Polyface Check-out Part 4: Heading Home

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This is the 4th post in a 4-part series. Read the first, second, and third parts by clicking the links).

My morning wakeup on Sunday, October 27th, 2019 was unfortunate. All I really had to look forward to today was a super long drive, and an empty fridge. I planned on having eggs for dinner when I got home, and then going to bed…so that I could go back to my office job tomorrow. On top of that, I had originally planned on taking an hour to do a hike in the Shenandoah National Park before going home…but the sky was dumping buckets of rain on everything, so that wasn’t going to happen. 

But, it couldn’t be helped, and I was grateful for the last couple of days. Since the Salatins had said we could help with chores before we left if we wanted – and that would likely be the highlight of my day – I got out of bed right away. I immediately rolled up my sleeping bag and pulled on a dirty pair of jeans – after all, no point in soiling a fresh pair for only an hour or so of chores. Then I double and triple checked that everything was packed up for the drive home, except a fresh pair of clean clothes and shoes for me to change into.

I should probably explain how Sundays work at the farm, at least as I understand it. Since the Salatins are a Christian family, they don’t work on Sunday. They go to church, and take a break. This is super awesome, and even if you aren’t religious, you have to at least acknowledge the wisdom of taking a day of rest every week. However, animals still need to be fed, so they still do chores on Sundays. Since they weren’t having a normal work day, when we were choosing which days we would spend on the farm for our 2-day checkout, Sundays were off-limits. But, since they still had to do chores, anybody who was still around was free to help out in the morning before they headed home. It wasn’t required, and it wouldn’t be one of the required two days of work (obviously), but they wouldn’t say no to the extra set of hands.

Obviously, I wanted to help with chores. How often do I get to feed chickens?

Morning Chores

So, I pulled my raincoat on over my regular coat and grimaced as I laced up my not-at-all-waterproof work boots. If I did get the stewardship, good rubber boots would be Priority #1. Then I embraced the rain.

“Embracing the rain” is a mental exercise that dates back to a Saturday I spent picking blueberries a couple of years ago. I hate rain. Like, HATE rain. Actually, I hate getting wet, unless it’s in a lake, and even then I have to mentally prepare myself for at least twenty minutes before I get into the water. Plus, rain is cold – even in the summer. But,  when it started raining during my blueberry picking expedition, I finally decided to embrace the rain because that sounded better than being miserable, wet, cold, and blueberry-less. I remember crawling out from under the blueberry bush (where I’d taken shelter as the sky unexpectedly started dumping on me), standing up, and literally embracing the rain. Like, I faced it, opened my arms, and let it completely engulf me. I accepted that it was wet, it was cold, and it was everywhere. Weirdly enough, I was fine after that, and picked a big bucket of blueberries. Now if I want to go outside and it’s raining, I tell myself I’m going to embrace the rain, and mentally welcome it instead of mentally complaining about it. This may sound wonky and weird, and I guess it is, but it works. I mean, I still don’t like the rain, but I can cheerfully deal with it now.

Psychology is cool, yo. Mind over matter.

Anyway, I embraced the rain and let my face get all wet and cold. And then I was good to go. I headed down to the outdoor wood burner to meet up with everyone else.

There were only a few checkouts left this morning, since many had already caught flights or started their drives the night before. Along with the apprentices, we huddled together as we waited for instructions. Since today wasn’t a work day – and it was pouring – Daniel assigned chores quickly and we dispersed. I fed chickens along with another checkout and one of the apprentices, and then Daniel had us accompany him over to the barn to throw hay at pigs (giving the pigs hay involves throwing large armloads of hay over the fence and into the pigpen. The pigs love it). As we walked quickly across the field, I was a little jealous of both Daniel’s nice rubber boots and wide-brimmed hat that kept the rain out of his face. I made a mental note that I might need to buy both of those things. Meanwhile, I hopped puddles when possible or just walked through them, trying not to wince as the icy water penetrated my boots.

The End of the Checkout

When the chores were finished, everyone – Daniel, the apprentices, and the checkouts – gathered around the brooder. There was a nice overhang that kept the rain off of our heads. After a couple minutes of small-talk I knew it was time to leave – I had a long drive, and the Salatins had their Sunday to get to. I shook Daniel’s hand, said goodbye to the team members that were there, and turned and walked slowly back to the cabin. I don’t normally walk anywhere slowly, but there was something about this place that made me want to linger, despite the rain that was still streaming down my face. 

I loaded my suitcase into my car, and then returned to the cabin for a final walk through. I removed my muddy boots and swept the floor, then placed the microwave – that I’d used to heat several cups of water – back on the wire shelf where I’d found it. I paused, looking around the cabin. It was weird to think that there was a chance I’d be coming back and actually living here…and a chance that I would never see the place again. I didn’t even know if I wanted to come back or if there was a remote chance that I would be invited to come back.

Okay, that wasn’t true. I totally wanted to come back, but I had PROMISED myself I wouldn’t think about that until I got to Ohio. So nyah.

Shaking my head, I said goodbye to the remaining checkout, got in my rusty old Buick Century and started my GPS app. The rain had started to let up, and I coaxed my car down the dirt road, following the confusing Virginia roads out to the highway.

The Way Home

Per the advice of another checkout from the great state of Michigan, I decided to take the West Virginia turnpike home, instead of going through Pennsylvania. He told me that the tolls were way lower, and that was good enough for me. The route was slower, and slightly further, but it wouldn’t cost $40 to cross one state.

As I drove, I became extremely grateful for this advice – West Virginia is the prettiest state I’ve ever driven through. The fall colors were vibrant, and the highway twisted and turned through the mountains for several hours. I won’t say I enjoyed the drive, since I was still stuck in a car, but I came pretty close as I sipped my giant gas station coffee and looked out over the trees. Also the tolls didn’t cost more than $10 in total, which was much better than $40. Plus, since I’d be entering Ohio through the southern border, I’d bypass the Ohio turnpike as well. Slower or not, if I went back to Polyface, this was definitely the route I would take. And maybe I’d leave a day or two early so that I could explore the West Virginia wilderness. After all, you can usually sleep in the woods for basically free. 

It was on the West Virginia highway that I broke my rule for myself – I was only one state away, not two states, but I started thinking about whether or not I wanted the Polyface stewardship.

…It was pretty obvious that I did.

Oh, I tried to talk myself out of it. Generally, that’s how I make decisions: I argue fervently against the thing I obviously want. If I run out of arguments and still want the thing, then I’ll probably go for it.

So I told myself how much work it would be, how I was too old for it, and how feeding chickens would probably get really boring when I had to do it every single day. I reminded myself that I wouldn’t really be earning money while I was a steward, and that the farming/homesteading dream was insane…especially now that I was by myself. I remembered how it felt to be soaking wet and cold this morning, and imagined working in those conditions from dawn to dusk. The Salatins had been up front about the demanding nature of the work, and I imagined being exhausted and sore with no end in sight. Then I added rain and cold to my imaginary scenario.

Nope, I still wanted to do it. I wanted it very badly. If anything, thinking about how hard it would be made me want it even more. 

I didn’t make a decision on my drive home; I promised myself I’d wait at least a week, and read that book Joel wrote about Polyfaces mentoring programs. But it was pretty obvious to everyone that if I was offered the stewardship, I would take it. And I discreetly started making a list of local farms that I could talk to about summer opportunities in the (likely) event that I wasn’t offered it because darn it, I wanted to learn this stuff. 

A Few Weeks Later

After returning from the checkout, going back to my desk job was brutal. I wanted to quit – after all, now that it wasn’t summer, I could substitute teach, even without a teaching license – but I didn’t want to make any moves until I knew where I’d be this summer. I kept busy, hiking and foraging on the weekends and doing odd jobs after my normal work day during the week. But I was still super antsy about hearing from Polyface.

Sometimes, I was firmly convinced there was no chance of being offered a stewardship. Other times, I felt like I’d gotten along well with everyone at Polyface and I might have a shot. Mostly, I tried not to think about it.

But, as you know, I was ultimately offered a spot as a steward…which I still can hardly believe. I have no idea why I got this opportunity considering my utter lack of knowledge about anything, but I am honored and grateful for it. 

In true cautious-Jess-fashion, I made myself hold my decision for 24 hours, but – of course – I accepted. Symbolically, I received the acceptance email on what would have been my anniversary with my ex-husband. I suppose this may have been God trying to keep me from thinking bitter thoughts because, as I reminded myself, I never would’ve had this amazing opportunity if he hadn’t been such an absolute butthole.

“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” ~Romans 5:3-4

Going Forward

My Polyface story is now on hold until May, when I actually start the stewardship. I’m super excited to learn, and I’m also excited to share my experience with all of you.

Since, as I mentioned, the Polyface team doesn’t work on Sundays (besides chores), I plan to write a post every Sunday, and have it post to the blog on Monday morning. They probably won’t be quite as long or as detailed as these ones were, but I’m looking forward to sharing my story. Of course, plans change, so if I miss a post…well, I’m sorry; I imagine I’ll be tired.

Before May, there will be fun homesteading posts, including a couple of recipes and possibly an interview or two with some local farmers. Be excited; it’s gonna be great.

Until next time,

~Jess

Supplemental FAQ
Q: Isn’t this going to be manual labor? Isn’t that bad?

A: Yes, it will be manual labor, and no, that isn’t bad. I am excited about the manual labor. If that sounds weird to you, then I don’t recommend that you work on a farm. There’s plenty of jobs in the world; do something that makes you excited. Personally, I’m super excited to have the chance to work outdoors and learn skills from people who are experts in the field. And I’m excited to be physically tired at the end of the day, and to be part of creating something and stewarding the land. I will work hard, yeah, but I’ll be doing so voluntarily and I’m pretty sure I’ll enjoy the heck out of it (in a semi-masochistic why-does-everything-hurt kind of way). It’s also not a factory assembly line – I’ll be doing a wide variety of things and exercising my brain as well as my body. For me personally, that is the best possible combination.

Q: Chicken poop, briers, and rain don’t sound fun. Why do you want to do this?

A: Because it’ll be awesome? See the previous question.

Q: What are you going to do after the stewardship?

A: No idea. Well, that’s not entirely true. I have a lot of ideas, but I’m not committed to any specific plan, and I won’t be until I actually do the stewardship program. A significant part of the program involves learning stuff, and I need to learn stuff to see how practical some of my ideas are.

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