everyone up on her life, her animals, her experiences.  I look at all she does during the day and I cannot believe she fits it all into "one day".

Yesterday, I drove out to visit The Steam Valley Fiber Farm (yes, they have a website!) just past Trout Run, PA.  This is a farm that also functions as a business for Phylleri Ball's spinning and weaving passion.  I got to try out a couple of spinning wheels to see what kind of wheel I want to purchase (when I finally have the do-re-mi!).  Her "shop" is basically her home.  Which, by the way, is well kept, neat and organized.  She had just been to a farmer's market and had several rattan baskets filled with beautiful hand spun, hand dyed and painted yarns (looking for all the world to me like pirate's treasure!).  Note to self:  there was no "clutter" (hmmm, a novel idea, that).  I enjoyed seeing all her yarns and trying out her wheels.  Even more, I enjoyed our conversation.  I had taken my friend, Dom, who has a greenhouse business with me.  And we talked about how hard it is to keep your head above water in this economy.  We are all struggling . . . but really, local farmers are truly having the hardest of times now.  She talked about her experience at the farmers' market and how people would see the cost of her hand spun, hand dyed, hand knitted socks and exclaim "I'm not going to pay that much for a pair of socks".  We talked about how everyone has come to have the "three-for-one mentality" spawned by super discount chain stores.  Yet, if you added up how many times you would have to replace the cheaper socks, and the time and money you spend going to the store to replace them . . . which is the better value?  American's have Super-sized their lives yet minimized the value of lasting durable goods.   I've been brainwashed too.   But poverty is a good teacher!

Phylleri Ball, proprietor and farmer, took time from her busy schedule to share her farm with Dom & I.   This is where I really saw farming art in motion.  She had a barn full of angora goats that are her source for wool.   (She also mentioned that she uses the black walnuts on her property as a natural dye for her yarns.)    In addition to wool, and yes, meat too, she gathers their milk twice a day and makes her own cheese.  The goats also maintain her pastures for her by keeping them well grazed.  The goats' manure goes into a big pile with straw and scraps and she has two small brown pigs in there who were happily turning the compost while they romped and ate  . . . happy as pigs in (you know the saying here).  They were cute little things.   When I asked if they would grow huge like the ones I've seen at the fair, Phylleri assured me that they would grow to be over 200 lbs each.  Then, like all farm piggies, they would become ham, bacon and pork chops.  Also on the farm were her free range chickens.   As a city slicker, I thought  free range chickens lived like turkeys.  I didn't realize that they still need a coop to go to (Dom educated me on that later).   She had a couple of coops out in her pasture that she constructed, and every day the coops get moved.  Moving them around means that the earth where ever the chickens were roosting is now fertilized with their droppings.  How cool is that! 

While we talked in her living room (between my fumbling with the spinning wheels and fiber on my test drives),  I mentioned that it seems most farmers don't have the family help they once had.  Phylleri agreed.  She said that her children see how hard she works and don't have any interest in working that hard for a meager living.  But she said, it's basically a life choice.  She loves what she does.  Yes she would like to show a profit sometime other than when the tax man comes to collect.  But she said she reminds her children how well they eat, compliments of the farm . . . fresh chicken, spring lamb, ham, and bacon, free range eggs, and homemade cheese.  I'd be willing to bet she probably cans produce and jams and jellies.  Phylerri is probably about 5'2", she's tanned and looks like hard work is no stranger to her.  I really envy women like her, but more so . . . I'm just in awe.  You can't be lax, you can't be self-absorbed, you can't be complacent, indecisive or wallow in your misery when you work like this.  I feel pretty lame when I compare myself to these hail and hearty women of the earth who still, "STILL", make time to be involved in their communities and not only pursue their crafts but excel in them.  These women leave a big footprint to be filled.  It's something to strive towards, even if I can only achieve the most minute fraction of what they do every day.