Our fingernails are filled with dirt. Our bodies are sore from chores and feeding animals. We are tired from days that start before sunrise. And I’ve never experienced anything that has resonated so deeply in my spirit. A small taste of this life and I’m ruined (in the best way). The farm feels like home.
We’ve been staying with Lyndal and Steve at their homestead, Aisling Quoy, for 11 days now. They’ve been farming this land for 10 years, building and constantly adding to their lovely, self-sustaining farm. The main house sits on a small hill surrounded by their animals and lined by a number of trees in nearly every direction, giving it a cozy, protected feeling. Rolling hills in soft yellow tones sit just off in the distance and bring texture and depth to the area. They currently have 25 goats, 36 sheep, 3 pigs, some ducks and little ducklings, and TONS of chickens and chicks. The moment we stepped onto the farm we felt the energy of the place. It’s something special and we feel incredibly fortunate to be apart of this energy, even if only for a month.
Every day begins at 5:48am. The window of our room in the barn loft looks out on the baby lambs to one side and the chickens and ducklings to the other with a gravel road splitting between and leading to the courtyard (connects to barn, toolshed, hay, garden, etc.) Some mornings, the sun will slice through the horizon and everything turns a warm, honey yellow. We eat breakfast together before morning chores. At this hour, the animals are (usually) still and quiet in the paddocks (except when the baby lambs hear us making our way from the barn to the main house and yell ferociously for the their milk bottles as if they’ve never been fed before in their lives. Dramatic, those ones.)
Morning/evening routine chores involve many different working parts, and when all are working properly and efficiently, it’s like a well-oiled machine. If you’ve ever worked in a restaurant you can imagine that euphoric feeling during a rush when service is going well and everyone is working swiftly and smoothly. Everything around might be chaotic and unpredictable, but you focus at the task at hand and do your best to problem solve, to dance with the elements. When everyone is doing this it creates an indescribable energy. I still think about that fulfilling feeling at the end of service when the guests were fed and happy, the kitchen staff exhausted but proud to have pulled it off, no matter how high the pressure.
Feeding times are not unlike this rush. Instead of pushy customers we’re dealing with a symphony of yelling animals; instead of remembering orders, we need to remember where & how everyone ends up in the right place (shutting/opening gates), which sounds straightforward until a baby goat jumps over the fence into an open paddock or we forget to line the gates correctly and the milked sheep end up roaming a field near the pigs.
After everyone is fed and happy, and Lyndal is done milking in the dairy, we sit down for coffee and treats. Sometimes we talk expectations and projects, sometimes we sit and breathe and listen to the rainfall. Most days we talk too long and forget about the work we meant to start 45 minutes ago. The other day, we abandoned our to-do lists and drove to the beach, stopping on the way to pick cherries and tarragon for our dinner.
The sustainability and self-sufficiency of this place is remarkable. Aside from the water they bring in for the animals, the house uses filtered rain water. They compost and recycle most things and accumulate a remarkably low amount of rubbish that gets taken off the property. We wash things over bins in the sink and throw the excess water onto plants. Water that makes its way down the drain irrigates the paddocks. The compost toilet in the barn gets used as fertilizer and the urine dilutes in water and is dumped on plants! Circle of life! Permaculture! When we are good stewards of the land and the animals, we actually all benefit immensely from each other. When we aren’t good stewards, things like global warming and world hunger happen.
They grow the bulk of what they eat, bringing in only a number of things to stock the pantry. The garden determines the meal, not a trip to the supermarket. If onions aren’t growing then we don’t have onions! This relationship to the food you grow makes you more creative, spontaneous and playful with meals. We are blowing our minds with what Lyndal can do with her garden. She likes to preface dinner with useless caveats like “dinner might be basic tonight,” and then we sit down to a beautiful 3-course meal she prepared while doing 4 other things and with her eyes closed. Some things we’ve had so far: Double-fried white potatoes with garlic and rosemary; stuffed zucchini blossoms; cucumber and mint ice cream; sheep sausage mixed with quinoa and garden veggies; green and red leaf baby lettuces with olive oil, cooked apricots, crushed hazelnuts and cheese (made by Lyndal of course). I’m learning SO much by watching her effortlessly work with what’s available. I could walk the gardens all day and never get bored admiring all the life pushing up through the dirt, all the produce in it’s most pure form. Everything looks eerily different from the produce we buy at Trader Joe’s. It’s brighter and textured and best of all, not packaged in plastic.
The days go by in a beautiful blur, like looking at one of those paintings that is more suggestive than precise in it’s strokes. We feel at home in this life. They’ve adopted us into their way of life and sparked a passion inside of us we didn’t know existed. It’s a massive undertaking, running a farm, and Steve and Lyndal don’t sugarcoat this fact. I asked them how long it’s taken them to feel like they really know the land and the soil and the weather. They said they still don’t know, and the second they claim to know they’re hit by a curveball. So many people are trying to manipulate the environment to work in their favor instead of adapting to it. Like Lyndal and Steve, I want to learn to adapt.
A couple nights ago after dinner, we sat around the front room, chatting and sipping whisky. I mentioned how fortunate we feel to be learning so much so quickly. Lyndal looked at me and said “that’s why we do what we do. I can’t solve world hunger, but I can do my small part and give people opportunity to learn stuff and go out and better the world.”
It’s raining hard today. The goats don’t like the rain and they tell us frequently throughout the day. Farm days feel like one long mindfulness practice: the rain hits the tin roof of the barn; a rooster crows in the distance; fire cracks in the wood stove; It’s hard to be anywhere else but here. The animals and the land teach us so much about being present. When you grow things and rely on rain water you can’t afford not to pay attention. I often forget what day it is or to check my phone for reminders of the life and people back home (love you all!). The beauty and energy of this place is just too captivating to look away from for too long. Of course there’s all the stress we don’t see because we don’t run the place. For now, we have the privilege of being all in, of drinking in their wealth of wisdom while we’re in this dreaming phase of life. We have the privilege to see and believe this way of life is possible to create for ourselves one day…
>> SOME THINGS WE'VE LEARNED <<
to make halloumi, ricotta, and yogurt
to milk sheep and goats (Char not yet)
how to plant by the moon
weeding is completely addicting
Lyndal and I planted a number of root vegetables
most of the animals’ names
you don’t need to shower as often as you think
biodegradable tampons work! (I learned this, not Char…)
how to insulate a tiny home with sheep's wool
animals need to be socialized (cuddling with sheep is therapeutic)