Excerpt from ‘Harvest: A Year in the Life of an Organic Farm’

One constant of farms is its inconstancy, its mutability.. Without a predictable routine, a farm cannot function, but within that routine are a myriad of elements that do not always behave as expected. The cycle of farming – this particular kind of small farming – imposes its own seasonal and animal rhythms and has its own logic.

Its rewards are tangible, and daily: the meat raised, the land the farmer sustains and that sustains them. But in the end circumstances beyond the farmer’s control – weather, the economy, a stock market freefall such as after the attacks of September 11 – have as much to do with success or failure as anything else. Even the smartest farmer, the one who always seems a step ahead, will admit that there is an inherent mysteriousness as to why something works one year, and not the next.

Jennifer and Kyle’s planning for the year to come showed both the virtue and the occasional haphazardness of their thinking. They liked flexibility, they wanted the option to try new things, they had ambition and they were imaginative. They also tended to leap first, and look later, which Kyle acknowledged freely at the end of 2003, when they sat down to review their management, what had worked and what had not.

“I’d like not to be so scattered, not to do everything,” he was to say.

“We don’t always consider the labor involved, which is a cardinal sin,” said Jennifer.

They both admitted that there were things that had not gone as planned, that had taken too much labor, that had not returned the investment. They would change or drop them altogether.

“I’m always trying to articulate the reason why we farm,” Jennifer would muse at the end of the year. “Obviously we want to stay afloat, we don’t want to lose money. If we were really serious about making money, we’d get equipment. Sometimes you have to spend money to make money.”

Kyle interrupted. “I have a problem with that, with that cliché. If you want to make money, don’t farm.”

“My goals for 2003 were to get the house primed and the roof painted, to put money back into the place,” continued Jennifer.

“I’m not sure what my goals are, or were,” said Kyle. “Pretty much raising Brad. We’re probably not a good example of a business plan.”

“They’re good goals,” Jennifer asserted.

“They’re nice goals, but if you get to the end of the year and you don’t know if you’ve met them…” Kyle shrugged. “I don’t think you want to be logical about farming, or you wouldn’t do it. I always felt I’d rather farm than be on Wall Street.”

Excerpt from HARVEST: A YEAR IN THE LIFE OF AN ORGANIC FARM, by Nicola Smith, with photographs by Geoff Hansen, Lyons Press, 2004.