A Day in the Life of a Microfarmer

ImageThat photo on the left is me after digging potatoes during a heatwave in June. But this year, when hasn’t there been a heatwave? And yet there is work to do outside, even when the radio blares advisories to stay indoors.

What I’ve learned is that there is a very big difference between having a garden and trying to earn a living from a very small farm. What they have in common is the contentment that comes from getting to eat amazingly fresh, nutritious food that you tended with your own hands, and getting to feed your neighbors and friends with it. Then there is the feeling of satisfaction and peace that comes with digging in the dirt and getting something “real” done. The edge that microfarming for a living has over gardening is the added satisfaction of being your own boss, setting your own timetable, with your daily commute involving walking out the back door and through the tall grass.

But microfarming also has some drawbacks that gardening lacks. Such as the impetus to keep digging, planting, and harvesting day after day regardless of the weather or your mood. The need to keep records, not just the fun garden journal kind, but the financial kind. Every receipt must be categorized and recorded, every revenue entered, the sales tax paid in a timely manner. Then there’s the marketing. Coolers must be cleaned, crates stored, and everything washed and packed in an orderly fashion so they can be loaded into the car and driven to market. And again a few days later. But wait. Instead of explaining, I’ll just share my day with you, as it happened, yesterday:

6:30am. Feed and water broiler chickens on field. Move two coops to fresh pasture. Feed and water layer hens. Feed and water chicks in brooder.

7:15am. Have coffee, daily devotional.

8:15am-10am. Harvest 10 pints of currant tomatoes.

10:00am. Time for breakfast! This time of year, that’s grated yellow squash topped with poached eggs served on whole wheat bread with cheese and liverwurst.

10:30am. Clean crates and coolers, clamshell containers. Pack currant tomatoes into 1/2 pint clamshell containers. Sort through stored Roma tomatoes in quart containers, throw out questionable ones, repack into containers.

11:30am. Harvest30 pounds of cucumbers. 20 pounds of zucchini. 15 pounds of heirloom tomatoes.

12:30pm. Wash and pack vegetables into crates.

1:00pm. Make Amir’s favorite snack. (chocolate chip blondies.) Put in oven.

1:15pm. Time to load the car for the Wednesday CSA pick up and Madison Roadside Market. Place cooler in car. Get chicken from freezer in basement. Bring upstairs in bag, load into cooler in car. Get ice packs from other freezer, place in cooler. Load beef from basement freezer into another cooler, bring upstairs and load in car.  Arrange car to accommodate five crates of vegetables, 2 coolers, 2 tables, a chair, a signboard, a canopy, all manner of baskets and display materials. Bring up crate of tomatoes from basement. Load rest of vegetables from washing station into car.

2:00pm. Head to CSA partner’s home down the road about 10 minutes away, pack all CSA veggies into individual share bags. Enter items distributed for CSA on spreadsheet. Load car with CSA shares, drive to market. Gratefully accept a piece of carrot cake with cream cheese frosting from partner, as you realize you skipped lunch and will not be home until after 7pm. (Thanks, Margaret! You’re the bestest!)

3:00pm. Arrive at market. Set up canopy and tables, arrange display. Stay hydrated and cool in 100% humidity and 92 degree weather. Distribute shares, sell produce and chicken.

5:00pm. A CSA member approaches. I’m resting in my chair. “Hey there,” I say, with a smile. She looks toward the display with the CSA shares. “Yeah, yours is over there,” I say easing up out of my chair. She laughs, “A little slow to get up there, huh? I can just get it myself I guess.” Chagrined, I hurry over and pull out her bag, and make a point to show her each of the goodies inside. Being a market grower is as much about customer relationship as it is about growing great food.

7:00pm. Take down market display. Thankfully, husband has joined at this point and does most of the take down work and re-loading of car. He has also picked up dinner for us to have at home, since I haven’t had a chance to prepare anything. Arby’s roast beef sandwiches it is, then.

7:30pm. Unload car. Put away meat back in freezer. Put unsold veggies in market refrigerator. Gobble down a couple of Arby’s sandwiches.

8:00pm. Check on eggplant transplants, put in ground the previous day. Realize they need water. Arrange irrigation line on that row, turn on. Discover fountain-worthy leaks in other irrigation line. Try to tie them off, to no avail. Get soaked in process. Make a mental note to put repair on to-do list. All this while husband is wading through waist-level weeds–but even higher corn–in our corn field,  diligently doing pest control on our 5 rows of organic sweet corn, which is just about ready.

9:00pm. Close the broiler chickens on the field in their coop for the night. Catch rogue hen from layer flock and put her back with her flock. Close in layers for the night. Check chicks in brooder, refresh water and food.

9:30pm. Shower, put on jammies. Watch 2 episodes of Frasier sitcom. Endure a couple of sudden leg cramps. Eat a chocolate chip blondie.

10:30pm. Take two ibuprofen and go to bed.

So that’s a typical day in the life of a microfarmer, sunup to sundown. It’s the market days that get you! Tomorrow, it’s harvest the first of the organic sweet corn and some more watermelons, along with Roma beans, eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash, cucumbers, and tomatoes, and pack it all up for market. Maybe one day I’ll get some weeding done. Maybe do a little canning from all the abundance. I’m definitely cooking dinner tonight though, just as soon as I get those 114 chicks moved from the brooder to the field, dig up all the onions, and string the tomato supports on rows 7-10.  It won’t be Arby’s again, darn it! Not with all we’ve got growing! I tell you, gardening was never this demanding.

This entry was posted in Christian Agrarian, Farming, Free range chicken, New Farmers, pastured poultry, Small Farms, Uncategorized, Virginia Farms and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to A Day in the Life of a Microfarmer

  1. It is 6:45 AM. I just got up to be blessed by sunshine and a tall cedar across from my office window. The rosemary and cuttings in the pitcher on the window sill are dead. After reading your day I am already tired. ….. But, off to get the Guardian and come alive. As I walk, throw out the old flowers, empty yesterday’s mind …

  2. Ah, Diana, every time I go to the Mad(ison) Farmers Market and see you and Amir and the other mad farmers (crazy and chilled, anything but angry) I say to myself: Gee, I’m a gardener, of sorts. How come my stuff doesn’t look like Diana and Amir’s stuff? Or more accurately, is altogether invisible? And you have answered my question. You get up earlier than I do. You work harder than I do. You have a greener thumb than I have. You love your chickens as much as I love to eat ’em. If you are clueless I am invincibly ignorant. And there must be more reasons–I’m exhausted just thinking of them! Only one question: When do you find time to write a beautiful blog like this?

  3. Allison says:

    I just love your blogs. I’ve been following you since greenbranch! I must say it’s great to see you and your husband succeed! Congratulations!

  4. John Hayden says:

    Thanks for very informative posts about real life. As for microfarming, at this age, I couldn’t do it. Don’t know if I could at any age. Sounds like unending work.

  5. Amy says:

    Thank you for this! My husband and I are exploring starting a micro farm, but I didn’t even know the day to day. This was so helpful!

  6. illoura says:

    What a wonderful post to share the ins and outsw of such a life. I’m one of those who probably romanticizes it – but as one of your previous commentors brought up, I wonder about the work ‘at my age’ thing. I’m nearing mid-50’s now and wonder if this life can in any way remotely be sustainable into retirement – or into old-age. I mean, what happens when you can’t load the crates? I’m thinking about using a pony or goats for heavy labor, but lifting is another thing entirely…
    This post is now going on 4 yrs. old, and I wonder how you might have changed the routine. I wonder if you are finding ways to work smarter not harder as you go a long, that you could share?
    I read a story of a man who appeared to be in his 60’s and he had 1/2 an acre of raised beds (hip-high beds!) He was making a living off them. I think it’s smart to consider building access into longterm plans (but who can afford 1/2 an acre of that- plus all the drip irrigation?)

    And their are a few others doing it too. This one is successful in Canada on 1/5 acres:
    http://permacultureapprentice.com/how-to-make-a-living-from-a-1-5-acre-market-garden/ (but it takes years to establish this system – not 2 or 3 but more like 10).
    Thanks so much for sharing!! I hope to see more!

    • Diana says:

      Thanks for your comments. I wish I could tell you that I figured it all out and am making a living! But alas, last year was my last season. It was just too much labor, and not a close enough, big enough market. So getting a fair return for my labor without driving for hours to market each week was not happening… Ultimately, my back hurts! So I’m retiring to a quieter, simpler life in the woods, with just a few raised beds, where I’m sure I”ll produce almost as much as I tried to on 1/2 acre! Intensive gardening in raised beds with hoop houses is the way to go. No till, lots of flat bed wagons, and efficient washing and packing station, a close and lucrative market (urban center) are keys to success.

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