A farm, a family, a job, a child to raise — there are a lot of balls to juggle. But at the end, on a good night, there's a job finished, a happy child and a homemade pizza.
Sometimes, as hard as it is, in order to allow one thing to grow, you have to rip something else up by the roots.
These days, I feel like a mere visitor on the farm. I couldn’t tell you where the cucumbers are. I don’t know which row is parsnips and which is turnips. Where do we keep the watering cans? Beats me.
It’s something I’ve always struggled with — feeling like the farm is actually mine — but it’s even more intense this year as I step back a little more from the farm to focus on my work, keep the home fires bright and raise a tiny human.
The truth is, this whole farm thing was Jacob’s idea. I supported and, let’s say, midwifed the idea of starting a farm. But, it wasn’t my idea. And, I certainly wouldn’t be farming if it weren’t for Jacob.
At the start, friends would ask me what it was like, “living Jacob’s dream?”
It was a joke. But, a little bit true, too, particularly back then.
And, oh, how that terrified me. I was afraid I would resent him. I was afraid the farm would come between us. I was afraid I’d followed him out to the middle of nowhere to do something I wasn’t really sure of.
But, pretty quickly, the farm became just as much my dream as his.
I never would have put myself here, doing this, but as it turns out, it’s what I’m meant to be doing. And nothing has made that clearer than these last two seasons — when I haven’t been doing it.
Take for instance, our current crop selection. Our first two years, we noticed that some crops were mine and some were Jacob’s. I have a knack for specialty greens and herbs and Jacob has a knack for, well, just about everything else, but grains and tomatoes in particular.
Basil in particular became somewhat of a symbolic crop for me.
Since I’ve stepped away from the farm a little, though, the herbs and I have lost touch. And without me, they’ve pretty much disappeared from our little farm, with the exception of the basil.
(Lucky, though, that it’s not the other way around. If Jacob had stepped away and I had taken over, I may have killed everything but herbs and greens.)
Last week, I had a rare several-hour chunk of time on the farm (thanks to my dear Mother, who’d come to stay a few days and help with Willa while I dug out of some work) and so I dove straight into transplanting basil.
But, first, in order to make room in the high-tunnel, I had to rip up another one of my favorite crops: arugula.
The arugula had all but gone to seed at this point and we’d stopped harvesting it for crop shares a few days before. But, still, there is always something there to glean.
So, as I set to work, I first did a final harvest, gingerly snipping off what little peppery leaves were left on the plants, knowing we wouldn’t have any of this particular goodness again until next June.
But, the picking was taking forever and it was getting hot in the high tunnel. (Transplanting should always be done in the cool of the morning or evening.)
And I was getting antsy, to get done and back home to Willa.
Before I left the house that morning, my Mom took Willa to the park. So, I swung by to say hello on my way out of town. There she was, perched on top of a fast and fun slide, waving and smiling bye-bye to me while her Nana waited at the bottom.
I felt this ever-familiar tug:
Shouldn’t I be the one taking her to park? Shouldn’t her Mama be waiting for her at the bottom of the slide? What if I’m missing something super, duper important here? And for what, so I can pull 10 of the 10 billion weeds?
(I’ve been working an awful lot lately and so the guilt is even more present than usual. There’s a lot of “just a minute, Mama is working” going on and not nearly enough playing, so that’s why the extra little bit about not being the one playing with her at the park.)
But I waved anyway and drove off, knowing I needed at least a little farm time this week, and the basil needed me, too.
The feeling stuck with me, though, as I gleaned. I thought about all my choices, about the constant wrestling I do with them. About the little daily decisions — to leave Willa with her Nana for a few hours to work, to stop working for a few hours to play, to find time somewhere for the farm, for Jacob and for me.
And, I thought again about the big decisions, like the one to step away from the farm so I could better split my time between work and Willa.
Because it took me a while to finally feel like the farm was mine, it’s been an even stickier struggle lately, trying to understand that the farm can still be mine even if I’m not actively working it, and that I can play a big role (I do manage all the customer service and deliveries and help with harvest) without necessarily knowing every watering schedule and every sprout.
I constantly have to remind myself that this whole farm is possible because I can work and be at home with Willa. And, that’s a huge thing in and of itself. Just ask anyone in agriculture. There’s a lot of “we run 100 head of cattle and my wife/husband works in town” going on.
It’s the delicate balance we all strike with life and work and family, and there’s no perfect way to structure a day, let alone a life.
But, I do know that in order to get closer to that balance you have to give up some things, some big, some little, all day, every day. And, sometimes, the giving up part, painful though it may be, has to happen quickly.
So, in the arugula patch I stopped the slow picking of each little leaf and started ripping up the plants by the roots to make room for the basil.
Once I’d finished, planting that last basil seedling, I got back in the car, as quickly as I could, and spent the next few hours playing in the backyard with my daughter and Mom, feeling so very lucky to have them and for them to have each other.
I reminded myself how blessed I am to have the opportunity to at least attempt to make room for all the important things in my life — a career, a family and a farm.
The next night, I washed up that arugula and piled it on top of a pizza — all the while thinking about how great late July’s pizza will be — when I can finally pick those shiny green basil leaves and pile them on top.
Courtney Lowery Cowgill is a writer, editor and farmer. She and her husband run Prairie Heritage Farm, a small farm in Central Montana where they raise vegetables, turkeys and ancient and heritage grains. Her monthly column, Home Again, is about her journey home to rural central Montana, where she is starting over, starting a family and starting a farm. You can follow her on her blog too.