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As a 30-something convert to farming, one of the biggest obstacles I’ve come across is my own reluctance to ask for and accept help from people–and it’s plunked itself in front of progress again and again (and again!)  This may be a puzzling notion to anyone raised on a farm, or indeed, in any small community where everyone knows everyone and sharing in life’s difficulties is par for the course.  However, big-city dwellers know exactly what I mean.  The anonymity of a city of millions means you often don’t even know your neighbour’s name, much less his personality well enough to ask if you could, say, borrow an egg for your kid’s birthday cake.  And a big city complicates things further by having a 24 hour grocery, so even if you DID know your neighbour’s name, you didn’t really need his egg anyway.   Those unfamiliar might find this quality of city-dwellers rather unfriendly, but in reality, it is a survival mechanism.  We can only know so many people, so the nuclear structure of urban families is merely a way to cope with the barrage of faces that pass in and out of each day.

Dropping an urban girl on a soon-to-be-farm can be an interesting experiment. She is convinced that she can Do It All, like a soccer mom who is also a full-time nurse and a volunteer firefighter. She is convinced that healthy grass-fed meat, free-range eggs and abundant organic crops will soon be flowing like a river from her land. She slaves day and night, hammering and digging and herding and collecting. Alas, this particular urbanite is discovering–as her farm grows and her flocks expand– that trying to Do It All makes for a very tired, frustrated farmer at best. At worst, it causes injury and can lead to some pretty serious doubts.

Yep, they volunteered.

Yep, they volunteered.

Icing the torn muscle in my shoulder and recognising, finally, that I probably shouldn’t be shoving the 500 pound chicken tractor around or wrestling a 30 foot plum tree with a chain saw on my own led me, at last, to a logical conclusion (most farm kids have this imprinted on their brains at birth): doing everything on your own is not the farming way. It is not particularly commendable nor even prudent. On the old sustenance farms, various people with their special skills pitched in all over the place, in exchange for your special skill when required. Sally helped correctly prune your orchard in November and you spun her wool in May. Fred sunk your fence posts in April and you dug his potatoes in July. One person couldn’t possibly acquire the myriad pieces of knowledge, skills and time that were required to run a farm perfectly. You knew your neighbours and you needed your neighbours.
Starting a farm has been a gigantic education. In making various contacts, through selling farm products, extra cages, or just perusing craigslist, I’ve discovered that there are many, many people who WANT to help. Thus, my front fence was finished with the assistance of Ellen. I could not have moved the greenhouse without Chelsea and Kris. And there would have been no vacation without Leona and Tara and Ana coming by to mind the farm in my absence. This help was a tremendous blessing and, more importantly, an essential part of the new sustainable future.

Friends and neighbours.

Friends and neighbours.

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