By: Stephen Jackson
Driving down the rivulet riddled driveway coming home from work, the stress and worry of my day job are soaked up by the dense foliage of the plant life on my small farm in rural North Carolina. I should be honest. My day job is really my only job. I live on a functioning farm and jokingly refer to myself as a farmer. My wife does the actual farming. I just like the moniker.
I know that I’m not unique among doctors. In fact, my neighbor, though retired, spent years actively farming and practicing as a clinician. Though most people seem to associate doctors with country clubs and fancy cars, I like to drive my beat-up Tahoe and pass my free time among chickens, pigs, goats, sheep, and plenty of open space.
Both my wife and I grew up in small cities, with only occasional interactions with farms (my mom’s parents were farmers). In our nearly 19 years of marriage we have lived in a city environment. In the years leading up to our buying a farm, the seed of doing so began to take root and grow. It began, initially, as a way of raising our children in an environment of responsibility, nature, and a true understanding of how food arrives on the table, from pig to pork chop. Since moving to the farm, it turns out my city-bred wife found her legs running around our farm, raising and caring for our animals and children. A nurturer by nature, my wife relishes in the daily needs of our small farm. Starting small, with something like 50 chickens, the know-how of keeping animals alive amidst the predators of these green acres coupled with our limited knowledge coming into this affair has been hard-won. Just a few years later we have way more than 50 chickens (I’ve lost count), goats (four generations now), sheep, and pigs both pot-bellied and for-pork. Add in some production of plants and herbs, and the ingredients are just about right for our family recipe.
One partner working off-farm with one on the farm is nothing new. We are fortunate that we have been able to operate this way to get things started on our farm. We could simply have lived amidst the growing bush on our land and I would have been content. What we did not expect was the wonderful, open-armed community of farmers and local-farm friendly businesses that truly helped us get started.
If I’m being fair to myself, I do some farming. Maybe farm hand is a more accurate moniker. I help hunt for and gather eggs sometimes. I lift things and transfer them from one place to another. I have processed chickens, help band (i.e. castrate) a goat, and… you know what, let’s just move on. Probably most importantly, I get to push the goats’ heads back through the fencing when they get stuck.
Occasionally, one of our goats, surrounded by lush plant-life food and store-bought goat vittles aplenty, decides that the plants on the other side of the cow-paneled fencing might taste better. So, she will stick her head through the fence, nibble the other-side-of-the-fence forbidden fruit, and promptly attempt to draw her head and horns back through the fence. At this point she realizes she is stuck and can’t quite figure out the Cracker Barrel puzzle of how to untangle her predicament. Enter me. Now, if you’ve never tried to ease a goat’s head through the opening in a fence panel, don’t worry. You’re not missing out because it can’t be done. There is no “ease.” The goat does not understand my intentions are friendly and fights me with all the ferocity mother nature supplies. Saying soothing words while firmly grabbing the horns and, against much resistance, gently guiding her head backward through the fence only earns me a disgruntled glare and a quick prancing away by the goat as if I’ve wronged her in some way. Still, I pat myself on the back, the success of freeing her being its own reward.
Such is farm life, well-removed from the sanitized exam and operating rooms of medicine. Stress? Worry? Sure. Most jobs have them and my “day job” is no exception. However, as I slowly bounce the Tahoe down the driveway toward the house, I look forward to the unpredictable, frustrating, and endearing life of farming. Wait. There is a sheep in the driveway. Gotta go!