Friday, November 13, 2009

On Perception

I wrote this well over a week ago, but just got to typing it today. While the timing is bad, the lesson is still a good one.


This past weekend the baffling American instiution of “Daylight Savings Time” worked it’s magic on our clocks and gave most people an “extra hour’s sleep” on a Sunday after what may have been a late Halloween night. The apprentices here at Nature’s Harmony spent this past week debating what day we actually would save time on and what affect it would have on our schedule. Yes we would have an extra hour, but the sun would rise earlier. Since we start our chores at sunrise, we would have to get up earlier to get everything done. As it turned out, Saturday was a long day and none of us changed our clocks. My alarm went off at 6:30 and I was out do chores at 7:30 with the sun just coming up. We were supposed to meet Liz at 8 to feed Ana’s puppies and I realized that my phone said 6:30. Time had changed and not even told us. Without an appointment to remind us, we could have gone days or even weeks before we even noticed that the time changed. Sunday night at our farm dinner, we talked about it and decided that “time” as in “what time is it?” is irrelevant at the farm because our time revolves around light and seasons.

All of this had me thinking about perception. Being around the animals here at the farm, I am realizing how much perception matters to them. I’ll give a few examples that should illustrate what I mean.

First off is an incident that happened yesterday. As some of you may know, we use rotational grazing at the farm which means that we give the cows and sheep new pasture every day. In order to do this, we have to set up a new electric fence for the animals and then move them to their new paddock. At one of the corners we usually form a gate that we open to let them in. Usually we swing this gate into the new paddock, call on the animals, who are usually ready to move, and let them do all the moving. Yesterday we had a weird set-up for our gate and we were forced to swing their gate into an old paddock. We then gave our customary calls, “come on cows!”, “come on sheep!”, but only a few of them went for the new paddock. The rest began to panic and trample the fence. They were confused because other animals had made it to the other side but all they could see was a new corner. It was easy for us to see the gate clearly had opened, but their perception, visual and mental, was not allowing them to see what we saw. Luckily, we got the animals to the new paddock, but not without them almost disassembling our fence.

Another good example of this is our chickens. Since I got to the farm, we have always had problems with chickens getting into our processing shed and leaving little “surprises” for us all over our ice machine. This is a mess that we don’t want to have to deal with every week, but we also leave the processing shed open to natural light, to be visible from the outside, and to be easy to get in and out of. So to remedy our problem, we put up clear plastic strips on the front of the shed. At first, Mario and I were not convinced that this would keep out the birds because it is not very much of a physical barrier for them. In fact, it would be pretty easy for them to walk right through one of the seams, but their perception tells them that it is a window or a wall and they don’t even try to walk through it. It’s an easy solution that takes into account a factor that I am learning you have to use to your advantage in farming – the animal’s perspective.

All of this brought me back to thinking about my situation when I moved to this farm. I have thought for a while that I would like to make a living off of farming, but I felt too unprepared to jump right into it and take all the risks that I would need to take to get started. Perhaps there was also more than a small part of me which thought that I just couldn’t do it. Yet after working here for a not even 2 months, I am starting to gain confidence that starting to farm on my own is something I could do. I am peeling back the thin plastic strips and seeing that the opportunities will be there for me if I am willing to take them. In the meantime, I have plenty to learn and lots of opportunities to enjoy the farming life.

The lovely processing shed

Meals of the weeks

Above: Breakfast burritos with sausage, eggs, and fresh salsa.

Below: Garden salad with fresh greens, radishes, banana peppers,
grated parmesan and citrus vinagrette.