Farm stories from mentors. I was a city girl, just so we’re clear. My dad’s family were ranchers, and homesteaders. When my parents got married, my dad continued in the family business and my mom learned his homestead ways. My mom learned how to milk goats and cows, they had chickens, and she loved to garden. In their small town they traded milk or canned fruit to their neighbors for grain, and my dad ranched cattle with his brothers and dad. Sadly they lost their farm before I was born, which made them move out of state and leave the family business. So *I* grew up in a suburb. We had a garden, a dog, and a few chickens while I was young. There is no arguing though, I was thoroughly a city girl.
Dad did tell great farm stories about his ranching days, and there were great life lessons hidden in them. His schooling revolved around sowing and harvest, just like in some of the classic books like Anne of Green Gables. He went to school in the fall after harvest was done, and had to finish the Spring Semester before sowing. If frost came early, they would stay home from school to either harvest the crop or protect it during the storm. Bringing the cows in was his nightly chore, and he had to open irrigation ports before going out on dates. The town he lived in had a tiny little store, and the nearest grocery store was 2 hours away.
Oh, what I would do to go back in time and interview him asking for more details about how they stored their food, cold seller I’m assuming, but how long did food last? How did they rotate the raw milk? How did you store meat, was it wrapped in paper, or hung on the wall? Pasture rotation is a huge topic of interest for me, and I know he moved his cattle. I would love to know if they had a pattern they followed, if it was based on grass quality or just what land was available to graze.
Leaving the City
When we decided we wanted land, and to be homesteaders, we never really questioned our ability to figure it out. Being raised in a city, we didn’t have any experience with livestock. They only grass we knew how to grow were manicured lawns, not pasture grasses. I did know basic care for chickens, and our first vegetable garden was a bust. How do you become a farmer when you have been raised in the city? How do you know you are up for the challenge of homesteading when you have never experienced country living before?
This weekend I had a dear Great Aunt (and a farm mentor of mine) tell me she was concerned about her grand daughter who was interested in homesteading. She wants to tell her that she was raised in the city, and that homesteading is very different, and a lot of work. I am sure someone told me this along the way, but you know what? Even though I didn’t live my dad’s life, I lived through his farm stories. Sometimes on tough days, like when I was assisting a sheep birth, I remember stories of my dad caring for a horse that was injured. I remember stories about when he lost a special calf that he had high hopes for. I wasn’t there, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t learn valuable farming lessons from him.
My aunt told me a story about broody hens. When she was a little girl, it was her job to go collect eggs. She was also taught to search for hidden nests, but if there was a broody hen sitting on the eggs to let her be. They used broody hens to grow their flocks instead of incubators. We had a few broody hens hatch chicks this Winter, but we had a few issues with them. I was on the edge of my seat listening to her story, and gleaning any information I could use to improve our care for the next broody hen we find. We learn through stories so much more than people give credit for.
Learn Through Farm Stories
We have done countless hours of reading, researching, and watching videos to learn to be homesteaders. Listening to stories of our elders living on homesteads has merit though. I think stories are my farm mentor. Where you grow up does not define who you are destined to become. We would LOVE to have the knowledge of those who grew up as farm kids, but the stories from those who do are priceless.