Four Guiding Principles on the Farm
"I am a farmer." That's how I began a recent essay that was published in Indianapolis Monthly this year. (You can read that essay here.) "Farmer" was never a title I actively sought out. Nor was it a profession I imagined chasing. But here I am. And I'd like to explain some of how, or maybe more so why, I got here.
When we purchased our property in 2012, the home was a foreclosure in need of great repair. It was in such bad shape the banks wouldn't put a mortgage on the residence, and we were forced to scrape up cash in order to close the deal. It took us a year of weekends, traveling back and forth from our home in Indianapolis, to get the house move-in ready. We had to remove mold, complete a major overhaul of the electricity and plumbing (by major overhaul, I mean Randy replaced everything), we got a new furnace, installed central air-conditioning, had the house insulated -- twice, completely gutted and redid the kitchen, the mudroom, and the downstairs bathroom, had the chimney professionally cleaned and lined, refinished the floors, removed wallpaper, painted everything, installed new ceilings, and brought in a wood stove. I'm sure there were other accomplishments inside the home, but that's what I remember. The following years, we moved our restoration efforts outside by putting new roofing and siding on the house and outbuildings, replacing gutters, installing fences, constructing new buildings, cleaning up trash, clearing out bushes, etc. We installed a large garden, acquired animals, and, still, we have a number of other projects in the queue.
When I say "we," I mostly mean Randy. He has taken on the brunt of this labor. Without his knowledge and building skill, as well as his willingness to see my ideas through, none of this good stuff would have happened. I'm fairly certain Randy never imagined himself a farmer, either. But here he is. Special thanks also goes to his dad, Ronnie, Randy's mom, Patti, and Randy's stepfather, Dallas, who all spent many weekends helping us to restore this home. Sometimes, it takes a village, they say. I'll second and, then, third that.
Back then, I didn't really have a vision of what we would do here. I did, however, have four guiding principles in mind:
- To care for the land;
- To care for animals;
- To care for others;
- To care for ourselves.
These notions seemed pretty simple, but they were guiding principles that I had never really thought about until I spent a year or so studying the Bible. These principles now help to shape our every step and decision at Dugger Family Farm.
To care for the land: Though we haven't mastered our recycling and regenerative efforts on the farm yet, we are doing what we can to build this property back up again. This past year, we've been graced with visitors from each of the families who have lived in this house since it was built in 1934. We now have a good sense of what the farm has been used for, and we're hoping to improve and build upon its natural history. We compost all the animal waste and bedding, we use organic methods of gardening (though we're not certified organic), we feed our chickens kitchen scraps and non-GMO feed, we encourage vermiculture, and, this coming year, I'm hoping we can build out small food forests and install edible landscaping around the property. Forest gardening, in case you haven't heard of it, incorporates fruit and nut trees, herbs, vines, and perennial vegetables. Food forests are low-maintenance, good for the land, and offer up food with the return of each growing season. Can't beat that. The installation of our high tunnel, and our use of wood chip gardening, I'm hoping, will encourage further restoration and conservation of the land. We are also growing microgreens on the farm and have begun composting the soil for re-use throughout the year.
To care for the animals: We took on livestock early after our move. Dugger Family Farm is now home to honeybees, chickens, goats, and alpacas, as well as more than a dozen companion animals -- farm cats and dogs. I've sent in the state paperwork to establish Dugger Animal Sanctuary, I purchased a website address, and I now need to tackle the federal filing and website construction to officially announce the organization. Keeping animals has changed me. I no longer eat meat, and I hope to promote plant-based eating and humane animal husbandry in everything that we do here. Through my involvement with Indiana Farmers Union and as a member of The Humane Society of the United States' agriculture advisory councils, I am able to promote these concepts off-farm, as well. These efforts to protect and care for animals fuel and fulfill me in every way.
To care for others: Simply put, we want Dugger Family Farm to be a good neighbor. We opened our farm store with the hope that we could use it to not only sell and promote the good foods raised by fellow farmers (and ourselves), but also so that we could feed our neighbors and friends well. We sell locally grown produce and meats from farmers we trust. We sell processed goods from makers who are vetted through programs that we trust. This past year, I've cleaned up my eating habits and now pay close attention to everything I put into my body, and nothing brings me more joy than having meaningful conversations with farm store guests about food and nutrition. I'm hoping that in coming years we will be able to host food, nutrition, and cooking classes on our property, and I daydream about building out a juice and smoothie station and a build-your-own wrap station, supplied with our farm-raised ingredients. These goals I'm mentioning here make up the bulk of my "Ultimate Dugger Family Farm List," which includes raised beds, observation beehives, on-farm classrooms, sustainability libraries, and more. I have big dreams and fully believe we will turn this property into a fully functioning resource for education, fellowship, and really good, locally grown food. We just need a pile of money and time to do it.
To care for ourselves: Moving to the country was intentional. Somewhere along the way in my life, I began imagining living out in the country, dreaming of the birds, the breeze, and the beauty of a farm life. When I was in my early 20s and a New York City resident, I was drawn to the farmers markets in Union Square there. I loved the colors, the aromas, and the hustle of the city's weekly markets. At that time I was useless in the kitchen, but I imagined one day hauling bags of fresh food home to cook and eat. I very clearly envisioned this smarter, purer, more mature me. Though I'm no seasoned chef yet, I voraciously read books about food and nutrition, and I daydream of one day completing coursework on the subjects, earning a certificate or a degree so that I can effectively coach others along on their paths to health and wellness. Caring for ourselves means more than just eating well, however. I hope to turn this farm into a sustainable venture that helps to pay for itself, so that we can live out our lives serving the community, encouraging the health of the land, caring for the animals, and feeding ourselves well in the process.
When I walk the small acreage that we have here, I picture everything as I hope it will someday be. I want our small, diversified farm to serve as inspiration for other small farmers. I'm happy with documenting the steps and missteps of building out our farm, if it will engage, encourage, and inform other farmers hoping to do the same. It isn't easy--Randy can certainly speak to that more than me--but we're trying to do everything as we can, with little to no funds to hire out the work, and using recycled or reused materials to cut down on expenses and waste. I can't believe what we've accomplished thus far. When we first bought this property, I had no vision of what the farm would become. Truth is: I still don't, really. Plans change with each passing season. The only thing that remains static: My long list of ideas and my wonderful--and incredibly understanding--husband. Who now also happens to be a farmer.