Thursday, June 22, 2017

Free Advice about that Farm in the Mountains

One thing you learn, growing up in Appalachia: The land and weather aren't as sacred as they are savage. There just aren't enough bored gods and busy gods in the universe to make everything run smoothly when you call the mountains home.

Ask anyone who tries to farm this land. If you can't find that person (which wouldn't surprise me), visit the graveyards and look at the ages of the deceased. Also round up the folks like me, who, although they love the mountains with the white hot passion of 10,000 suns, can't live there because people gotta eat.

And yet you'll find a passel of starry-eyed optimists who seize upon a plot of mountain farmland, give it a pretty name, and commence to building a utopian community on it. This one will do "sustainable agriculture." This one will have bee hives and make mead. This one will grow artisan apples. Oh my, there's nothing more inspiring than a quiet evening in the country, when nobody's around and the whippoorwills are serenading one another from ridge to hollow! A modest living for a few people can surely be had, right?

This is where the utopian vision comes in. The optimist invites his friends to a gathering, often on a Pagan festival day, and the next year the friends bring their friends, because the property with the pretty name is so gorgeous. Within a decade, as the bees die and the apple blossoms take a frost and the groundhogs eat the peppers, the optimist has luckily happened upon a way to self-sustain: the paid festival. Okay, the land gets a little crowded, hectic, and trampled. But it's worth it. The money pours in, and the rest of the year things are so quiet and beautiful for the optimist and his small nucleus of companions.

All might be well in these cases, but it's really hard for the optimist not to become a capitalist. After all, isn't it nice to be able to make a genteel living in such a benign way? What's a festival? It's a chance for people who don't live in the mountains to come to a property, link elbows with like-minded naturists, and have a heart-warming and safe time. Word of mouth brings more and more folks each year, keeping the entrance fee quite affordable. So the optimist invests in sound equipment and heavy duty lawn mowers. He contracts port-a-potties and lines up hay bales in case it's rainy. And then he has festivals.

Here's where it goes one of two ways. In the first way, the optimist has one festival a year, upon which he stakes his whole budget. It's only held once a year, and that makes it very special, and -- again word of mouth -- numbers of attendees just keep climbing. In the other way, the optimist devises many festivals of different sorts and different sizes, flings them out across summer weekends, and waits for the customers to find the event that suits their tastes.

I personally know two such optimists who are finding out now that the land isn't sacred, it's savage. It will punish your ass no matter how lofty your intentions happen to be.

Case number one features the nicest optimist you would ever want to meet. His big once-yearly festival was hit by torrential rain. Cars skidded out of control on the parking hill, and people couldn't stand on their feet in the slippery muck. At a devastating financial loss, he had to close down a day early. There's just no way he can recoup that day of receipts at another event. This was his event. Chances are, next year, the sun will shine and the people will return. In the meantime, it's gonna be one bloody lean year.

The other case features the optimist with multiple festivals. This dreamer has invested more: bigger parcels of land, permanent bathroom facilities, even a dining hall. But as he increased the number and size of events, health problems surfaced. On two recent weekends, hundreds of festival attendees became violently ill with an aggressive and highly contagious stomach flu. And of course the Internet is blowing up over it, which has led at least one person I know to cancel her plans to attend a festival there next weekend. Nor does this person I know expect to get a refund, because you know that bottom line is going to be threatened.

The multiple-festival optimist will also recover and persist, but he's going to take a financial beating for years, and perhaps forever. Word of mouth works both ways. When people have fun, they bring their friends. When they get sick on your land, they tell all their friends who weren't there. It's a hole that's hard to climb out of, and in the meantime the optimist still has to eat and pay the notes on the parcel of land he bought for bigger festivals.

The one unifying factor between these two optimists? They both grew up in the city and lived in the city for a long time before taking up residence in the lovely rural spaces.

So here is Annie's free advice for anyone and everyone who wants to live la dolce vita on some bucolic rural farm: The land is untamed. It is untranslatable. It does not love you back. And the harder you work it, the worse it will treat you.

It's too late to ask my great-grandfathers if I am right about this, because they are all long gone. You'll just have to trust me. Would I lead you wrong? Of course not, I'm straight-up.

The economy has improved, so this free advice is really free. Heed it, though, and you'll always eat.


Debra She Who Seeks said...

Yes, Life itself is one long risk factor.

Maebius said...

A'ho! Well said, Anne, and it's good perspective to keep. Farming Honestead is Powerful work, and best kept small for a reason. Nature, and the Land, and all she entails, is so so much bigger than us. It's human nature to "tame", but in the end, we all just survive.... or we don't. :)

Debi said...

This topic could go in many directions! hahahahaha I feel neither were suited for the life. Mother Nature is a wise, nasty bitch! Now being of this original stock, working with your hands you will never go hungry( so my ancestors tell me) Ifyour looking to line your pockets, rural life is not for you! Mother Earth will feed you but money pollutes.
Never say never wise lady, xoDebi

e said...

The festival is like a mono-culture crop. One bad spring/storm/freeze/heatwave/hailstorm/virus/etc and the small producer is in deep trouble. The big game changer for the bucolic life is the work from home model. However, it is only available to a small segment of society.


life ain't easy ...but death is harder.

Davoh said...

Yo, Anne. i grew up on a farm. 1300 acres (whatever that is in hectares) - Subsidised by the gummint for returned soldiers of WW2. Developed on a "communal" labour system. Seasons came and went. All was good. Clover thrived, sheep thrived, produced lambs.
Backyard garden produced vegetables, one cow produced milk. The pigs in the 'bush built' yard thrived from whatever they were fed.
The sheep dogs were fed by offal and meat from shot wallabies.
Chook houses were built from the scrub; and thrived.
Electricity came from a diesel generator and 32volt batteries.
The fridge ran on kerosene.

We had to run our own 3 mile length of fencing wire to connect to the 'telephone'.
I had to ride a bike (footpedal cycle) the same 3 mile to the corner every weekday morning to catch the schoolbus to the primary school 30 mile away.

However, 'Twas on an Island. Yep, loading the woolclip bales, lambs and goods onto a small vessel - by cargo net, to get to market ....
became expensive. Often the 'transport' cost was more than the woolclip and lambs were worth ...

Soooo ... my stepfather 'sold out'. And so did i.

However, have been back, recently, to that Island - some parts are thriving ...
(might go back, my heart is there).

Davoh said...

Optimism ?? Nah, sweetheart - the best that we can hang onto is HOPE.
Never let go of HOPE.

Davoh said...

Anne, every morning i wake up and wonder what's next .. turn on the International "news" .. turn it off. Organise self and canine to wander along local seaboard ... perhaps this is nothing - irrelevant in the global scale. Yes, Anne, once upon a time attended a "teachers training college" (oddly enough, was voted into the SRC (students representative council)... which sort of makes sense of my odd, perhaps unrelated quips and comments. As far as am aware, remain sane ..