Let's face it—some times of the year are tougher than others on the farm. Summer may be beautiful, but it is long and grueling and is by far the most exhausting season.
My husband and I have been rolling out of bed at around 5:30 most mornings, hoping to get a good head start on the day. All summer long, we've been processing chickens two days every week, making cheese five times a week, gelato twice a week, and deliveries twice a week. Eggs are gathered, washed and packaged daily. We prepare for three farmers' markets every week. Our distributor comes once a week. We've had multiple, regular inspections by New York State Department of Ag & Markets. Every week this summer also saw customers for our lamb and goat...when they weren't escaping to our neighbor's corn field. Peter has baled three cuttings of hay this summer and may yet get a fourth. We've hosted two farm weddings. Nearly every minute of every day is scheduled; every hour is dedicated to a purpose.
We've gotten very good at packing a lot into a day, but even so, most days we are not sitting down to dinner until sometime between 9 and 10 at night. Breakfast is eaten standing up, usually by the sink or on the walk to do morning chores. Lunch, if we think of it, is gulped, rather than chewed and savored. Dinner, the meal most folks look forward to all day, has been an afterthought all summer long. We raise delicious meats, make dozens of kinds of cheeses, and rub elbows with some of the finest vegetable farmers multiple times each week at the farmers' markets, yet we all summer long we eat terribly. Preparing a nutritious meal doesn't take tons of forethought, but it certainly takes a little mental energy—something I seem to have in short supply in summer. By the time chores are done and we can't bear to do any more work at about 9:30pm, all I can manage to make is popcorn. Or pour a bowl of cereal.
Our daughters figured this pattern out years ago. And although they help us around the farm a great deal, we are also cognizant of their free time and their need to just be kids. That being said, they've learned to make a meal or two when they get hungry. They both know how to make their own soups, macaroni and cheese, grilled sandwiches—the list goes on and on. Our twelve-year-old can poach an egg like a pro...using nothing more than a fry pan, water and a splash of vinegar. When I'm uncharacteristically lucid, I'll ask her ahead of time to make dinner for all of us. I'll grab a fresh chicken, toss a bag of green beans at her and tell her to use her imagination. And when my husband and I come falling in the door after the sun has gone down, we're grateful for something other than toast.
This seems to be a real problem for all our farmer friends. We joke how three days can blur into one with little warning. We all need haircuts but are unsure when we can get it done. One of us has a tooth that needs attention, but the dentist will have to wait until things slow down. We all have the closest pizza joint programmed into our cell phones for that oh-my-God-none-of-us-have-eaten-all-day order.
The physical exhaustion and the poor diet of summer seem to lead to emotional and psychological exhaustion, too...just to make things interesting. My husband turned to me the other day and told me out of the blue that he'd been furious with me for the last week. “Why?” I asked. I didn't think I had done anything particularly offensive or been anything other than my normal self. “I don't know,” he finally admitted. “I've just been so darn tired…I figured it was your fault!” We seem to be business partners first and foremost during the summer especially, which also takes its toll on romance...whatever that is.
It seems selfish to complain about being exhausted. My husband and I are fortunate to have our health. We have friends undergoing chemotherapy and others taking care of sickly or elderly relatives, which is exhaustion on a whole other level. And we haven't been without help. Sabrina helps with deliveries and a few markets; Courtney was our summer intern courtesy of Herkimer BOCES; Lindsey is our face at the Oneida County Public Market. And the farmers we buy our milk from all make our cheese- and gelato-making possible in the first place. We love them all like family.
Yes, this summer was physically and emotionally exhausting and utterly draining. I'm ready for the goats to winter in the barn, happily munching hay. I'm ready for the lawn to not need mowing every time I turn around. I'm ready for fall and grateful for the change of seasons—it's time for a new set of challenges!