We all have that “When I was your age” story. That story we heard throughout our young lives so many times that we eventually reached a point of being able to recite it back to our parents as soon as we heard the cue “When I was your age…” Most often it was preceded by our complaints over having to do some chore or not being able to participate in some activity.
“But why do I have to mow the lawn? Why can’t I go swimming?”
“When I was your age…”
Most people are familiar with the “Walk uphill, both ways, in the snow” version of this story. My father had that beat hands down. Whenever my young self had the audacity to complain about ANYTHING, I heard the following tale.
“When I was your age, I had to wake up before the sun rose. I had to climb the mountain, through the woods, all by myself, to milk the COWS. Then I had to carry the milk back up the mountain (????) so the rest of the family could have breakfast. After that, I had to climb the mountain again to go to school.”
Now, I need to point out that my father was born on the Portuguese island of Faial in the Azores. These are volcanic Islands and I somehow got it into my head at an early age that they must have been very active volcanoes, hence the fact that no matter where my father had to go he had to “climb the mountain” to get there. I guess I just imagined that the volcano kept erupting and so the mountain just kept getting taller and so things kept winding up higher up the mountain.
Fast forward to my adult life. In my thirties I became very interested in the homestead/self sufficiency movement that was beginning to gain popularity with people such as myself who were tired of working all the time to pay for things we didn’t really need. I wanted that simpler life of raising my own food and livestock and being more in control of my minimalist life. Since I couldn’t afford to go off and buy a farm straight away I started researching the best way to go about it.
I started experimenting with germinating seeds and raising a chicken here or there for eggs. I read extensively about all aspects. Off grid living versus grid life. What types of vegetables should I grow? What types of fruits? How much land did you need and what was the least amount you could get by on? What types of livestock should I raise and to what purpose? This was the development stage of The Tiny Farm. This is when the dream was born.
On the topic of livestock I began to develop a plan to which my interest in photography and my photography partner Brooke contributed a great deal. We decided to create a farm that doubled as a living photography studio. We’d offer a unique setting for family and child portraits by creating an environment that people could come to and interact with the livestock while being photographed. We also wanted it to be a learning experience, where children might gain some knowledge of farming.
Because we wanted children to be a primary focus of the farm, we wanted all of the elements of the farm to be child friendly, and decided to utilize miniature animals for our livestock to reduce the amount of fear the animals might cause in children. Through my research I’d learned that this was actually a common practice among small scale homesteaders. A typical family often owns miniature livestock that can be better maintained on smaller plots of land. Brooke’s family helped prod the plan along by allowing me to move onto their land and utilize an unused portion of the property to begin building The Tiny Farm.
So what does this have to do with my father’s “When I was your age” story and the recent change to the name of our farm? Well, as we began to clear the land and acquire our animals, I was surprised that my father was displaying a great deal of interest in our progress. We spoke on the phone often and in person whenever I visited him in south Florida. It was during one of those visits that dad revealed a few facts about that familiar old story.
First off, the reason for everything requiring a trip up the mountain was clarified. It turns out that they lived on the side of a volcano. Most everything else was located at the bottom, or on the other side of the volcano. Because of this, the act of leaving home DID in fact require at some point, a climb up the mountain. Dad’s morning ritual actually DID require climbing up the mountain to get to the other side, and then climbing BACK up the mountain to get back home, before climbing the mountain again to go to school.
Also, I mentioned that we were planning to eventually purchase a miniature cow and that it was common practice for small farms to utilize a single cow for milk and occasional meat. My father absently replied, “We always had a cow when I was growing up.”
A cow. One. I was stunned. All my life I’d heard and remembered hearing “milk the cowS. Plural. Because of this I had always imagined my father as a child having to milk numerous beasts every morning. Although the number varied, I never imagined less than a dozen. How many times had I wondered how a child had managed to milk a hundred cows before breakfast? How often had I imagined a row of fifty or more cows standing in line waiting impatiently to be milked?
No, it was just one.
In Portuguese, this would be Uma Vaca, but we decided to use a more direct and (we believed) easily understood phrase. In honor of my father who passed away earlier this year, and despite the fact that we do not yet have our miniature cow, we changed the name to UniVaca – The Tiny Farm.