Catherine Friend was a decently successful children’s book author with two books and a handful of magazine articles published, when her longtime partner Melissa announced that she wanted to use the money she’d inherited from her namesake to buy a farm. The two women, then in their late thirties, bought a 53-acre parcel with erosion problems and no structures, built a house, planted a one-acre vineyard, and populated the remainder with two goats, a handful of laying hens, a chicken tractor full of broilers, fifty sheep, and a guard llama.
Over the course of the next rocky four years Catherine and Melissa would learn the hard way what their books and classes had omitted about farming – lambing complications, tractor accidents, coyotes, livestock stubbornness, veterinary medicine overdoses, the realities of breeding, and the difficulty of taking your first homegrown animals to slaughter – all while dealing with Catherine’s anxiety and Melissa’s undiagnosed chemical imbalance.
They have to learn what all livestock farmers have to learn: the zen-like concept that all the little lives you have under your care are transitory; that you must make their lives happy and carefree even though they may be short, and that you must fully appreciate them even though you will be responsible for their death as much as their birth. But they also have to learn how to live with each other while caring for all these other lives – how to maintain or modify their pre-farm roles without Catherine losing her writing career or Melissa working herself to death.
Matt got a hold of this one before I did. His succinct summary was: “This is a book I think everybody who wants to farm or be self-sufficient should read because it shows a lot of problems you’re gonna run into that the other books don’t talk about.”
I didn’t take any notes while I was reading this book – which is extremely unusual – because I tore through it in a day. It has what you really want from a farming memoir (or any memoir, really): ups and downs both poignant and hilarious featuring people with whom you can easily identify and, best of all, a happy ending (the farm and the couple are still holding up ten years later). And it didn’t put me off the idea of having my own sheep someday. (Hear that, Matt?)