Most bio-diverse farmers never get to leave. Or almost never. If you only grow during part of the year and have no livestock, you can get away with ease but for those of us who have living things depending on us year round, leaving takes an effort of massive proportions and usually a commensurate budget. Here are some tips for the farmer trying to get away for a trip:
First, start at least a year before you leave by looking for a farm sitter who can stay at your place, has experience with what you raise and you trust with your livelihood.
If you find one who is qualified, find out what they will charge.
Realize the original farm sitter is either not going to be available those dates anyway or will move before your trip so the fact that they charge $600 a day is irrelevant.
Once you see that, price boarding your house animals and getting someone to just come out and do chores.
That feeling you feel at the cost of boarding your house pets for the duration of your trip will go away and return when you see that the actual bill is much higher than you were quoted.
If there is no kennel and no one to do chores in your area or the price is too high, start asking for favors. It helps to ask people who a) love you dearly b) might need you to reciprocate someday and c) know enough about animals to notice if something is about to die.
Tell yourself the sick feeling you feel at the idea of asking for so much help will go away if you bake enough “thank you” stuff and remember to bring back souvenirs, which can be hard if the reason for the trip is a somber one.
Now, make a detailed and chronologically organized list of everything you do in a day.
Pat yourself on the back for all you get done, realize no one else is going to do all of this and cut the list back to things that should be done.
Now, cut the list back to things that must be done for everything to stay alive until you get back. This is the best you can hope for. Anything else that someone is willing to do is a bonus and should cause you to be overcome with gratitude.
Email this list to everyone who is going to be a part of helping you.
Print a copy for the house and the barn.
If there is no one who can help you, swallow your fear and find a young person who has no idea what they are doing on a farm (because almost none do anymore) but “wants the experience” and is eager to learn. Now, try to train them before you leave. Go back to the instructions you typed up, scale them back further and provide ridiculous amounts of detail. “Now, turn to your left and take the lid off of the chicken feed. Take the red scoop in your right hand and scoop out enough to fill the little blue bucket. Put the lid back on the feed and walk to the coop,” etc.
Don’t worry. If you are lucky, they will call you with questions regularly. If you are not, they will really mess something up.
Now, prepare your place.
Don’t hold out hold out hope your plants are going to get watered. Cull the ones you can and then turn empty wine bottles into waterers for the house plants by filling them with water and turning it upside down in the pot. This may or may not work but at least you tried.
Buy enough feed for much longer than you will be gone. I once had a friend accidentally feed twice the allotted feed to some stock and then call because they ran out a couple days before we got home. Since one can never criticize people helping with this effort, I could do nothing but apologize for my error in stocking.
Pick everything. Weed everything. Mow everything. Trim everything.
Clean the barn. Get caught up on the paperwork.
Now, when the mower or tractor breaks, it will not be something you can fix, so it will need to go to the shop. The shop will need at least 10 days to fix it which will fall well after you leave. Look for someone to mow that you can trust not to hit irrigation lines, run over saplings or complain about all the stuff, like dead critters the dog brings up. When you can’t find that person, tell yourself that you will just have to bale the yard into hay when you get home from your trip. This makes sense from a feed cost standpoint so be happy about your good fortune.
At this point you are still telling yourself you are going to get everything weeded and the barn cleaned. Enjoy that delusion/confidence until the day before you leave.
Now, everything you try to do in the last two days is going to take longer than it should.
Vacuuming out the vehicle, for instance, might break the vacuum and cause you to have to disassemble it, because the kids just dumped cereal on the only rug in the house while they were dancing along to the show you plugged them into so you could get all your stuff done so it must be fixed now. When you finally get it fixed, you will no longer care about the rug and the insects it will attract if left that way for a week but you will be happy you got the outgrown sock covered in cereal out of your vacuum.
At this point, you become frustrated with the people who are not helping you but should be.
This is when stuff-needs-to-get-done-why-are-you-all-not-helping-I’m-going-to-throw-a-match-on-this-mess panic sets in. No one in your family will have the urge to help with anything. Do not kill them.
In fact, don’t worry.
I’m just kidding. You should really be worrying now. But, this stage is soon followed by winnowing your to-do list down to the essentials and rationalizing everything you need to in order to stay sane.
“Oh, well. I don’t seriously care if the barn is a mess. And the weeds are going to grow while I am gone. If people can’t deal with the fact that the mower is broke, they don’t have to come here. I can deal with the warranty people while we are on the road. And I can answer the emails from my phone on the trip.” This rationalizing is a critical skill.
Finally, make sure the instructions are everywhere. Put out extra keys if you are the type to lock your doors and pack the humans’ stuff. Check the water and feed on everything one last time and run the irrigation that will break while you are gone.
Before you actually go, remind your help that this is in fact the day that you are leaving.
Finally, when you get in the car, do not expect anyone to thank you for all you have done. They may even allude to you being moody in the days leading up to the departure.
Have food ready as everyone will be hungry before you get to your first stop, 20 minutes into the trip.
Leave and try not to stress about the farm. Go enjoy yourself. It is always smooth sailing from this point.
Note: If anything needs to be milked, is about to birth, is newborn, doesn’t feel well or needs any special attention you aren’t going anywhere. Try again in a couple of years.
Happy eating, Katy