July 20, 2011

Letters To A(nother) Young Farmer

Note: In response to the last post about losing it, a friend sent the following letter, which was meant to be a comment. I loved it so much, I asked her if I could use it as a guest post. But before we get to it, first a few words about the author, Claire Boyles: Claire and her family farm in Colorado. They are also young farmers, striking out to raise food for their communities and so a while back, Jacob stumbled on her excellent blog and said something to the effect of "You have to read this. I think you'd love her." He was right. I've never met Claire, but I feel like we've been friends since we were wee. (Don't you love the Interwebs?) Anyway, Claire is an amazing writer, one heck of a farmer and my goodness, is the woman inspiring. If you don't already follow her blog (Little Farm, Growing). Do so. Right now. And now, to the letter -- which should exemplify the whole inspired thing.

The Boyles on their family farm.

Dear Courtney,

Your last post made me cry, mostly because I recognize that feeling so well. Before farming and kids, I think I was a very reasonable, even-tempered person. And now I feel that I am constantly struggling to maintain control of my emotions. . .joy, rage, sadness, love, frustration. I am always a split second away from one or the other. I often feel all of them at once, which makes me believe I might be going crazy. It’s normal, this ice cream bowl thing. It’s nothing. It doesn’t make you a bad person or a bad mother, and I say that because I know how easily those thoughts can invade a mommy’s mind.

Farming is such a pressure cooker, and add mothering to that (for you, especially, since having tiny babies is also a pressure cooker). . .let’s just say if you ever find a mother that hasn't had an ice cream bowl incident, let me know. I'm skeptical that she exists. If this imaginary woman said she’d never had this moment, I might think she was lying. I might even call her a liar right to her face though I am not normally a confrontational person.

Rage is a scary part of parenting, but it’s just one part, and it doesn’t go away. For example, Sunday night we were still up at midnight and working after a long hot day in the field. We had a flat tire, and when Matt went to fix it we discovered that our children had cut the hose on the air compressor with floral shears. He had to drive to town and fix the tire. I had to drag waterers out to the field broiler pens for the third time that day since it's so stinking hot. Did I mention it was midnight? And I had to get up at 4 to harvest so I would be finished in time to take the kids to the dentist? I had a crazy tantrum out there under the full moon. . .pounding the dirt with one of the hoes, flooded with anger and frustration, swearing like a sailor into the uncaring night. And then it passed, and I came inside to two sleeping sweeties and remembered that life is blessed, even when it’s so emotional. It's just hard to control these emotions with any sort of grace when you’re dehydrated and exhausted from a day of physical labor.

My dad had a stroke when I was 13, and it left him unable to speak much or get around very well. He’s still around, about to turn 60, but in those early days the doctors didn’t give us much hope that he’d make it to the end of the year. My mom was taking night classes to finish her degree, and she had the three of us in middle school, and she was only 33! We lived in the mountains, and she told me that she would get so worked up sometimes that she had to go run up and down a steep trail near our house, screaming and crying, over and over again until she nearly fell over. I have no idea how she did it, and honestly, I don’t think she knows either. I don’t think any of us will ever know how we manage it all, but in the end, we just do. We learned how from our own mothers, and I think that’s why we grow to appreciate them so much. Motherhood is a tremendous feat of strength in itself. Add other circumstances, like struggling to start a small-scale farm or having a disabled husband, and it can be absolutely overwhelming.

If managing it means throwing an ice cream bowl or shaking a hoe and cursing the moon or sprinting up and down a mountain, well, that’s just what it means.

You’re not alone. In any of it. I think it’s very easy to feel that way about raising kids, and it’s a feeling that can lead you to dark places in your mommy mind. I found that connecting to the mommy network was almost always very reassuring to me. . .still is. It’s tough to believe, and I found these reassurances very unhelpful in the thick of my kids’ night waking (so sorry), but they do actually start sleeping (and so will you) eventually. How you manage your job and the farm work in the meantime is a horrible chore, and I’m sorry. . .why does it all have to be so hard, anyway?

If you find a way to get back your reasonable, even-tempered self, let me know, will you? I’ve been trying to figure it out for years now. . .

Love and good cheer,



  1. Oh, she's good.

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. So glad to see Claire's letter here! I found your blog via Claire, so it was soooo fitting. Love the small circle of women/mother/farmers that can admit to our tantrums and frantic moments.

  3. Courtney,

    I've been reading your blog for a little while, and I think that these last two posts have been the most powerful yet. What I've come to understand is that anger is just part of us as human beings, and that only in its denial does it truly become a problem. That's not to say that I would go around screaming and yelling every time I was angry, but just that I find it helpful to recognize it when it's there. I personally then try to understand it not only intellectually but also emotionally, and by doing so it seems to move more towards dissolution. When I repress it, it only seems to create resentment that comes out sooner or later anyways. Oh the joys of having a sentient brain.

    That said, I'm neither a mother or a farmer, nor to I hold two jobs, so what do I know!?! I love reading about the times when people struggle emotionally and how they deal with it, only because in our own unique ways I think that all of us deal with the ups and downs regardless (I have yet to meet anyone who doesn't). I can only imagine the difficulties of trying to run a small-scale farm up in Conrad (I work with other farmers in your area, and they all have the luxury of agro-petro-chemical technology), and have enjoyed reading about the product but especially the process of your endeavor. Thanks for sharing and keep it up!!!

    PS - I remember a few times when my own parents blew up, and although it was a bit startling and frightening, I never thought it made them bad parents.

  4. I loved Claire's post!

    I don't know a honest mother who hasn't lost it with her children in ways that haven't made her consider calling social services on herself. Lets face it we have a lot invested in them, and they in us. So here is my deep thought for the day;

    Growing children is like growing food; your time is dictated by what the child needs that day, what 'their' weather is like, if they need extra fertilizer, water, sun, or time to lay fallow. Unlike Chard however, they pack a little more punch when their needs are not being met...



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