By Alison DeLuca
I grew up on a small organic farm in Pennsylvania. It was a unique childhood, once with many trials and rewards. We had to get up early to make sure all the animals were fed, watered, and milked. We had to plant when it was 90 and pick crops when the weather was humid as hell.
The experience taught me many things and changed those of us in the small, green acre. We found compost was smelly but necessary, praying mantis did a great job of destroying aphids, and Japanese beetles are a pain.
Here are some of the other lessons we learned:
- There is nothing smellier or messier than duck poo. It seemed to sneak up on you, especially if you were wearing clogs or Dr. Scholl’s – the more popular shoe styles of the 1970’s.
- The wind may blow and the icy rain may fall, but those baby goats still want their milk buckets.
- Baby goats (or ‘kids’ for the initiated) are the cutest things alive. Adult goats are pretty great too, unless they are ornery bucks.
- Ducklings are adorable as well. They look like baby bumblebees. Never will I forget the day one proud mother led her 25 offspring up the road from her nest in a neighbor’s yard to our barn.
- Bags of feed are really heavy.
- A hayloft is a fine place to play.
- Each season brings its delights and challenges. Summer, for example, was filled with blackberries straight from the canes, dark and filled with sweet juice, as well as the return of the barn swallows in our carriage house. It also brought ticks on the dogs, bats in the barn, storms so violent I saw a ball of lightning roll across the kitchen floor, and hot nights in our house (which had no air conditioning.)Then there was winter, with nights around our Franklin stove when we listened to the whole of The Messiah on records. It also meant cold so fierce we slept with our jeans, and one intense snowstorm that stranded us for a week.
- Cockerels really do keep moving around after you cut off their heads, except they don’t run around because you have cleverly tied their legs together first. My dad was really good at slaughtering roosters. Don’t like the thought? It’s where your food comes from, unless you’re a strict vegan.
- Family farms don’t make a lot of money, for the most part. We got our clothes from the local Bring ‘n’ Buy, and once my mom told me not to ask for a second helping since we couldn’t afford it. If you’ve ever read about ‘egg money’ in novels, I can attest how important it is. Egg money paid for our electricity and gas. To this day, I still stop whenever I see a farm stand – I know personally how vital my cash is to that family.
- My most important lesson was a tough one, something that changed me forever. Life on the farm was filled with reality, that is to say – death. We confronted it on a daily basis, until the fact of my mortality no longer frightened me as a grisly specter but simply another stage.
- With that in mind, the grumpiest and meanest animals seemed to live forever. In particular No-Good-Boyo, our circus rescue pony, was still kicking and biting when we sold the farm. We waved goodbye to the old demon horse and moved to jobs that were more lucrative, but perhaps less educational.