four years farming, an ode

four years ago
we became farmers,
not that we were born that way,
we had studied painting, sculpture, history, sociology -
we had only lived in cities,
we came without land or money,
but a willingness to learn, youthful optimism -
we came with a red-haired toddler,
a hope that we could grow for him
and his siblings to come -
a wholesome life,

our journey began with an idea,
then an opportunity to live and work on
somebody else’s farm,
(and for eight months we did)
we were surprised with how
quickly we felt at home on the land -
the every day chores tending
to animals we’d never kept before,
pigs, cows, chickens, chicks,
so many firsts,
milking a cow (and drinking fresh raw milk)
watching pigs roll joyfully in mud,
brushing the velvety coat of a stately cow -
swimming in a dam in summer dusk light,
driving a car, smelling freshly cut hay,
picking blackberries till our hands were pricked with thorns -
we felt keenly the struggles of running a small farming business
(though we didn't carry the weight of it)
we also found something we didn’t know
we were looking for; community;
eateries, markets, friends, church -

our next step was to strike out on our own,
we took a business course,
we made a two-year plan -
we lived with new friends, we consulted others, 
we walked on land we might be able to move to,
traced with our fingertips the outlines of a homestead,
the path cows and chickens and pigs could follow,
(we later learned to let that place go)
we took up offers from friends
to lease land and a nearby home -
our first livestock (if you can call them that)
were a swarm of wild bees
I shook from a suburban clothesline,
we housed them in a hive we’d built
from local cypress pine -
we felt so privileged
keeping living creatures,
they were followed by a second hive
and then our first flock of chickens for eggs

a second baby, a bony dark haired boy
was born, and hours later our first batch
of broiler chickens arrived
and a pattern emerged of expanding family
and farm concurrently
(not that we planned it that way)
the third year would bring us another beautiful boy babe, 
and more chickens, more bees,

the first eggs were exciting beyond words,
we found local restaurants and cafes,
and a green grocer in town
who would stock them - we went to
farmers markets with gluten free baking,
eggs, honey, preserves,
and soon chicken would follow -

the working year was divided between
the crazy busy seasons (autumn and spring)
and the somewhat slower, in-between ones

always along the way
there are so many others -
friends who lent us their machines or hands,
fellowship on the grass, feasts by the fireside -
our beautiful customers, their smiles at markets, 
whose feedback and encouragements
urged us to persevere, do things a bit better -
we gathered too, in the deep of winter
with other like-minded farmers,
advocates, agrarians -
to speak plainly, openly, with love,
to share our triumphs and our wounds,
we connected with local food co-operatives
and began drop-offs outside suburban homes
getting real food to people
without much fuss,
at last, the way we always wanted it!

and how can I forget
the help of those that stayed with us -
from around australia, england, ireland north america,
who rose early, shared meals, cleaned eggs,
answered children’s questions,
watered the garden,
felt the weight of our burden
to grow food, to keep on
to jani, vinnie, seb, isa, madison,
chris, ant, bonnie, kerby, dean

we will be forever be grateful -

the sunsets and sunrises,
full moons, star studded nights;
the things you can’t buy,
or find elsewhere -

the lick of fingers sticky with honey,
honey you helped extract from a hive,

the golden yellow of a yolk from an
egg you collected still warm from the coop

the tender flavourful meat, the crispy skin
of a roast chicken, you helped process, pluck feathers from -

biting into a tomato seconds after being picked,
a linen apron filled with cucumbers,
a melon watered so
lavishly with old bath water -
made the sweetest mouthful,

these are farmers' bonuses,
never accumulated in a bank account,
but in the mind’s eye,
the lungs so full of fresh air -
hands weathered by hard work
and tending to life (and death)

in four years we have
reckoned with our limitations,
our smallness, stifling laws and regulations,
our needs (and forgotten ones), injuries,
those dependant on us,
those we owe,
in tears, in words sharp and tense -
in words unsaid
why do we keep on,

but what else could we do?

we cannot unknow
the need for fresh, wholesome food,
the flutter of wings at dawn,
we cannot unhear
the earth that groans for tenderness,
redemption, the ancient songs of our place -

we cannot unsmell
the plumes of smoke from bush fires
burning out of control, or wild herbs crushed in fingertips by the dam,

we cannot unsee
native flowers return to a forest,
a koala by the roadside,
rocks and mud made into dwellings,
paddocks sodden with flooding rain -

we cannot unfeel
the call to live simply,
gently, mindfully, in community -
in grace, in kindness,
with earth under our feet, over our hands -
and smudged around the faces of our sons.