Crofting: Coping with Setbacks

Croft cottage on Harris

We seem to have had a fair share of setbacks this year, probably enough for two or three years. It is hard to not be discouraged, but losing heart doesn’t get anyone anywhere.

I have had continuing illness which doesn’t seem to be resolved by the usual means, either allopathic or naturopathic. I am mostly resigned to riding it out. I’m of the opinion that metaphysically, my whole being is rejecting modern life. My allergies are centred on the refined mould byproduct called penicillin, a common antibiotic used for humans and animals. We are all aware that antibiotics are regularly added to commercial animal feed to make meat animals grow faster and to wipe out any insidious bacterial infections. The end result of that is hypersensitivity in some people (me) and penicillin resistant bacteria permeating our human ecology. That’s not a good thing. Worse, many common chemicals mimic penicillin, including preservatives and plastics. I am always in danger of fatal anaphylactic shock from common substances, such as sunscreen and commercially prepared foods. I can no longer treat pain with common over-the-counter medications such as aspirin, NSAIDs, or acetaminophen. I cannot use cleaning products with fragrances in them. I can’t use most personal care products, from antiperspirants to shampoos, and have had to find more expensive natural alternatives. Usually plain soap and vinegar is all I need for both household cleaning and personal care, but I am discouraged by the growing list of “don’t-touch” products.

The illness, though, has been expensive when I needed acute care. It has cost me energy and ambition to get things done as I planned.

Bad weather and my lack of good health have put our garden projects seriously in danger. We have been able to recover a little from that, but the majority of the major work is delayed until this fall and next spring. We will see some food, but not as much as I hoped. The gardens look pretty weedy, too, but I expect that the first year. Since we were unable to completely work the second garden plot, I am going to drop in some onion sets and broadcast sow some lentils to at least break the soil and perhaps furnish something of a crop. I have some kale to put in, and some late cabbages, and along with late root crops, we should have a post-frost harvest into October. I am looking for a way to make row covers and hot caps, if we can’t afford them. My backup plan is to buy in quantity at the farmers’ markets, and can that.

A major decision to make is whether to sell the truck. Right now, I have it on offer as a trade for a horse and buggy and a smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicle. I can’t really afford to sell it without a back-up plan for transportation. It isn’t worth a great deal, but it would be helpful to have cheaper transportation.

I am looking at freelance writing. I have had a few low-paying assignments this week, but they make little difference in the overall scheme of things. It does give me some practice and the opportunity to become familiar with new aspects of online publishing, so I’m not knocking it too hard. Still, I couldn’t make a living from it.

I am still praying and hoping for work in the church. I have yet to hear from the bishop’s office, but I did say I could wait for an appointment, with a tentative suggestion of meeting before the end of July. After that, I am going to assume I am not wanted, or not being heard, or something. There are procedures for pursuing this beyond that date, but I am reluctant to take them.

The world has changed. It is much more difficult to lead a rural life, since in the past it has depended on the cooperation of neighbours. Our neighbours are people who do not live a rural life. They live a suburban life in a rural setting. Older farmers are retired and have sold their equipment. There are no young farmers except for a handful who will inherit family farms. It makes me wonder how people expect to get fed as food costs rise because of high transportation costs.


18 thoughts on “Crofting: Coping with Setbacks

  1. Times are a changing and not so much for the good. Fortunately here farming is still very important and even many people in town have gardens or at least a few plants. Our neighbor across from us has his entire backyard in garden every year.

    • I’ve noticed here that few people have gardens. They are still relying on what they think will be relatively low food prices. I expect they are in for a surprise by this winter.

      • I’m not relying on the stores. When I read in the winter that food and gas prices were going to skyrocket, I bought rectangular tubs with lids then and started to fill them with the staples: flour, sugar, rice, beans, sea salt, blocks of active dry yeast. I bake bread 4 loaves 2x times a week, make my own mayonnaise now, stocking the freezer with fruits and veggies. The surrounding forest fires, the smoke did my garden in. Don’t know if another will start up, so I haven’t bothered planting anything else.

      • I do the same, although I have lots of cupboards so my staples go in glass jars and on the shelves. I keep extra flour in my freezer and refrigerator. I bought a block of Instaferm brand yeast (a commercial baker’s yeast) for half-price last week. With what I have, that will see me through the year. I used to do sourdough, and probably will at the end of the summer. We are still eating beans I bought back in January — that $80 spent at Bulk Barn has gone a long way in the beans and rice department. It is the best way to buy herbs and spices, too.

        As for the fires – there was a big one at Bandelier back in 1995-96, I think. I worked for an accountant, and the office was only about three blocks from my apartment. I spent the whole day indoors working on tax returns or something equally engrossing, and since my office window faced east, I had no idea what was going on outside. I left the office in the early evening, and as I locked the door, I glanced up. The sky was a strange orange colour, and when I walked around the building and looked to the northeast, the sunset was a terrifying red, brown and orange, with huge billowing clouds. I honestly thought for a moment that it was the end. It was apocalyptic. I said to myself as I walked home, “I thought it would be different!” I did manage to catch a news broadcast at home and found out about the fires. Fires in that area are monstrous!

  2. I hear you, MJ when it come to all the adulteration and additives in foodstuffs and personal care items. I try to buy as much organic and non gmo food as I can but the manufacturers a sneaky about how they list their ingredients. So it takes much research and label reading.

    I do wish my hubby saw the value of the homesteading and rural upbringing that he had and would want to go back to it. But he says to me about that, “Been there, done that”. I remember house sitting for someone while they went back to TN for a family affair and cared for the chickens. Those 3 weeks, out there where your nearest neighbor was at least a mile away, so quiet, that all you could hear was the wind blow and birdsong. Sit outside at night and it was so clear and dark, you felt like you could pick a star out of the sky and the moon was so gigantic when it was setting. No sirens and firetrucks blaring, that when I moved back into town, found the sound of civilization unbearable. That experience spoiled me for life.

    • When we hear a siren, we know something has happened to a neighbour! Back in my ministry days, I have followed the ambulance because I was prettty sure where it was going, and called ahead on my cell phone. “Hi, I’m right behind Ron and Steve in the ambulance, ok?” I could give family members a ride down to the hospital, rather than risking their overwrought nerves on the twisty back roads here.

  3. You certainly are expert at keeping a good attitude. I hope you have a good specialist looking at the allergy situation.

    I know many people with penicillin allergies, and a few with mould problems, but I have never heard of anything like what you are dealing with.

    Have you considered a more suburban or urban life for yourself? Rather than have a whole farm, how about microfarming? I know this would be a large change of pace. But if you and Nicholas are not well, perhaps intensive gardening is a way to have a somewhat easier life while still growing a great deal of your own food. Like the Path to Freedom people.

    • We are on a small plot as it is – and I have had the maybe-brilliant idea that strawberries would make a good cash crop. And sweet corn. Crops that require a lot of harrowing, weeding, spraying and maintenance, maybe not. So tomatoes, cruciferous vegetables, and such – no.

      I’m afraid I will be diagnosed with “environmental illness.” That is, many things make me sick that shouldn’t. I am by nature or upbringing clean and tidy, so keeping house to suit my condition isn’t hard for me. My landlady thinks we might qualify for some homecare assistance, since Nicholas is disabled, and that would give me some free time for gardening and writing. We shall see. I have talked to a specialist, but she won’t take me on at this time.

      Are you doing intensive gardening where you are? I am certainly looking into raised beds, and such. I’m sorry I haven’t been following your blog, but now that I am off facebook and its demands (my own choice, mind you, to offer counsel to people) I should spend some time catching up.

      • I’ve barely blogged lately. I didn’t know you had ever read it, actually.

        I do intensive gardening. I use the square foot method of planting. I have a standard city lot (I think 33 by 122 ft). In the back I have four 7 by 7 plots, one 2 by 20, and one 3 by 12. At the I have 6 rhubarb plants, 3 mature raspberry plants and 3 young ones, 15 or so strawberry plants, two blackberry plants, 54 tomato plants, four square feet worth of lettuce, three square feet of beans, one 7 by 7 bed entirely potatoes, and the 2 by 20 bed set with carrots and parsnips. The spaces are mostly filled in with onions and broccoli. Six cucumbers. The parsley plant that ate the world. The spinach crop is gone and harvested. The assorted herbs live in pots. Normally I have great luck with basil but it’s suffering this year. Six plants, all unhappy.

        The late spring has hurt, but every year we can cut ourselves off of most store-bought produce from around Passover. That’s when I start getting enough salad to eat mixed greens every day. Right now I’m also getting strawberries, raspberries, and baby potatoes.

        But like you, I have had a great deal of rhubarb and it has limited uses.

      • If commenters have blogs, I like to have a look. I hope with some time management I’ll be able to do more reading online. Your garden sounds very productive for a city lot garden. People always think Vancouver is an easy place to garden, but I understand it has its challenges too. The only use for the rhubarb was to let my landlady cut as much as she wanted. Neither my neighbour nor myself eat it!

    • Hi, Richard, it’s nice to have you drop in! I hope some of my readers will have a look at your blog. (You should be able to link to Richard’s blog by putting the cursor over his name.)

  4. Hi there,
    We are kind of in a similar position. This community is mostly an old Kentucky bunch who grew up with no stores – gardening is in the blood here and most people have a garden. 800 people here and one little neighborhood ( really just a small part of one) has a big garden they all help to care for and eat out of. That is really neat, but in this place we know everyone but do not have any way to really connect with most because drinking is the glue that keeps many groups together. The other groups are essentially clans and they don’t need us. We are surrounded by farmlands, but the corn sold here is probably gmo and definitely sprayed with nasty stuff. There are more farmers markets popping up in communities 10 and 13 miles away, but I haven’t had a chance to check them out. Our church meeting, which is really just a kind of offshoot meeting of a German Baptist church but has served as our church for 8 yrs or so, is too far away for us to be much involved with and even if we did, they are not agrarian minded any longer. Very suburbanite. So, we have always had a big garden. Our lot is 65 by 166 and one half of our backyard is garden and one fourth chicken yard with a little house for them. Our land here is great for growing most things. We have squash now coming on, green beans ready to pick, potatoes( we can pick a few but will let grow bigger), green and colored peppers almost ready, green tomatoes, kale still going since last year ( Siberian), cabbage heads not ready but gonna be huge, radishes ready, cucumbers coming on, carrots not ready but growing, still a bit of lettuce but almost done, and herbs that get ignored, and berries that need replanted somewhere besides the North garden bed that nothing much will grow in ( very shady and crummy soil and the berries love it!!). I cannot do anything in the high humidity here due to thyroid disease and the fact I can’t leave Patrick inside alone and he can’t tolerate heat or he will go into seizures, as he did in our church meeting last week. He has been unwell since. It is aggravating to feel so useless, for my husband has always been an outdoorsman and was a farmer as a young man at the same time he held a factory job. The dirt is his haven – the place he feels closest to God and at peace. 29 yrs of watching this and I still marvel at how he thrives in the soil. He is hardy too, but in so much demand due to our son’s handicaps that he has had to let go of his garden at times. Last year much rotted, as we have noone to come help or at least get it for themselves. Frankly, I have a hard time trying to care anymore, yet I still do somehow. I want to not care. Anyhow, I am going to do my best to make it possible for him to get out there for many reasons, including that I think his health is related to being able to do this every Spring, Summer, and Fall. What would kill me and Patrick seems to keep him going. Your attitude is very good and it helps me to keep on hanging in there.

    • We have similar social dynamics here. Although we are not teetotallers, our friendships and family life do not center on alcohol. And it is hard for newcomers (even when you have been there decades) to wedge into established group patterns. For one, family based social groups may feel the intrustion of people who have no desire to participate in the usual family patter, whether it centers on child-raising, employment or the good old feud amongst kin. Secondly, established groups, especially family-based, can be overly casual with each other and may feel that they will be criticized for lack of good manners by newcomers. Unless one is accepted early on into one of these closed groups, it is impossible to find a way. Our own neighbours socialize almost exclusively in a family group, and even though we have been here for months, we have not been in their home.

  5. Hi again,
    That was a good way to describe the dynamics. I was raised in Indianapolis, but in a Catholic parish and we had relatives in almost every other parish in the city, so I always felt like I was a part of this HUGE family. I could ponder this unique situation, but I don’t have time – it seems to me overall to have been a delusion to a great extent. We still were a part of a neighborhood, though, and they were not all from our church and we did stuff together and helped each other. This place is weird and as I said, full of what you described as family groups ( with their own churches, too). My neighbors for 24 yrs now sometimes let us know when they are going on vacation and we all have a casual catch up twice a year, like after a long Winter, and that is it. I have been in their home once to use the phone when I was locked out. Everyone on this street and in the neighborhoods are this way. They have family and I don’t. When I referred to the alcohol being a bond in some groups I mean drunkenness, severe. Big problem around here.

    • It is here, too. High unemployment, isolation, lack of education, and a culture borrowed from American television that glorifies drinking. I don’t mean to imply that every close-knit family here is alcoholic, but some are. Those “make your own” wine and beer stores do well in this province. My own family was abstaining Baptist, which was the counterweight to the Scots-Irish culture of alcohol. Baptists and Methodists in this part of the world had summer camps for families that emphasized temperance. Yet I find that influence is largely gone amongst the young people.

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