Saturday, December 31, 2016

Good-bye 2016

Good-bye 2016!

Now that the Market is finally over…and the year is drawing to a close…I can say this out loud.

2016 was not a good year.

Not for us. Not for anyone. I haven’t talked to a single soul who would argue with me over that statement. Although I have been hard pressed to figure out exactly why it was so hard for so many people.


Thank God it’s over.

I have never been so glad to see the end of something in my life!

For the first time ever, I really didn’t know if we could do it. And quite honestly, I didn’t know if I wanted to…or even cared… And, it didn't seem like anyone else cared, either.

This year was flat out hard…grinding and relentless in its demands. While we made it through, there was no sense of accomplishment, no feelings of success.

Ordinarily at the end of the Market season, there is a sense of achievement and accomplishment.

Growing produce is a challenge. Direct Marketing is a challenge. But, we are quite good at both. And, we’re up for the challenge, we find it enjoyable and profitable, ordinarily. We generally spend the last few days of the year reviewing the past 12 months and giving thanks for the successes. 

But, this was no ordinary year. The end of the season had us feeling more than a little weary and worn. Joy and profitability were hard to find.

Although, I must say…our 2016 didn’t begin to compare with the horrific, tragic losses that I know others experienced. And, it didn’t count as one of our own "worst years". So, I feel bad in a way for even mentioning our struggles.

Because it wasn’t dealing with the complete brokenness of our hearts and dreams as we attempted to re-invent our life and make the farm a working entity, starting with a small bit of bare and barren landscape. (that would have been 1997) It wasn’t endless worry and stumbling to find our way as we began our tenure as market vendors (’98), and it certainly wasn’t the fear, stress, heartache and countless trips to the hospital after a drunken driver very nearly snatched our eldest daughter from us. (2010 was definitely the hardest year for the entire extended family) Looking back, I honestly don’t know how we made it through those years. I really don’t. And, while this year wasn’t quite like that, it was still difficult and all too often down-right discouraging.

But, no one really wants to hear you’re having a hard time. When someone asks you “how’s it going?” they really don’t want to hear bad news. When they ask if it’s a good growing year, they want the affirmative, not a laundry list of challenges in the garden.  

By the mere mention of the negative, you have broken some sort of conversational taboo. I was taught long ago that “how ya doin’?” should be always answered with a cheery FINE and a smile. Nothing more, nothing less. Those customers really just want their lettuce or eggs (or whatever), they don’t want to feel compelled to offer free counselling. More than once I’ve heard “you’re livin’ the dream, man”! It is expected that as entrepreneurs/farmers/vendors we should be happy, carefree and ceaselessly enthusiastic.

And, when that is not the case, it adds to the stress. It feels like failure. It seems like you’re whining. Things certainly can’t be all that bad...even when they are.

When you live where you work, you can never escape. Every time you walk outside, go to the barn, or down the hall, you see all the undone work, every uncompleted task calls your name. Those animals or crops that are not thriving serve as a reminder of your failings.  It also seems that when things start into a downward spiral, everything gets caught in the swirling mess that seems to be circling the drain. Giving up seems a very real option.

Yep, it was a hard season.

So, the end of the season brought no real sense of accomplishment, but rather a huge sigh of relief that it was finally over and that we were still somewhat intact as we dragged ourselves through to the end of the market. Which, despite the dismal sound, is truly a positive as I honestly had some serious doubts about our actual survival during the season.

But, if it wasn’t actually one of the worst years, what WAS the problem? Have we just grown weary after nearly twenty years of the same old, same old? Are WE just getting old? Do we need a break, a change? Maybe we’d just reached the end? The endless mental wranglings didn’t do much for my outlook. But, we needed to know so we didn't have to repeat the experience.

There were shifts in the Market that were concerning. The entire atmosphere of the Market seemed off somehow and other vendors noticed it as well. Customers were different. Buying patterns had changed. Early in the season, at least THREE people brought us the same article from the Washington Post about changes in Farmers Markets.  They wondered about our Market. And, honestly, we had already talked about these shifts in shopping. (more about this article/trend some other time). There was a sense of foreboding, worry and general unrest that cannot be completely attributed to the acrimonious election cycle (although, I can assure you that did nothing to quell any concerns or improve the atmosphere…and I have some serious concerns about the future). The weather patterns were weird and caused new and different issues.

The work that is usually pleasurable, the interaction that is generally a joy, the routine that while predictable and somewhat monotonous also grants comfort to our lives… all became a gigantic pain in the neck.

And, I mean that quite well as figuratively.

Because, that is probably where this all began.

With an actual pain in the neck.

During mid-winter the Boss contracted one of those “things” that was going around. It hung on and made him miserable. When he finally went to the doc, the prescription cleared up the infection, but left him still battling a pain in his neck.

It dragged on for what seemed like FOREVER until he made an appointment with a specialist to check out what had a slight potential to be a very scary issue. However, doctor’s appointments never happen instantaneously and another prolonged period of waiting ensued. All this time we tried to keep up with the jobs at hand, but when half the workforce doesn’t feel well, work slows down considerably. Between the worry and the discomfort, he really wasn’t a barrel of laughs either, dramatically affecting my own outlook and productivity.

But, somehow we endured. We even got most of our work done. Most, not all. But, it was hard. Our sense of purpose and joy was thwarted, if not altogether lost.

Long story, short. Several tests, a new prescription, (after much more waiting) he was feeling better. YAY!

However, by that point, I was afflicted with my own pain in the neck…(and you thought I was exaggerating) It had taken nearly six months to get my back injury from Thanksgiving completely healed and I was just thinking how nice it was to be pain-free…

So, my next little mishap added insult to injury…

I have never been known for being graceful and sure-footed, but I outdid myself this time. After watering the greenhouse, I went to put away the hose and found myself inextricably tangled.  In my vain attempt to extricate myself, I tripped, caught my bootlace on the big metal watering can, and got my foot stuck inside (yes, IN the watering can. NO, I'm not kidding, nor do I have any idea how that happened). Wild contortions followed as I lost my balance and struggled to keep from falling on my face. My efforts were completely unsuccessful and I landed with a thud in the middle of the backyard, as the watering can suddenly released my foot and the metal font landed on the back of my leg,  leaving a large crescent shaped bruise. At first I didn’t think I had injured myself (aside from the bruise that was growing larger by the minute), and all I could think was how that performance would have made me a "star" on America’s Funniest Videos and poor T-bone missed the video chance of a lifetime.

But, it didn’t feel very funny when I got up to walk. And by the next morning the pain in my neck had crossed from nuisance to excruciating. Ibuprofen, ice, all the old standbys were completely ineffective.

I realized I probably had whiplash in addition to my bruises and sore hands. My neck was incredibly sore and tight and my lower back had been twisted oddly. So, I guess I pulled a back muscle, maybe I tore something.  Whatever. All that mattered was I hurt all over and every step was a challenge. The painful reality far outweighed any humor in the situation.

As proof of that whole “head bone connected to the neck bone....” extending my arm was excruciating. The muscle running up the side/back of my neck hurt all the time. Any movement made it worse.  

Harvest involves a lot of reaching and pinching. So, picking (anything) became a serious PAIN IN THE NECK. Gardening was miserable. Walking had to be kept to a minimum. Even sitting at my desk hurt. And, forget any attempts to work on writing projects... You know it’s bad when you can’t even waste time on the internet without pain.

But, there were no outward signs. And, I was certain that any medical attention would include the words “rest” and the advice to “take it easy”.  I tried to envision a trip to the doctor...”you see, I fell over the hose and I think I have whiplash...” The mental picture was a more than a little amusing, but it hurt far too much to laugh.

However, the show must go on. We don’t have sick days or vacation. If we don’t do it, it simply does not get done. No work means no product. And, since the Boss wasn’t at 100%, he couldn’t pick up my slack. So, I did what I could before the pain had me trudging back to my icepack for relief. I kept thinking it would get better…

But, that couldn’t happen without REST and rest is an unheard-of luxury in the midst of the summer season. So we soldiered on, each enduring our own pain.

Some days it hurt to even breathe and I began to hate Fridays. Quite honestly, didn’t care if I ever saw another leaf of lettuce. And, I was becoming resentful of those customers who seemed to demand a steady supply of greens. (and I felt bad about this…really bad…but I certainly couldn’t tell them the whole sad tale)

After MONTHS of chiropractic visits I finally put most of the pain behind me. Notice I did say most…too much exertion and I was back looking for my icepacks. Recovery was slow at best and setbacks were recurrent. According to the chiropractor, there’s some sort of age-related degeneration in my neck meaning complete recovery is impossible and the threat of re-injury is a very real possibility.

Getting old just ain’t for sissies.  

An episode of chronic pain does weird things to your psyche. You find yourself thinking strange and dark things. You feel compelled to face options that would have never been considered in the past. All too often it’s difficult, nearly impossible to feel positive. And, with both of us spending more time feeling “off” than on this season, the issue was doubly difficult and super stressful.  Which led to more than a few painful and intense discussions of what the future may look like. Because being sustainable and staying in this game long-term is all about adjustment and evolution. It's up to us to make it work.

Part of me would like to claim that 2017 will be a great year. That we’ll meet the challenges and rise above our circumstances. That this year we will rock this whole entrepreneur/farm thing like no other. The other part of me knows that some days it’s all about survival and we must simply take it as it comes and see what happens next.

So, while other folks are making their resolutions and declarations for the New Year…I hesitate to make lots of promises and predictions. Sure, I would like to see us be successful and I can assure you that we will be giving 2017 our best shot. But, in reality there are just two things I can say with complete sincerity and utter certainty…

Giving up is not an option. (regardless of any pain(s) in the neck)


                                                 we need more ibuprofen!

Be Fierce...Be Brave
face the challenges of 2017 head-on



       Happy New Year, y'all!


  1. I sincerely hope that 2017 is a pain free, productive year for you. I wish that your chickens lay, your lambs are large, your vegetables are pest free, and the rain and sun are perfectly balanced. -Jenn

    1. What a wonderfully sweet wish, Jenn! Thank you!
      Hoping all the best for you as well.

  2. I'm so sorry. It must be so hard to write anything good when you are in so much pain and just trying to get through it. Prayers for 2017 to be much less worrisome for everyone. I ended my 2016 on a crap note too. The year in itself wasn't too bad, but the last 3 weeks have honestly "kicked my ass" and I am glad to see 2016 go. I do feel blessed for everything, but I always look forward to a new "anything" too. Blessings and good fortune on you and yours for the coming new year! xoxo thanks for writing! (excuse my language)

    1. THANK YOU for reading! and, an extra big thank-you for taking the time to comment. :)
      I'm sorry that you've suffered this year, too.
      Here's hoping that you experience something wonderful in 2017. I know I'm making an effort to find good stuff.
      Love and prayers,

  3. Hey Barbara,
    Oh, honey, I can empathize/sympathize. My life has been like that for the past four years. Same church, different pew, ya know? Had that big head injury in Feb 2014, and wouldn't you know it, I fell over a few weeks ago -WHILE STANDING IN MY HALLWAY DRYING MY HAIR- and smashed my forehead on the concrete floor. It did have a very thin rug on it, but I still gave myself another freaking concussion. This is my fourth. We are obviously twins separated at birth.
    Love and prayers, m & jb

    1. Oh my goodness! My issues cannot compare with FOUR concussions (or even ONE concussion)
      We would make a great act...the falling over twins. ;)
      Seriously, though. Take care of yourself!
      You are in my thoughts and prayers.

  4. Hi Barb - I am so with you! My hubby and I FINALLY found the little farm of our dreams. We have been working our way up to raising sheep and rabbits - and this year I decided to get some chickens. BUT - 2016 was just NOT my year - actually, it started in 2015 with major back surgery (removing a tumor). It took me forever to recover - and in March 2016, I fell in the mud and broke my right leg in 3 places!! And last but not least - in November 2016 - I found out I had to have MORE back surgery. I am just not into doing the chores anymore. I do the basics and feel like I am not fully taking care of my charges (sheep and chickens). I too hope that 2017 is much nicer to all of us us!!! God Bless!!

    1. Oh my goodness, Tracy! You have certainly had a trying time! I feel terrible for complaining about my trite little problems.
      I do hope things improve for you in 2017. You'll be in my thoughts and prayers.