It is no secret that farmers work hard. But winter on a farm takes everything to a whole new level. Cold hurts. It breaks. It is expensive. It slows everything to a crawl. Just the process of layering and unlayering every time you leave or enter a heated space gobbles up hours of precious time over the course of a season. Cold is tough on machinery too. If it is going to break, you’d better believe the latest cold snap will push it over the edge. Fixing those machines and tools and doing routine maintenance is an inconvenient task in the warmer months but performing the same repairs in the often uncomfortable, dark, cold, limiting conditions of winter truly tests your grit.
Each winter is unique. There is a certain level of preparation that must be done based on the experiences of winters past. However new, unanticipated problems are impossible to avoid completely. One of the areas most deeply affected by winter weather, of course, is water. Without it you cannot farm but despite the very best efforts it becomes ice. “It’s going to be cold tonight, leave the water dripping!” soon turns to “The water is frozen, I have to wait until the sun comes up.” to the dreaded “Pipes froze. I got them thawed out but there’s no pressure. One must have burst somewhere. Better call the plumber.” Cha-ching! Forget to drain a pump? Broken. Thirsty animals? Well, allow yourself twice as much time to get the water in winter and brace yourself for the inevitable challenges of this task that is so easy in summer. And snow. Bright, glittery, beautiful snow. Plow, shovel, rake, sand, repeat. You know, before you start on the molasses paced chores. Didn’t shovel a path to that one piece of equipment? Well, you’ve missed your window and you can’t access it until spring.
Surely with all this bellyaching, I must be looking for a new line of work right? Not a chance! You would be hard-pressed to find many people that willingly give up farming. Maybe the bank finally tells you that you can’t do it anymore, maybe you leave your farm to the kids who want nothing to do with it and sell it off and divide up the money, maybe your old body says, ” Sorry, just have a garden and a couple of chickens.” But on the coldest, hardest day no one is looking for the exit. We are plotting and scheming how to prevent the same troubles from attacking during the next cold snap so that we will be able to turn our attention to the new and improved problems that will come our way. The majestic beauty of the sunrise behind a snowy mountain, the fresh tracks of deer, rabbits, and fox in the snow, the pounding of your heart while you snowshoe up to the greenhouse, these treasures are sprinkled throughout every single day. Hope springs eternal and it is impossible to ignore the gift of working in nature. Every day a collaborative effort between farmer, livestock, crops, and nature. Shifting and adjusting plans continue to increase one’s ability to accept the conditions given to us by Mother Nature. Creatively solving each problem as it arises brings a deep satisfaction that equals the stress of an unexpected challenge. There is also a magical, childlike optimism that comes each winter. A time to reflect and plan. This year I will be prepared. Ready for anything that comes my way. This year I will not let the weeds get past the wire stage, I will cover the cucurbits with row cover immediately and won’t have a cucumber beetle outbreak, this year I will not grow a novelty crop and try to convince people to buy it, this year I am on top of everything. This year I will get it all right. Somehow it doesn’t matter that this is not true. I know it is impossible. I believe it anyway. As we crack into my 19th of farming…just you wait- perfection is around the corner.