A hardware store and much, much, more.
Upon entering any self-respecting hardware store, one should hear a welcoming and lighthearted jingle from the bell positioned above the door. This is exactly what occurs when we walk through the door of our own local store which, although just over a year old, has all the traits, leathery odors, and foot-weary floorboards of a much older establishment. However, I am becoming somewhat aware of another, less cheery noise, barely audible beneath the ringing of the bell which brightly announces our entrance: it’s an unexpressed, yet quite audible, groan.
The groan is not an expression of age from the ancient wood flooring, nor is it the bulk of the solid door straining on its equally ancient and bulky hinges as one would possibly expect upon entering such an establishment, it is a noise made by the staff, a noise made in contrast to their welcoming smiles, waves, and cheery passings of the time of day.
It took many times of walking through that door before I began to translate the smells and sounds which greet those that are fortunate enough to visit this place; this place of nuts and bolts; of wire, string and table cloths; this place which is so completely chocked full of light bulbs, shovels, duct tape, and tins of paint it only takes a brief trip down one of the aisles before you completely forget why you entered in the first place; the possibilities are, indeed, endless. However, most of these sounds and smells are familiar, but the groan, the groan is something other, something new to me, something that I am happy to say I have been ignorant of for most of my life.
Roughly translated into English, the groan can mean: “not them again”, or: “Here we go Bill, another line of stupid questions”, or even more blunt: “shit!”
I bring this up – as my first proper ramble of the New Year – not because I am personally incensed by its meaning upon my own arrival in the store, nor does it worry me that I spark this reaction from the sales folk, I bring it up because I imagine it happening in hardware stores, feed stores, veterinarians offices, rural post offices, livestock auctions, and village grocers the world over as more and more people like us join the “agrarian renaissance” and begin a life of farming or ranching. And with the increase in “Young”, “Beginning” or “New” farmers comes an almost immeasurable list of stupid questions, requests, and cries for help which would, in a “traditional” family farm have been passed down from generation to generation, probably with little more than a grunt and a nod. We, as beginning farmers, not having had at our fingertips the knowledge and expertise of our forebears to tap into like a clear flowing stream of instant understanding and skill, have to rely on those in the community who do have that resource, and whether they like it or not, no matter how dumb the question, it’s going to be, and needs to be, asked.
It’s not to be said that beginning farmers aren’t smart. In fact, as far as I can tell, a lot of us have spent time in universities (to what ends, I can’t say), others have been working for years in IT, or the finance sector, “dropping out” (or in) to lead a life of rural, sustainable, agricultural self-sufficiency. Others, myself included, spend time on farms – as apprentices or interns – with similar values and production goals as themselves, and leave that experience with a solid base from which to build their own farm business. All this, the degrees, the work experience, and the on-farm training, still do not equate to anything near the amount of knowledge required to run a successful farm.
And that is where the local vendors and service providers come in to play. And it is also why we continue to hear the resigned groan which almost always accompanies the cheery jingle of the store bell.
To give some examples of experiences we’ve had while trying to figure out the intricacies and finer points of farming life:
We have spent, on more than one occasion, at least an hour pacing the aisles of the hardware store with an ever-friendly and very patient member of staff, trying in vain to fit a length of tubing – be it hose, pipe, or copper – to a mysterious piece of plastic, just to get home and find we had taken the wrong piece of hose and must undergo the whole charade again. All this to make our own version of a particularly peculiar livestock watering device as we were unaware of the ingenious fellow who had already fabricated it somewhere on the other side of the country and sells them for $5 apiece in the chickens-r-us catalogue.
I also recall speaking with Alexis after what was supposed to be a brief farm visit from the vet, arranged to be an introductory meeting and quick flock-health checkup. He had been here for almost 3 hours. “Three Hours!” I seem to recall asking, “How much did that cost?” Lex replied that she couldn’t explain but that he only wanted to charge for a half hour visit. My only explanation for this is that she had asked him so many questions, and pestered him so much during his visit that he left in a cloud of dust, drooling and flapping like Siegfried Farnon being chased through the Yorkshire Dales by a wild bull.
And then, of course, there’s the incident with the escaped llama – about which you can read here – and our embarrassing first interactions with our neighbours as we chased her around their farm like, well, like a bunch of greenhorns chasing after a half-wild and short-necked llama. Just as an aside, it appears that Michelle O’llama has finally made her peace with the world and now spends her days roaming the property seeking out intruding Jack Russells and any tasty flakes of alfalfa that happen to have been left unattended in the wheelbarrow.
We have somehow found ourselves among a great community of knowledgeable, patient, and generous people who are (almost) always available to answer our never-ending stream of questions and help us solve our problems and issues. And although the groan is still there when we enter the hardware store, the feed store, or the post office, as long as it remains to be accompanied by the jingle of the bell and the time of day, we will continue to ask the silly questions and tell our daft stories. Although we didn’t grow up with silver pitchforks in our mouths or intravenous tractor grease, we take what we have from our own experiences and education and make do as best we can, which is what farmers have been doing since the very first seeds were sown. I’m just glad that we, the Greenhorn Generation, have the benefit of hardware stores and of those that stock their shelves with all the random bits of plastic and nuggets of information that we need to do this that is our collective future, otherwise there may be far more escaped llamas romping the countryside and vast seas of unused and mysterious pieces of plastic filling barns the world over.