Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Rural Honeymoon and the Hard Years: What a Real Farmer Is.

My innocent, cautious walk into the social fabric around me has ended. My rural honeymoon is over. The hard stuff has begun. It took about 16 years of marriage to get through the hard stuff. I hope this isn't like that.

I have finally interacted with people beyond the few that live on land touching mine, sell me hay, or the like. I started going to meetings. Blech. I even had to put heels on again. Double blech. It all started in the fall of 2014. I was reading our country paper, The County Courier. I love that paper, because country people have real discourse about politics and other matters through the letter-to-the-editor section. It is not to be missed. We do make fun of it for one reason, though.... it seems to always tell you what happened last week- never what is going to be happening in the week ahead. For six straight years we have missed the Mattaponi Indian Pow Wow, something I would really like to take the kids to, because it is on the front cover of the paper the week after it happens. Every late May that is our running joke: "Woops! We missed the Pow Wow again!"

So, I was reading the paper and saw a letter-to-the-editor about a sludge permit to spread industrial waste on thousands of acres in our county and surrounding counties. Turns out that if you rename something toxic, fertilizer, suddenly you have an easy way to dispose of it. I found out about the public hearing and here I am, two years later, still fighting the horrific practice. I have spent hundreds of hours of time and much emotional energy... and now work with other activists across Virginia trying to stop it. There are quite a few stories from those two years to tell... but for this blog renewal entry (after SO much time off), I will just have to pick a place and start.

In a nutshell, Virginia's cities are dumping on Virginia's rural counties. First their trash, then their sewage sludge, now their industrial waste. And not just Virginia cities- they truck and rail it in from other states. The layers of money and politics (and corruption) tied into the practice is like nothing I have ever seen before. Even leading environmentalist groups won't touch it. They dare not, or they will face the political equivalent of a silver stake in their activist vampire heart. What is this silver stake? One word: farmer.

Wield that word and politicians drop to their knees. I don't know of much else that could pain me the way this whole mess has. Farming is in my heritage, my present, and my future. I brought it into my husband's life and then my boys' lives; and now it is in their hearts. The word farmer is a term that is being used as a name by a set of people that do very different things to the land than anything I would ever consider doing. Saying the word now requires any informed person to back up and clarify to which type you are referring...

Yuppies know a good bit about the differences between industrial agriculture and eco-agriculture. Most anyone who knows about real food does. It is a black and white distinction drawn between either organic or not, GMO or not, local or not, fair trade or not.

It was easy for me to draw those distinctions too, and still is. The problem I am having is that I live among these industrial ag people now. The impact of what they do is not only felt in every political venue or food choice, but in the water and air we breathe (literally). I am still disgusted with the practices, and I still make the distinctions. What you can't do until you live in the community of a group of people, though, is get into the weeds of the issue (so to speak) to understand that there are differences among them.

Some will harm people for a fatter bottom line, it's true. Some are in financial bondage beyond anything the average person could imagine. Then there are other slices and variations. Some refuse to use sludge because they haven't drunk the sludge-industry-paid research Kool-aid that Virginia Tech has handed out. Some who haven't drunk the Kool-Aid may not need the money, but some undoubtedly do (but do the right thing anyway).

When you get further into the weeds and begin to understand the history of how they got to where they are, and who the powers reaching across global economies to glean wealth from them are... it gets even more sordid.

I keep researching. I keep working. It often seems to get more confusing, not more clear. I sat down across from a GMO farmer at a local dinner tonight. He and his wife were truly fabulous people. I took the risk of asking if I could ask them questions at a later time about GMO farming. Our conversation was interrupted because of intersecting conversations... but I think I may have scared the guy when I starting explaining why I have questions. I probably killed the possibility when I said the Farm Bureau probably considers me an enemy. I drove home wishing I had kept my mouth shut. I don't want to ruin relationships out here. They matter to me. I love rural people and I belong here.

The fact remains that all I have seen tells me that institutionalized farming organizations: the Farm Bureau, the VA Cooperative Extension, the USDA... aren't always looking out for the farmers they say they are looking out for... and they sure as hell aren't looking out for the health of the people. When one goes down the rabbit hole, one finds that the predatory economic interests which killed independent farms in the last century were likely behind the formation of these organizations in the first place.... these organizations that say they are protecting farmers. It reminds me of when the mafia lets you pay them for not breaking your legs (calling it protection) after they killed your brother. Yeah, it's kind of like that.

Many of these guys don't remember when or why they (or the farm owner before them, even if it was their grandpa) got on agricultural welfare. The system is the system, and it has been that way for a while now. Some of them are really just liability holders and laborers that think they are farmers. They are land managers for massive agribusiness conglomerates who don't care at all about our communities, counties, or the city dwellers downstream... because they don't live here.

To make good choices you have to first believe you have choices- ethical choices and financial choices. You can decide you won't poison your neighbors. You can decide that your products are worth a higher price. Every bit of research I see says that it isn't profit that is keeping them where they are- it is mindset and will. There is more money and more ethical choices to be made, but changing is harder than not changing. It does require effort, and being weaned off a nursemaid that doesn't want to let you go because she is getting more from you than you are getting from her isn't easy. What is that verse from Corinthians? Oh yeah: Quit you like men, be strong.

When all is said and done, to me there is only one real class of farmer that has the right (yes I said right) to call him/herself a farmer. That is, a free and independent farmer who does no harm to his neighbors, customers, or the land.... and (I have added one more group to this class), those who want to be like that. That gives room and grace for some, who aren't those things, to find their way back to the heart of a beautiful way to make a living. I find myself working hard for the future of both sets of people... and even one more- the people still stuck in the rat race (but who would love to be out here some day). That used to be me.

When the hard years come, love stays you where you are. I am still with Cory and we have reached the really deeply beautiful years of marital life. There is a huge rural mess out here, but we are staying to work through it- trusting that it too will be better eventually than it was in the beginning.

We are still finding our own way, but also trying to serve others. It seemed easier back in church when someone just gave you a job and suddenly you were declared to be serving in ministry. This is much more complicated and stressful- still, I hope, when all is said and done, it will be said of me that I loved my neighbor. And, that we were farmers.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Beauty I Can Keep

October of 2014 is a good time to start writing again. I finally want to... but where to pick up from? Well, if I were sitting down for tea with an old friend like I occasionally have the chance to do as life whisks by, I would start with the basics. I'm still married, the family is well. We still live in the same place. I'm still homeschooling. I'm still working on the house and have business plans...still homesteading with farm plans. I turned 40 this year- an age I used to think was old, but no longer do. There was a long period in my life where there was constant change- dramatic, often exciting, sometimes stressful swings and shifts. I'm happy to be at a place where I have embraced steadiness. Stability has a beauty all its own. I read a book called "Captivating" (yes, I know book titles are supposed to be underlined, but I still don't know how to do it in Blogger OR separate paragraphs anymore apparently) several years ago- a good book. It talked about how every woman's core question is, "Am I beautiful?" "Huh," I thought. "That's not the most important thing inside of me. I have deep, soul-mind-spirit things that are at my center... WAY more important to me than beauty." However I can admit now that being beautiful is, I realize, important to me. One of my favorite books is The Great Divorce, by C.S. Lewis. There are lots of reasons, but the reason I bring it up now is because of the lady in it. I'm not a person who follows heroes or idols, or celebrities.......... but this lady is a rare example of someone worth emulating. She glows forth the love that is within her and it overflows to everyone and everything around her. She is a mother to every child she meets. She causes men to desire their wives more, not her. And of course, the Love and Light that is in her is not "the triumph of the human spirit" that Hollywood worships or any variation of human love. The source is Love Himself, Christ Jesus, the Light of the World. Being a woman in this time and culture.. this porn-laden, superficial, debased culture.. is not easy. That is a whole other topic for another day... but certainly aging as a woman in this culture can become emotionally debilitating if you let it. In a society that literally worships fake, fleeting, female physical beauty as a primary God, is it any wonder that so many women despair at this stage in their life? God says that it is not the outward adorning, but the gentle and quiet spirit that is of great value in his sight. One verse that I had the foresight to take hold of as a teenager and young lady is this one in Proverbs 31: Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting, but a woman that fears the Lord, she shall be praised. And I must also add, that the countenance of a woman who has God beaming out of her is always beauty to behold. If you've ever been privileged enough to meet a rare old true saint, you know what I mean. That's the kind of beauty I've been looking toward all these years, and I don't have to buy products to get it. I have to let God continue to shape me inside. Sure I want to reduce wrinkles and firm up. But blessed, so blessed, is the woman who invests in the beauty that cannot be taken from her- the glowing countenance that comes from being in God's presence and being filled with his joy.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Berry Picking and Berry Cobbler on a Sunday, 6/30/2013

Sweet, sweet happiness, would you look at that!
Our Sunday started out well- with cinnamon french toast and bananas topped with butter and maple syrup all prepared by one Cory Hart. Then we chatted about the topic of church. It seems Cory has found a group in Richmond that is somewhat unique, so we had a good theological review of why we were sitting on the couch with bedhead and socks instead of trotting off to a "place of worship." Then the topic turned to our land, and we had a grand old time pulling out the plat and google-earth pic... then Cory overlaid them AND the topography chart of the property we got from the local cooperative extension service and we made some further decisions about clearing for pasture---- a critical topic since we are now out of pork and beef from the cows we butchered over a year ago. As that led to the improved state of our grass in the north field we decided to meander up and look at it closely... Low and behold we find a GInormous berry patch that just sprung up on its own and fruited like crazy ripe with blackberries.
The first summer we were here we picked a handful or two; last year we got a small bowl full... this year- on the patch we weren't tending, we got this many:
I was going to take a picture of the cobbler with ice cream next to it; but since everyone tore into it like piranhas, the picture, and my Buckingham Palace etiquette lesson, will have to wait for another day. June is over and lightning bugs are out... another week closes and another begins. I think I will be catching up on some old stuff on here- backstory fill in stuff. Yep.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day 2013- fruit trees and bushhogging

It's Memorial Day. Things have started to get overgrown around here and I asked Cory to bushhog some areas while I attempted to hack through the growth that has infiltrated the berry bushes I so carefully weeded, gosh, I guess it's been 2 or 3 springs ago... I'd have to check my old posts. In any case we found another fruit tree! Actually a set of several. One is quite large. Apple? Likely. I got some good pictures today. Today was my favorite kind of day. If I am outside working on the land, I feel more fully alive than during most any other thing. When all of us are out there being and doing, it is even better. The world can make you feel discontent in so many ways, but on days like today, not so. Not so at all. I've been thinking about blogging again. Here's to the first in a long while. We'll see where it goes from here.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Hart peace

It looks like it's been almost one full year since I last made an a blog entry here. I stopped blogging for several reasons, and then there were some that came upon me I wasn't aware were on the road ahead when I stopped. I think I've decided to just ease back into the part of this that I liked- which is chronicling this beautiful season in life for us and those that will come after, years from now when time moves past the line that I am filling now. I'm not really going to attempt to formally and fully fill in the gap from the last year, but I expect that will happen in time, in my layered way of telling something from several different vantage points. The very first time I considered blogging I thought of all the reasons I didn't think blogging was wise, and a million more why I really didn't think reading blogs were wise. But, on different terms I am going to embrace the part of it that fits me. I am disabling comments as I'm really not writing for anyone else other than my family or the anonymous person. I don't want to think about what people think of it. I don't want to build a "community." I'm not really into communities- that's not me. And I'm wonderfully at peace with that, and not needing anyone else to be. So I have a lot more stories to tell, of our happenings around here... and of all the things my spirit radar picks up in the quiet. I do hope that it blesses you...especially if you are my grand or great grand or even grander down the line child. You've all been in my heart through all of the hard things somehow, and I think of you when I am courageous enough to sow love.

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Light Switch

This is a true story:

One day, I don't remember which year it was, I stopped in front of a light switch and tried to balance it exactly in the center, right between off and on. I'm not sure how many times I flicked that light off and on trying, but it was quite a few. I thought if I could juuust hold it exactly there.... I'm not sure what I was thinking... that it would neither then be on nor off? (how does that work?) That it would be a dim light?

Another true story:

Money has been a challenge for me my whole life. A host of very important decisions and events in my life have been strongly influenced by my, shall we say, insufficient funds: college, business, houses, childcare, social things. The list goes on.

I once read about there being a "spirit" of lack. So I prayed about it- prayed that jerk right out of my life in the name of Jesus. Sure did. I'm not making that up. I also have thoroughly evaluated my intentions from a spiritual standpoint and have determined that I have very ambitious charitable goals, and reasonably modest material desires. In short, I would pass the Spanish Inquistion of Financial Intent, should there be one. At least I think.

This lack started out because of my family's financial situation- 14 kids on a mechanic's salary is a pretty big challenge. Even when I was making quite a bit of it though, which I was doing at a pretty early age, the sense of lack was still there. I wasn't where I wanted to be so I invested all of it into plans to try to move things in life along to where I did want them to be. The details are too many for this post to share, but I will say that the failures and disappointments were plentiful; but each led me to exactly the place I needed to be, which was prayer; and God finally getting his desire: to chisel me into a bit better image of him than what I was.

Which sounds lovely. If I learned my lesson and did that every time. But I don't. I wrestle with him. My name, Jacqueline, is the french feminine version of the name Jacob- the most famous Jacob being the one who wrestled with God in the scripture. Yippy to a great namesake.

I don't do it on purpose (wrestling, that is), by the way. Most people don't.

So, as you know life has gotten quite a bit better for me; but I, like many, have still been holding on to some things that I want- mostly not even material things, but things money facilitates: like more time with my husband, more time with family, etc. It's okay to want things but you can't let them be an idol. Here's a tip: It's hard for something you want not to become an idol. It is therefore very, very easy for something you want to become an idol.

So despite all the great things the Lord has done in my life and blessed us with, I have still been walking around with my breath slightly held. Anxiously awaiting the final steps and stages of what I think my life should look like.
(Funny that as I typed that sentence, I remembered on my last visit to the naturopath, she said my muscle test indicated I wasn't getting enough oxygen. hmm).

A few weeks ago I had a sudden onset of sustained discouragement. Not the clinical kind- never seen that kind- but my special kind, which goes like this:

1.)We'll begin this evening's meal with a lot of pessimism about how long things are taking.

2.)The soup for this evening will be an analysis of what you have done sprinkled with what else you could do; with a sprig of what everyone else could do.

3.)The main course will be a review of our financial outlook- always a filling dish.

4.)And for dessert we will wrap up with noting that unless some major upheaval occurs, it may be just like this next year.


So here is the good part. I've been through this enough that after eating this exact same meal for a number of days in a row, I start to get wise- hhheeyyyy, wait a minute where is this crap coming from?

This is when it starts to turn around. You know this, if you've ever countered spiritual attacks with the Word of God, which is what I did; but this particular time has had a unique twist for me.

I walk out in the yard on one beautiful late afternoon while the kids are playing and sit on the tree swing, quite over the weight of things, especially frustrated plans. The sunset shadows are already casting the long stretched silhouettes of the trees across the grass, even this early in the fall season. I notice this and start thinking about the sun. And do you know what came into my brain? Noon. Noon is the same as a light switch in the center.

Noon lasts one second. Not even that if you want to get scientific about it- splitting it into infinite divisions of a second. Noon is the exact second the sunrise switches to the sunset. The entire day is leading up to noon, or is leading away from it.

People get sad about the past and the future: "The past isn't what i thought it would be/ the future isn't working out the way I wanted it to be." They are looking for that perfect exact time where things are brightest, and their lofty plan is to grab hold of it and stay there. However, God's plan for the day doesn't include holding onto noon.

We get very close to it- glimpses of what it is very much like.

Life is a series of long sunrises and sunsets- they are quite varied and beautiful on their own merit. We should enjoy wherever we are in the process. Or maybe the even bigger lesson is that the perfection we are seeking isn't attainable while on this earth. In heaven, God's presence is the source of light, not the sun. According to the Word, there is no darkness nor shadow there.

I thought about this, and I thought, and I thought.

I realized that what I am grasping for cannot be found in the way I am thinking of it while I am still here on this earth. So the only way to feel what I wanted to feel was to do it now, with things exactly the way they are. I decided to be content- right where I am and with what I have.

Now, I have determined and willed before to be content, but never have I been, for more than probably a fleeting moment (if I were to take the time to really think about it). But this time, God did a work in me and I finally did it. Actually it was more like I didn't do it at all, because it was actually working- someone did it for me, as another gift. Then noon came inside of me- "on (the) earth (of my heart) as it is in heaven."

"Now Godliness with contentment is great gain." 1 Timothy 6:6.

I let go of something and then I got it? Yes. If I lose my life, I will find it, so sayeth the scripture.

Later on I took out my notebook and wrote down all the things I have to be thankful for and all the blessings God has poured out on me. It was such a good list I was embarrassed and ashamed at ever having asked for anything else. I have received more than enough if I never get one more thing. Then I wrote down all the lies I have been hearing to stir discontentment in me.

Satan is a bastard, by the way.

Then I wrote down the precise truths that counter those lies. It was an even more impressive list than the first one. Silence. Soaking in of the Truth. Better. Much better.

And that is enough for me to say; and very, very worthwhile to provide a testimony about. I could stop there. But then two more things happened.

First, I took action- it wasn't a big spiritual plan. I just decided to do a better job taking care of the stuff I already have- I started cleaning up- just something extra each day- cleaning out the kids toys, cleaning the oven, etc.

Then I decided to decorate with what I have. I began making the living room look more like a place a family lives, and less like a construction zone with a couch in it. With as little as I had after 8 moves, it is looking nice. Very us.

Now here is the interesting twist- and you can say what you want about it, I don't care- I'm going to tell you anyway. I've been weighing myself pretty regularly since Cory fixed the scale and put it in the bathroom; and I stay pretty much at the same weight- 20 lbs more than I want.

With absolutely no effort on my part, I began to lose weight right after what we'll call my "contentment shift." And it is still coming off. A day or two after I noticed the weight drop, (yes after so don't say it was the power of suggestion or whatever) I happened to read an article linked from another article from a weight loss trainer. Her method wasn't fully disclosed, but her article hinted that happiness makes your metabolism work much better and that her $500 per session clients pay her more for her counseling about being happy with themselves than a workout plan.[Obviously, like with anything, God's laws and design work for the benefit of anyone who applies them- Christian or not; that's why monogomous pagan couples have better marriages than adulterous pagan couples- both are pagans but one is reaping the rewards of following God's design for marriage, and one is not].

Interesting. Of course there is a connection between metabolism and stress, everyone knows that. But then conversely it makes sense that there is also a connection between metabolism and contentment, or peace. Holy Cow. Why do so few know that? This lines up with scripture as God makes it very clear that we take authority over the body with the spirit.

So you can do with that what you will.

I admit that I still have plans for the living room to look like an atrium in an English cottage- but I finally feel that those plans are now in their rightful place- which is not, by the way, first. I tried to put them (the plans) there(anyplace other than first) before, but my efforts never, ever work like God's grace. Um, that also sums up the Old and New Testament.

Anyway, the living room is looking better. And I am looking better. And our finances and circumstances are looking better too, but that is because I have a different perspective. Nothing has changed with them, but instead of viewing anything below my idea of ideal as lack, I am viewing anything beyond the abundance we already have as extra abundance. It turns out I am a very rich woman right now and have been too duped to fully recognize it.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Blog blip, catching up after a looong break- part 2: Summer

All through the summer the house was still torn apart and I had banned all visitors. I wasn't happy about that, but I wasn't joking either. The level of mess we are living in is just shy of maddening to me.

Oddly enough, we had a couple show up on our doorstep one night because their truck had gotten stuck on the country road down a ways. They looked a little scared.

Right before they knocked, the chickens that were perched right on the front railing freaked the girl out. I could tell they had had the normal discussion any person would, in their situation, about a guy named Bubba who could very possibly greet them way out here where no one would hear them scream. (Cory likes to tell people when giving them directions to our house: "if you hear banjos, you've gone too far)...

They asked if we had a tractor (do we have a tractor?- of COURSE we have a tractor) to pull them out.
Instead of Bubba, they get me, which I actually think surprised them more than a toothless killer would have. I am starting to notice a pattern with that.

One day I was in yoga pants, sunglasses, slogger boots and a tanktop (that I had slept in) and this guy pulls into our lane (lost, of course) at the exact same time that I am putting water in the cow's trough. That particular day I happened to have twisted my hair up in these curly bun/pony tail things like a cross between someone from Sweden named Inga and Princess Leia. I could see him trying to register what he was seeing with all the previous files he had stored in his brain as he stammered to ask for directions. I think I am to country as Bubba is to city... but I'm not sure- it's just a feeling I get.

Anyway, according to my decision list that I TAPED TO THE REFRIGERATOR,

[so when I revisit (more regularly than I care to mention) the meaning of life, our purpose, and what we should be doing, I can save myself a whole heck of a lot of time by just looking at the list instead of going through all of that brain- wracking again. If I happen to remember the list is there, I can promptly see that we've already been over this ..and just do what is next.]

spring was designated home improvement time, and the end of spring marked the shift to stage two of my year plan, which is the summer schedule: continue homeschooling and actually begin to work my business.

The boys never have trouble keeping themselves busy

and honestly sometimes I feel I am interrupting their learning when I require that we do our academic work.

We had to buy a garden cart so that we could start rotating the cows onto different paddocks of grass. The cart would serve to keep their water and their hay and minerals within reach wherever they were. I let the boys take a crack at putting it together while Cory was at work and they did a great job. (I'm sure it doesn't hurt that there is a family of mechanics on their mother's side of the family).

I decided earlier in the year that it simply makes sense to do school when the weather is too severe to enjoy the outdoors (summer and winter) and have off when it is beautiful outside (spring and fall). Thus we have come off of a long and lovely spring break and are back to school.

Summer, for me, was very weird. It went by quickly in a sense, but in a way many of the days melted together in their likeness. I divided my time between business work and the daily chores of house and farm. Looking back, I'm actually kind of sad about it. I'd really like to bust my husband out of jail (his job) and get on a sailboat to an island some days, any island, so we could all just be together instead of our family - 1 the majority of the time....but I get motion sick.... which is a thorn in the side of that dream, but whatever.

Anyway, toward the end of the summer, we had three major happenings..

First, we had a nice visit from my brother, Paul; and his wife, Heather and son, Reese (he is as cute as pie!). We went crabbing and swimming together- the boys were really glad to get to play with Reese, have company, and do something different from our normal routine.

We also had Buttercup artificially inseminated. We found a bull who has A2/A2 genetics (MAJOR controversy over the A1/A2 thing, if you are into raw milk- definitely read about it). Then we found a nearby farmer, who raises angus actually, who is an AI tech. He came out when Buttercup went into heat (she BAWLS her HEAD OFF when she is in heat so it is pretty darn easy to detect) and did it. Prior to his arrival Cory built a headgate. When he got here he had a nitrogen tank. I got her into the headgate and with the boys help we fed her grain and held her tail up while he felt around in there til he got it done. That was a definite first for me. Never seen that done. Never thought I would. It worked the first time, so she is pregnant and due in May.

And finally, we were asked by another family farm couple to milk their cow one Saturday so they could go to a wedding. Their teenage kids prepared instructions and a checklist for me to be sure we did everything routinely, and we went a week prior to go through a dry run with them. And yes, I did it. I milked a cow. It actually wasn't that hard.

Believe it or not I got slack with picture taking and didn't get pictures of any of these things. Slacker.

That gets us to the final two events that have happened between then and now- the hurricane and the pig butchering. Oh, and I almost forgot the duck genocide of 2011. I'll fill ya in on those next time.