We arrived to loon calls and eagle flights,
to a family of crows cawing each morning in the pines along the shore; to red squirrels venturing out to acorns at the end of oaks, branches flexing down, down, as paws reach for nut.
Mornings in Maine, like at home, start with tea and coffee, quiet hours stretched out as Waylon and the rest of the family sleep or head out for early fishing.
Except here, unlike at home, the boundary between dawn and day is fuzzier. I linger on the porch, reading a novel and sipping a second cup of tea, until Edge comes over and reports everyone has eaten breakfast. Other mornings Edge sneaks away to climb, and I’m over to the kitchen early with Waylon, the house waking up to a gaggle of children streaming around like a comet.
We come to Maine each summer, gathering with family for a week on a lake.
A farmer friend recently posted on Instagram the question of how to find work/life balance as a farmer. How to manage a day off with your partner, and actually leave the farm together.
I saw the instagram post the day we were packing for Maine, and in the scramble of last-minute details—washing the dirty dishes, writing one two more pages of notes to the farm-sitters, planting another two beds of lettuce, oh and actually *packing* clothes and food—I didn’t stop to comment.
But I’ve been thinking of it on this trip, how despite the exhausting week leading up to our departure, this has been one of the most seamless vacations since we started Good Heart.
How to take a vacation when you have a small farm:
Every farm is unique with its flow and challenges and necessities, but the first step to take is to simply write it on the calendar.
One of my mentors often says, “If it’s not scheduled, it’s not real,” and in many senses, we begin planning for this one week away 8 months in advance, the moment the rental is booked.
Granted, it’s one week of the year, and there are many weeks when Edge and I don’t get days off together, but instead swap our time so one of us can leave the farm while the other one stays and works.
Still, planning for a week away for the last 6 years has led us to planning for more weekends away, or at the very least, weekends filled with climbing, hiking, and swimming together, rather than working.
There are specific things, yes, like setting up efficient irrigation so we can put the sprinklers on a timer and head out for a family afternoon off the farm. There’s creating standard operating procedures, written out and tacked up for employees or volunteers to read. And most of all, there’s having good help, be it neighbors and friends, volunteers or employees.
A community of people willing and able to help is the greatest asset a farmer can have.
But just as important as understanding soil structure, organic pest management, and everything else that comes with farming, is the understanding that we as farmers are living parts of the farm, and we need care, too.
The most important thing I’ve learned over the last 6 years in running a farm business is that if we don’t take care of ourselves, we can’t sustain the business.
Taking care, for me, means time not working. It means time enjoying, exploring, eating well, sleeping enough, laughing. It means finding the balance of rest and growth. And when I look at it like this, taking a vacation becomes a necessary aspect of summer.
Beyond giving us a time to rest, play, and reconnect with family, leaving the farm gives us perspective.
Sometimes you have to leave in order to see the bounty of what’s around you. Sometimes you have to stop working to see your work clearly.
So it was as I packed up a crate and basket of food for our trip. Despite weekly harvests, CSA pick-ups and wholesale deliveries, it wasn’t until I loaded up veggies for ourselves that I realized the abundance of our work. Until that moment, I’d been concerned about how powdery mildew on the tomatoes was going to cut our tomato season short, how swede midge had stunted our broccoli and cauliflower plantings, how I wouldn’t have time to deadhead the calendula before leaving.
And then I saw the haul I was packing and thought, “wow, we have so much food.”
It’s a simple thing, but until I put it together for ourselves, rather than our customers, I hadn’t fully appreciated all we grew.
Whether you have a farm or a homestead, or just a crazy work schedule in general, take a leap and leave. Write it on your calendar, and begin preparations. Find ways to add efficiencies into your system, and look for folks early on who you can train to take over when you’re gone.
Maybe it won’t happen until 8 months from now, but for those next 8 months you’ll have something specific to work towards, and then you’ll have a glorious vacation where you won’t have to work at all.
Are you a farmer or homesteader? What are your strategies or struggles on taking a vacation? Let me know in a comment below.