Never more than a dozen hens for eggs, and two does for milk. A vegetable patch big enough for everything except potatoes and corn. Some apple trees, a plum, a pear, and half a dozen blueberry bushes. Given what else I was dealing with, my forays into micro-farming were insane, but at least I kept one principle firmly in mind: small is beautiful.
My adult life is marked by three separate ventures into self-sufficiency, all of them harking back to the farm that kept my teenage mother and her family alive and fed during the horrors of the Spanish Civil War. When she wasn\’t plunging into creeks in the middle of the night to escape from bombardments, my teenage mother drank goat\’s milk and ate home-grown rabbits and pigeons and chickens and eggs and grapes and almonds and olives and cabbages and kale. Meanwhile, in their elegant Barcelona apartment my father\’s family quietly starved for the three years the war lasted, filling their stomachs with water from the faucet every night so they could sleep.
I was born five years after the end of the bombs and the hunger, carrying in my DNA the conviction that when times got bad you could grow your own food and survive, or live an urban life and starve.
My husband and I bought our first house from an older Austrian woman who had probably had some of the same fear-and-hunger experiences as my parents, and had filled her acre and a half with an ambitious vegetable garden, 25 fruit trees, a berry patch, a chicken house. I, who had never grown so much as a tomato in my life, plunged into self-sufficiency like a nun into her vows. That was farm #1.
It was succeeded by #2, after I had to give up my career following a diagnosis of CFS. I was in survival mode and thought, well, everything is going to hell in a hand basket, the least I can do is try to grow some food.
Farm #3, my best-loved, was in Vermont, where we moved when my husband retired. Besides the usual goats and chickens and vegetable beds and apple trees there were for-real woods where I could gather ramps in spring, and fields where the nearby farmer harvested for-real hay. I used to stand in the front field watching my goats gobble dandelions and think, am I really here? Is this really mine?
But farming even on a micro scale and CFS don\’t age well together, and one day I threw my hands up and declared that it was time to be realistic and responsible and move to a retirement community on the shores of Lake Champlain. Still in Vermont, still beautiful, but not, by any stretch of the imagination, a farm.
I now live in a small cottage with all mod cons and never have to worry about dinner, which is served in the community center up the hill. But this hasn\’t extinguished my farming drive. My tiny enclosed porch has become farm #4, my final farm.
In it, on sunny afternoons, I sit with my dog Bisou and the cat Telemann. In a Japanese-style tub beside me Yin and Yang, the goldfish, lead seemingly contented lives, protected from Telemann by an electrified scat-mat. Pots of houseplants, the successors to my vegetable gardens, surround me: geraniums prompted into bloom by the light reflected off the snow, an ancient jade plant almost too heavy for me to lift, a Christmas cactus that my cat loves to chew. And, because I haven\’t given up on my dreams of self-sufficiency, a Meyer lemon tree and a Calamondin orange that gives enough fruit to make marmalade in case of an emergency.
Just outside the window are my substitute chickens. Nuthatches, titmice, chickadees, finches gold-, purple-, and house-, and woodpeckers large and small eat the seeds and suet and drink at the four-season bird bath. Beneath the feeders, obese squirrels squabble over spilled seeds, and at sacred moments clever Reynard, my red fox, trots past on his slender black-stockinged feet.