I wrote a few blog posts this year that I did not publish. I felt like so much was happening here, and people might be interested, but there was so much else going on in the world that it wasn’t worth to write about our farm.
Especially since, after all, we felt like we had the best year of our lives.
How can you write about that when people, including your own (step)children, are confined to an apartment for weeks on end?
Don’t get me wrong. I definitely broke down quite a few times this year. Because I didn’t get to spend the summer, or even see my wonderful step-daughters who I love so much (Rob did go to see them). Because having 2 small children can get overwhelming. Because it is lonely on a farm at certain times of the year and social distancing amplified that greatly. Because there was a forest fire burning up the hill from our house for a month. And, as with any year, there were things going on with my family and friends that I had to deal with.
But, the farming was amazing.
Growing herbs is amazing. Having animals and spending days with small children and no office to go to, while still having a remote job that can support us, is amazing. And, we had some pretty great WWOOFers (volunteer workers who work for room & board) that we will be friends with for a long time (another posting about WWOOFers).
If you are considering starting a farm. Do it! But, only if you have money.
One thing we learned this year is that our return on investment on our herb farm will be approximately 1000 years! (joking, I will calculate it but cannot bring myself to do it yet). If we were growing marijuana the ROI would be probably 1 year, but growing only 1 herb would be so boring. The thing is that herbs are cheap – and usually crappy quality. We have only received very positive feedback on our herbs, including quite a few “they are the best herbs I’ve ever tasted” comments, but we still cannot charge much for them. So, this year I think we made almost nothing on herb sales despite selling out (we do free shipping, nice packaging, and give a huge discount to our friends who sell large amounts through their butcher shop). It is a year to get our name out though and get feedback, and that was a success on our small scale.
We are growing at least 38 varieties of culinary and medicinal herbs. Learning about them and their uses and how to grow them is so interesting. Then there is the part about finding places to put them on our land and how to prepare that land – which animals to graze on it before – and learning about how to raise those animals! In the spring, we acquired 2 goats and 2 sheep. Another dog, named Midnight, to protect them, and some more chickens. Oh, and this year’s pigs: 3 pigs, so our family could share the 3rd pig and we’d still have enough to eat and feed our WWOOFers next year.
This fall we borrowed (or rented in exchange for herbs) a ram to impregnate our sheep. It was through a Zoom call with a friend living in Switzerland who did her PhD in the UK (in an unrelated subject – although, mad cow was involved!) that I learned that we should have put some kind of dye on the ram’s underside. Then, after he mounted the sheep we would know if they had been mounted or not. But, let’s face it, we only have 2 sheep. If they are impregnated or not, it will not make a difference to their fate. They are here to graze the tall grass covering most of the land here and to eventually provide us with an alternative to pork. If they don’t, that’s ok. If they do, I might transform myself into a cheese maker. Won’t have enough to sell but halloumi, feta and Roquefort are some of my favourite cheeses and I would love to make those! Rob would love cream cheese too and I assume that is much easier to make than my favourites.
Another thing I learned is that I need childcare. My firstborn started full-time daycare when she was 4-months old. That was nuts but normal in Switzerland. My second child is 19months old and still have not spend a day in daycare – and in the valley we live in, that is very normal. But, I cannot raise 2 kids without daycare and work remotely, and run a farm with my partner, and build a herb business – oh, and do my many art projects that I like to dream about. So, Mom guilt aside, we have decided to put both kids in daycare 2-3 days a week. They are so social that they will/do love it and we can actually get some work done during daylight hours (well now and I writing during daylight but have 2 children climbing on me/feeding me pretend cake/taking decorations off the Christmas tree/harassing our poor dog taking a nap by the fire). Can you tell by my sporadic writing? Ha!
Daycare is only possible though because we live in Canada. We could never have done any of this in Switzerland. Yes, we are practically giving a way our herbs and make a fraction of what we earned there in our office jobs, but here childcare is subsidized when you need it. Healthcare is free (and I had a cancer scare this year so that would have been very beneficial) and I assume we will soon get childcare allowances again. Not to mention covid relief funding. This has made a huge difference to us and allowed us to keep going. I am so grateful my parents immigrated to Canada and I was able to sponsor my partner to come here – great people, great weather, beautiful surroundings, and important support for small businesses.
Our plans for next year? Passing the last hurdle to be certified organic. Building a processing/drying facility for herbs next to our house with our covid relief loan. We wanted to get that money back into other small businesses in the area ASAP. And, cultivating pretty much double the amount of varieties and quantity next year. Oh, and hopefully learning to raise lambs. Let’s all hope covid lets the rest go according to our hopes.