It’s been a while since I last published a blog post (about a year, oops). But boy, has it been a big year! If you’re a regular reader here, you might remember my last blog post – 8 Big Lessons from a Biodynamic Dairy Farm, where I kind of teased you with the idea that I might, maybe, possibly be moving to the country to start on a more self-sufficient and satisfying journey. If you follow me on facebook, you’ll know that The Big Move did actually come to fruition in January of this year. And since yesterday was the six month mark of our move to Elands, NSW, I figured there is simply no better time for reflection. And no better time to get back in the saddle with blogging!
This year has been mind-blowing. I have achieved things I never would have dreamt I was capable of. I have learnt so much in such a short time. It has been challenging, exhausting, frustrating, busy, scary, and has tested us in so many ways. But it has been fulfilling, energising, uplifting, deeply satisfying, thrilling, and filled with so many joyful moments along the way. I look at this amazing place through totally different eyes – no longer with awe at how new and exciting it all is, but with awe at how far we have come and how much we have done and how exciting that is.
Our business, Ginger & Brown Farmstead, is well and truly up and running. Not keen on buying into monoculture in any way, and not keen on putting all our eggs in one basket (hehe), we have a range of projects and products that we are working on and working towards. We have 62 egg layers (and Ron, the rooster!), 36 of which we have raised from day-old chicks, who will soon be providing our customers with delicious free range, pasture-raised eggs. We have a steady production of traditionally-fermented sauerkraut and two flavours of kombucha (the old faithful lemon and ginger, and our signature blend – coffee and ginger!). We are appearing at local farmers markets 6 times a month to bring our products directly to local consumers, and we have started wholesaling to some local cafes and shops. We were even featured in the local newspaper!
We also raised and processed our own meat birds, to stock our freezer full of delicious, organic, sustainable, home-grown chicken. It is, without a doubt, the best chicken I have ever eaten, and the experience of producing our own chicken from start to finish was more valuable than I can begin to describe.
Going into this journey I knew that I wanted to share these things with you guys, because hey – if I can inspire just one person to do just one thing in a more self-sufficient and sustainable way, then that’s no minor victory. You all know how passionate I am about living a more sustainable life and not supporting big companies who don’t support our Aussie farmers quite how they should, and self-sufficiency is a huge part of that. As is supporting small, local growers and producers. These grassroots changes in our buying habits really do build up over time, and with more and more people seeing the importance of their purchasing decisions I feel like we are on a clear path towards change.
I’ve shared a little on my facebook page along the way, but now is the time to share more things with more of you via my blog. Starting with this little summary of some of the biggest things I have learnt so far…
1) Farming is hard.
Yes, experienced farmers, I can see you rolling your eyes at your computer screen. I get it. Six months in with a teeny small scale egg operation, and many of you think “they’re not really farmers.” Don’t worry. We know we’re not. But regardless of whether we are producing enough to pay ourselves an income or not, we are still farming. And it hasn’t been easy. And I know, I know. I can also hear you mumbling, “You ain’t seen nothing yet.” And I truly hear you. We haven’t lived here for the full year, we haven’t seen all the seasons all the way through and we know there are unexpected challenges just around the corner. We don’t have machinery yet, and haven’t had to deal with the challenges of broken machinery. While the lack of rain hasn’t affected us nearly as much as it would affect larger-scale operations, we know that it could and that it will at some point…
…But that’s the thing – even without having battled these specific problems (yet!), we are aware more than ever before that there is so much potential hardship in farming, in large part because so many things are out of your control as a farmer. We have faced enough challenges, enough difficult decisions, enough unexpected loss of life as we raised our chicks, enough stress to get things done by deadlines set by our animals or the weather rather than our own choosing, to know that farming is hard and will get harder, and to have a renewed and stronger respect for all farmers, everywhere. Particularly for the experienced farmers who have decades of knowledge and decades of experience of the hardship that comes with the territory. Hats off to you, you inspire us to push through the difficulties we do face.
2) …but through hardship comes joy.
For every challenging moment, we’ve had a breakthrough – and the satisfaction is worth the hardship any day. We’re still here. We haven’t given up. Every challenge has seen us rise to it, has seen us challenge ourselves to find a solution and to find the determination to keep on trucking. It has been an incredibly uplifting thing to face these challenges head-on, and to make it out the other side one way or another.
3) We can design and build stuff!
Maybe this seems like a silly little thing to celebrate and to share as a big lesson, but previous to this adventure my building resume consisted mostly of ikea furniture… So to build a chicken coop from an old swingset with just a couple of pictures found online for inspiration? I’m calling that a big win! Last year I wouldn’t have known I had it in me. This year, I did it. And Emily built a coop from scratch, sort of Joel Salatin chicken-tractor style with modifications to make it more appropriate for raising egg-layers rather than meat birds. Guys, we designed things and we built them. And we learnt that we could do anything we set our minds to. Next up, we’re turning an old trailer into a fully-mobile chicken coop for our chicks to graduate into as soon as they are ready. Look at us go!
4) Even the most desired life changes aren’t easy.
This has been a big personal lesson for me, and for Tyler too. We both wanted this move so badly, but it hasn’t been all rainbows and sunshine. Tyler misses his old school and his friends in Sydney tremendously. I don’t blame him, his old school was a pretty amazing place and I miss that one-of-a-kind community something awful too. But we are finding our feet in this incredibly open and accepting community, making new friends, setting down roots, and starting to feel that oh-so-important sense of belonging. Stick it out, keep an open mind, and it will all work out for the best.
5) Always be prepared.
There have been several moments when we have been less prepared than we should have been, whether it comes to running out of veggies a day before our next trip to town, not having decent work gloves for that first frost and having to move a frosty chicken fence with bare hands, not realising there was a power outage scheduled for the whole day, not having a tarp to put over the meat chickens when it started bucketing with rain… you get the picture. Thankfully, we had a garden filled with chard and kale and a very full pantry to get us by when we ran low on food, we put up with the frost and got some gloves at the earliest opportunity, fired up the wood stove instead of relying on power to cook food and make pots of tea, and were saved by our amazing mentors/landlords with the timely loan of a tarp to protect the meat chicks. We’ve managed to get by, sometimes just barely, in those moments when we’ve been caught unprepared. But each moment has been a huge learning opportunity – be prepared for everything, always. Have some petrol cans on hand in case you don’t get to town before filling up again, and make sure your medicine cabinet (or your shoebox of natural remedies, as the case may be) is always fully stocked. When you’re an hour out of town, preparedness matters.
6) The importance of keeping an open mind and going with the flow.
Certain aspects of our farmstead vision have changed, or at least been put on hold, over the last 6 months. For example, we didn’t initially see fermented foods as being a major part of our business, but it has become just that. While the eggs are taking a little more time to appear at our farmers market stall (after all, chicks take a good 6 months before they become chickens and start laying!), ferments have been something we love to bring to our customers and something we could easily get off the ground. We dream of raising pigs for our own meat one day, and growing all the cabbage we need to make our sauerkraut, but these things aren’t a possibility for right now. Still, they go in the ‘future’ basket, and give us more to work towards and dream about. But we did end up with 3 ducklings, which weren’t exactly part of the initial picture!
7) Get up early, go to bed early. Work hard, on things that matter.
Okay, you may have noticed that I’ve ripped off this point from my 8 Big Lessons from a Biodynamic Dairy Farm post, but that’s life. I’ve added it here because I am actually living this now. Chickens need tending to early (fence moved to give them access to brand new pasture, let them out of their coop, feed them, etc), so we get up early. We’re usually pretty tired and in bed by 10pm, often earlier. With animals to tend to, cabbages to chop and salt, sauerkraut to bottle, kombucha to brew, life to live, a child to raise, and everything else we try to do, our days are usually pretty full. We work hard, and we don’t stuff around. Of course, we have leisure time. Plenty of board games in front of the fire of an evening, we make time to visit Ellenborough Falls whenever we have visitors (and sometimes without needing the excuse, too!), or we wander down to our own little waterfall… We have a pretty good work-life balance, but when it’s work time we knuckle down and get the important things done. There’s simply no time for procrastination. The inherent busy-ness of farm life has made it slightly challenging to get other projects done in time (like my Fermentation Fundamentals ecourse, which truthfully I envisioned launching months before it ended up launching!), but I’ve really learnt to slow down, enjoy life, not stress over the little things, and have faith that with a bit of hard work everything will get done.
8) You can do so much more…
…More than you’ve already done, and more than you ever thought you could. We have learnt so much in the last 6 months, and we have achieved so much. As cheesy as it is, we have come so far. But we’re nowhere near finished yet. As much as we have learnt and have achieved in the last 6 months, we will continue to learn and achieve in the next 6 months, and the 6 months after that, and the 6 months after that… Ain’t life grand?
And a bonus point: YOU can do this, too.
We were just 2 city girls with a dream to move to the country and start a sustainable farmstead. It hasn’t been easy, but it has been amazing. If you want to do something similar, just remember – you only live once. Now’s your time. You have everything you need to give it your best shot, because all you really need is you.
Oh, and by the way! You should come and follow the Ginger & Brown journey on facebook! 😉