Farming and Being Present

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As many of you know, in addition to my professional life, I have a small farm (68 acres) in central Virginia. With upwards of 120 chickens and ducks, then another 17 chicks and 10 ducklings, 21 rabbits, 5 pigs, 3 piglets, dozen guinea hens, 7 cats and 3 dogs, a greenhouse, orchard, berry bushes, pastures, woods, gardens filled with weeds now 2 1/2 feet tall, I can easily get overwhelmed and discouraged. I can wallow in despair of ever getting everything done. I see projects everywhere. More likely I will see the glass as half empty rather than as half full. I see what has yet to be done versus what amazing things that I have already accomplished.

I can berate myself for taking on this huge task as my son will remind me “at my age.” While many people ‘my age’ have downsized, have made ‘sensible decisions’ to move into senior living communities (horrible thought) or an apartment in town (also horrible), I have this much larger house, huge property, out of town in the country, rental properties, and stuff up the ying yang. Some days I can feel really stuck and not know how to get out of the monster project I have created for myself.

The end result is that my energy is frequently drained just to the breaking point to manage every aspect of the farm in addition to everything else, including overseeing any workers that I may engage. This has caused me to sometimes get sick especially in the despair of death. The cost of running the operation far exceeds the proceeds from egg or animal sales. Yet, I still want to do it. But what is it really that I am trying to achieve? Why am I doing this?

When my son came to visit recently, he commented that I have so many animals that I don’t really get to enjoy them. And I realized that I was sorting for and noticing what needed attention, what work needed to be done by whom and in what order, and what was not getting done and what would most likely not be done if ever.

My son’s comment struck a cord in me and I made a decision to shift. Even though I have long standing ads to sell some of my animals, the sales have been all too infrequent, and I have not gotten rid of as many as I would like. I did, however, make a deliberate shift in my attention. Instead of sorting for problems, for tasks yet to be done, I have started to deliberately sort for beauty, for pleasure, for noticing the uniqueness of the critters that I have.

If, for example, a cat or dog comes up to me for attention, I am making it a point to  take time to bend down and pet it, not absentmindedly, not out of obligation, but to really notice it instead of walking on by to get the next task done.

I have always been able to unwind with bottle feeding my piggies (or lamb). I caress them as they drink and pay full attention to their cuteness, the big eyelashes, the curl in the tail, the solid, muscular body of each one. Oh, how I love my piggies! Pippies5onMommy1

I picked some flowers, something that I haven’t done for a long time, and put them where I see them on my work table. As I spend a few seconds to admire them, I breathe. I pay attention. I am slowing down to more fully notice my birds, to listen to the ducks laughing raucously, just to watch them.

J2064x1161-03310 Bunnies in Basket J2064x1161-03313

All the time my animals and land were capable of giving me energy, but I had been so focused on doing the work, that I had not been open to receive from them because I was not paying attention. And in not doing so, I was not appreciating their presence. I used to do this, but stopped in all my busyness.

For example, years ago as a college student I read Jean Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness, and afterwards started really looking at and feeling and enjoying the living presence of the tall trees on my walks to and from school. I could do that again. Yet, as I have been looking at the trees, I have just been thinking of which ones to cut some down to better see the mountains, and how many I needed of what kind of wood for heating in winter. In other words, I was thinking of how they were in the way, or of their utility, instead of appreciating them as a living consciousness, as a community. So instead of a source of pleasure, many of my trees have been a source of something I have wanted to get rid of or use.


One of the things that drove me to start a farm was that I have always taken such delight in living things–plants, trees, animals of all kinds. I have always found the sound of a rooster thrilling. I was so amused to watch my goats dance on the roofs of the chicken house. I enjoy picking up the fat, soft toads on the walkway at night. The taste of fresh tomatoes or greens from my greenhouse, or freshly picked eggs from my free range, GMO free fed hens is delicious. The aroma of fresh mint or rosemary is incredible. The joy of picking fresh blackberries or blueberries not devoured by the deer is also wonderful.

Roosters-mine  20151225_161314_resized

Joey as baby with me Joey, 1 year




Then my joy of bottle feeding a baby lamb (until it grew up and knocked me down on my face), or watching birth whether of piglets, chicks, ducklings, keets, or bunnies is precious. Oh, the supreme joy of newborns! Each new baby is thrilling. But each death (and farmers see a lot of death) is also heart breaking.

Going through farmland or even to a farmer’s market or fair holds more pleasure for me than any amusement park, restaurant, or most entertainment avenues. Yet, here I was with my own farm, selling at farmer’s markets, and all I thought about was how hard the work was, how much work needed yet to be done, wasn’t getting done, and how much my body ached. Why couldn’t it be easy, or, at least, easier? Why couldn’t I break even financially? The reality was very different than the vision.

Yet, in my heart, I know there can be an energy exchange, a partnership between me and the land, of me and the animals that can give more than it takes. And I know that at least part of that answer lies in me paying attention, sorting for joy, sorting for beauty, sorting for noticing the living presence of these creatures, and being in communion with nature. All this can bring incredible satisfaction and richness in life if only I am mindful.

I look forward to your comments.

Copyright by Roxanne Louise. However, this article may be shared in free online sources only if this copyright notice and link to and  are included with the content.

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. rlene
    Jun 02, 2016 @ 17:18:18

    This is an incredibly mindful piece, Roxanne. Yes, sort for the joy, beauty, love and comfort. When an animal comes to you for attention, look directly at it and say, “I caress you with my heart”, as you caress it with your hands.

    I don’t know if you can pick up your dogs, but you can certainly hug them and do this.

    If one of your cats comes to you, pick it up if it will let you, and hold it next to your heart so you can hear it purr. Keep holding, caressing, listening for at least 20 seconds, and murmur its name.

    If you can let any of the cats into the main area of your house, let them sleep with you at night. You can purchase 2 or 3 small animal beds and put them near your bed. But many times, a cat will prefer the direct warmth of your sleeping body.

    Your farm is your life and spirit. Keep with it as long as you can. If you are lucky, one of your grandchildren may inherit the same spirit. Especially if you have them help you sort for the joy – theirs and yours.

    Another thought: Visit the University of Virginia and become familiar with their agriculture programs and courses. You may benefit from starting a farm internship program for selected students and asking the University to help you with this.

    I send, as always, much love! Arlene


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