Thursday, September 20, 2018

Letting Go

For the last 20 years our family has had a hobby farm: goats, chickens, dogs, cats, calves, bees, and even yak. We produced maple syrup, collected honey, grew vegetables, had blackberry and blueberry bushes and two crab apple trees that came from my grandfather. My in-laws had a good-sized farm where they raised chickens, goats, donkeys, and made hay. My husband was 8th generation to live on the farm he grew up on! To say we identified as "farmers" would be a true statement.

Last March as we struggled to have enough hours in the day to produce the maple syrup, we began to question just how we were going to keep up. We were down to just Samantha living at home and she was in full time public high school. Abby was doing the best she could, but her nanny job and her own daughter made boiling sap difficult. Sam was working crazy hours with his two jobs and I was also now working off the farm part-time. We dumped a lot of sap that turned sour before we could get to it, despite boiling from 4am until 10pm most days. This was also about the time that Sam and I had started praying about our bucket lists and what direction God wanted our family to go in.

In late April there was a knock on my door early in the morning. Abby was out back taking care of the livestock while I fed Ava breakfast. A woman with a business card showing she was from the State of Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection, explained that there had been a complaint made against our farm. The claim was that we were making and selling Maple syrup without the proper equipment and in violation of state regulations.

Honestly, at first I thought it was a joke. When we converted our barn into the sugar shack and farm store, we had spent considerable time and money making sure we were in compliance with all federal and state laws. In fact, our facility exceeded most of the requirements. But she wasn't joking and I called Abby to the front steps.

After much discussion and several calls to her supervisor, it was decided that in fact we were completely in compliance with the laws for Maple syrup. BUT according to them, the way we made our infused Maple syrups had no regulations or rules. They decided that this meant they could dictate what they believed those rules should be and enforce them. They advised us that we needed to use a commercial kitchen to make and bottle our syrup. That they could inspect our farm store, unannounced, at any time, including during the off season. They would require us to have our water tested. The woman filed her report, deemed our case closed as "unsubstantiated," warned us that to continue to operate could bring more complaints being filed, and left.

Abby said, "I think God just gave us our answer." We went to the back yard and discussed what needed to be done to close the farm. Many people have asked why we didn't just stop producing infused maple syrup. And the easy answer is that the profits we made from the infused maple syrup sales were what financed the rest of the farm: hay, grain, vet care, etc. Without those sales, the farm could not stay in the black. The not so easy answer was complicated, nuanced, and hard to articulate other than to say, we knew God was speaking.

Letting go of farming in some ways has been easy. It's nice to have the option to sleep past the crack of dawn. We have been able to take and plan trips without rousing an army to care for the animals. I  have gone three or more days without checking the weather forecast. In other ways it has not been easy. I miss the comradery we had with others when talking about the weather, haying, and showing livestock at fairs. I miss the smell of fresh cut hay stacked in the barn, the breath of goats in my ear, the squawk of a rooster as the sun comes up, and the grunt of a yak as she spies you walking across the yard.

Farming is in our blood: Sam's family can trace their farming heritage back to 1620 and the Plymouth colony, and the family has farmed the same piece of property in Connecticut since 1869. Abby aspires to own a farm one day and raise her kids like she was raised. Nathalie works for Tractor Supply. Hannah will soon be a camp director's wife. Rachel works for a dog kennel and training facility. Samantha plans to get a degree in Agricultural missions after she graduates from high school. They are all using the skills they learned from being farmers.

Letting go is easier when you know what you have learned and experienced will never be gone; they will live on in our kids and our memories.
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