As a vegetable farmer at Humble Hands Harvest, I get asked a lot what I do during the winter. I remember asking the same question of my farmer mentors before I got started on my own, and hearing them laugh: the job never lets up. It just changes over the seasons!
First of all, farmers with livestock never cease having to do chores, making sure their animals are fed and watered and clean. My sheep are busy growing babies this time of year, due to lamb in May, so I have to make sure they’re given adequate nutrition with their hay and minerals… but at the same time I don’t want them eating too much — that gets expensive!
This winter, my sheep are overwintering along the side of the barn, with a roof over their heads and a couple walls, and it’s so amazing to see them totally unfazed by the subzero temperatures. Their work for the winter is to eat their food and stay warm and be pregnant; it might not sound like a hard job, but I’m glad they do it, and I’m glad to help them do it!
Some vegetable farmers keep growing and selling vegetables in the winter. They use hoop houses, sometimes even heated ones, to grow greens and maybe some roots. Other farmers have fabulous root cellars so they can store squash, potatoes, onions, beets, carrots, rutabagas, cabbages, and more, long into the winter. One of my neighbors makes a much-loved Chinese cabbage and radicchio salad in the dead of winter from his root-cellar greenery.
But really, winter is a slow time in the world of physical work.
It’s a time to spend working indoors, and internally, to dream up what comes next when the sun begins to warm the earth again. Seed orders are made. Agreements with our customers are made for the next season, and we plan the timing of our crops. We think about what we might do differently that last year and maintain our equipment. We make sure that we have the tools and supplies we need, ready to hit the ground running when the growing season starts.
This winter, I’ve got a lot extra on my plate it seems. I’m buying new land, a hayfield, and I need to plan the infrastructure for the land. It will be made ready for vegetable and sheep farming. I have meetings with lawyers to officialize the land purchase agreements, and fill out organic certification paperwork. My business plan needs to be up to date. The electric cooperative, the well drilling company and the fence builder folks need contacted. I need to coordinate all their work for when the ground thaws out in the spring.
I’m grateful for wintertime, reminding me to be still in my body and active in my imagination. And I’d better read some books and watch some movies too, before the growing season starts and I get lost in the field!