Diversity is a word we often hear, frequently it is in relation to race, gender, religion or politics. That word takes on a whole new meaning here at the farm. We are a diverse farm in many ways. We don't rely on a single crop for our income, nor do we raise just one kind of animal. Our garden is constantly in rotation depending on the season. Early spring brings peas, rhubarb and lettuce, mid summer has peppers, corn and tomatoes and in late fall we'll be harvesting pumpkins, winter squash, onions and potatoes. Planting a wide variety of crops (many more than on the short list above!) not only gives us an income throughout a much greater part of the year, it is also a safety net for when weather or pests hit a crop. For instance, last year, we got virtually no tomatoes due to late blight that arrived fairly early in the season. While we weren't able to make much of a profit on them, it was fine because we had other things to offer. I also preserve what I can and am able to offer lots of pickled vegetables or jellies, and I'm having a lot of fun experimenting with making my own vinegar and mustards. It all helps to make a well-rounded assortment of home-produced goods for our customers! Another benefit to many varieties of plants is that we nearly always have something blooming, which is great for attracting beneficial insects, especially pollinators. A colony of wild honeybees is much more likely to take up residence near a field with a variety of plants that blooms from May through October than a monocrop field of acres of potatoes or soybean which is only in bloom for a few weeks out of the whole year. The bees, butterflies and other insects benefit from us, and we in turn reap the benefits of natural pollination without any input in time or money. It's a natural cycle that works beautifully.
Having a variety of animals also contributes to the diversity of our products: we sell pork, beef, lamb, chicken, turkey, eggs to eat and in the spring we can offer fertile hatching eggs, baby geese, ducks and chicks as well. Right now I have peachicks (baby peacocks) for sale as well as another batch of baby rabbits that will be ready to go in another month or so. Not only is a variety of animals good for our market, it's good for our fields. Cows have favorite plants in the pasture, as do horses, but they are not the same ones. Sheep eat plants down close to the ground while the goats prefer the taller brush and thorns. When a variety of pasture plants are eaten, none get overgrazed and it reduces the need, as well as the expense, of reseeding the pasture. Still, the pastures are important parts of the farm and do require periodic maintenance. I had noticed a corner of the pasture near the house had grown up in thistle. Now goats will eat this, but too much can overtake the pasture so I had every intention of going out and cutting them down to encourage the grass to grow. But, as so often happens on a farm, you get busy with other tasks and before I knew it the thistles were tall and blooming. As I went to feed my rabbits one evening, a spot of yellow caught my eye among the purple. My mother is an avid birdwatcher and I knew from years of seeing her feed them that this little drop of sunshine was a goldfinch, and that their preferred food is thistle seed. As I looked, three of them were carefully pulling the fluff from the flowers and eating the seeds. Nature loves diversity and everything, even plants we humans don't fully appreciate on "our" land, have a place and a purpose. Although I will cut the thistle down, it's nice to know when it reappears somewhere else (and it will!) that even something thorny and unpleasant to the touch can still bring such beauty and grace close by.