Cross…Farm? Diet and Exercise for Alternative Agriculture.

People always ask me, “Chris, how do you get it all done?” then say, “It must be nice to be so young!”

First, I don’t get it all done.  Though it used to sound old, it is nice to be 35.    There are things we can do to make the work more manageable at any age though.  First I have to be strong enough and take care of my health.  Second I have to eat right to have enough energy and take care of my health.  Finally, I have to take care of my health.  You with me so far?


We’ve been tightening our belts this spring.  Our winter insulation has been obliterated by our work routines.  If I don’t tighten my belt my pants fall off.  Nobody makes shirts that fit me well.  My large shoulder/small belly ratio is far outside of the sizes offered by mainstream manufacturers.  The result is my shirts fit my shoulders and arms well but at the waist it looks like I’m wearing my dad’s shirt.

Though this isn’t saying much, I may be the strongest I have ever been.  But I’m not as healthy as I have ever been.

Years ago, when we lived in town, we were avid CrossFit athletes.  A typical workout is something like run set distance, lift heavy objects, climb a rope, rinse and repeat, completing the work in a minimum of time.  The workouts vary greatly so your body never quite adjusts to the workload.  It’s always hard.  The time factor is genius as it forces you to crank up the intensity as you compete with yourself in an effort to get better.

CrossFarm (lol) requires we walk, run or bike 1/4 mile to the broilers on pasture carrying a feed bag or pulling a wagon loaded with feed bags, lifting and pulling chicken tractors, carrying buckets of water and returning to the house…often for time as we try to beat a coming rainstorm, sunset or other deadline.  Like the Clean and Jerk, I have to lift a heavy bale from the floor, lift it onto my forearms and launch it into the air accurately placing it high on the pile fast enough to stay ahead of the my father and son who unload the wagons.  We have to run through the brambles, up and over the hills, over and over again trying to find that silly pig that escaped when we were trying to load the trailer for market.  We squeeze, grip, jump and roll when the horse we are riding bare back decides it’s time for him to kill us…lol.  There are shooting events, late night electric fence troubleshooting and all-night hide-and-go-seek games with the cows.  There are ample opportunities for strength on the farm.  Intensity is added by the fact that there is so much to do and so little time to get it all done…or when we suddenly find ourselves being outrun by a 400 pound bulldozer/pig…that decides to turn and run after us!  But…

Exercise is not enough!

The work accomplishes only a portion of the change.  We are busy.  We do work hard.  But we also try to eat well.  In fact, that’s why we started farming.  We were looking for sources of clean food and found the best solution was to raise it ourselves.  We recently fell into the busy trap and found ourselves selling the best chicken in the world to our customers and stopping for a pizza between church and chores.  Late nights lead to sleepy mornings and there’s nothing quite like a sugary, caffiene-laden soft drink to get you started in the morning.  It’s a real problem for me.  Add to it the cookies and desserts that accompany social gatherings and suddenly I’m not feeling 100%.  My allergies are acting up.  I just feel run-down.  I’m strong, yes.  I’m burning calories, yes.  But, I’m not healthy and my runny nose is the proof.

CrossFit forced us to eat well.  If we didn’t eat well we wouldn’t be able to recover between workouts.  When we were in the Zone my allergies disappeared, my blood pressure dropped, my waking heart rate was low, my cholesterol was awesome.  Recently I got busy and allergies have returned.  I’m realizing the shortcuts I have been taking in recent months come with a cost.  It’s time to clean up my diet.  Not just to skip the sugar but to add in lacto-fermented foods like sauerkraut.

I know better than to treat my body this way.  I’m not living up to my own expectations.  This post is part confession, part line in the sand and, I hope, part encouragement.  Want to feel better?  Modify your diet and add in a dose of intensity to your activity.

Changing your diet

We found Nourishing Traditions to be the best challenge to our notions of a healthy diet.  Their recipes are historically normal but are nothing you’ll read in current magazines.  Also, spend some time researching the Paleo diet.  Both of these will rock your diet and may help you tighten your belt as well.  Most of it comes down to avoiding processed grains.  It turns out Cheerios aren’t part of a nutritious breakfast at all.  Breads, grains and pastas may not be the best things for your health…though the government recommended them as the base of our diet for years.  Pasteurized milk may not be such a good idea.  Everything is upside down.

Energy Levels and Rest

I need to maintain a high level of energy.  I have a full-time job and a full-time farm.  That means I have to make time to rest.  Yesterday (Sunday), I got up early and did my normal chores then I took a nap.  After my nap I went to lunch at my in-laws…and took another nap.  I was feeling so good after that I picked up our milk at the dairy then drove home to watch a little Star Trek with the kids…and took a nap.  Then it was dinner, a few more chores and an early bed time.  If I don’t make it a point to rest on the weekend I risk shorting my employer, my chickens or my children.  Any of those would be a disaster.  Many of us fall into the trap of maintaining social relationships and work by sacrificing sleep.  That’s not sustainable.  Weather managing pastures, work schedules or intense workouts we have to allow for recovery and rest.

Work with intensity, eat right and rest.  If any of these are lacking you will suffer.  Your farm will suffer.  Your customers will notice.  Finally, if you want to try CrossFit scaled for mere mortals, scaled versions of the workouts can be found here.  Thank God because I’m not as young as I used to be.