Chapter 29 – balance

I had a tendency towards being very sociable. I loved my friends, and they’d been so supportive as I began my journey. At my old place, when I’d just been starting to farm, but not relying on it as my sole occupation, I would have people over all the time. I loved sharing the homesteading life, but the farm wasn’t running my life at that point. I was “farming,” but it all happened before and after my day job- in the mornings, nights and weekends.

This whole new venture between Andrew, I and our farm was unknown, new and sacred. Pretty much right away, we could tell that balancing doing our jobs as farmers, while being social with friends and visitors, was going to be a challenge. It was a difficult transition for me – in order to succeed, we’d have to really hunker down and get serious. This wasn’t just fun and games, it was now our livelihood.

Balancing our days was also an overwhelming and unexpected change. Without the pressure to do all the farm things and then head off to work, we were soon learning we had to give ourselves some structure and work on planning out our days and our projects together. Farm Meetings began. As we prepared breakfast and chugged coffee, we took notes of all that was on the agenda for the day, and all the things to that were upcoming to talk through and plan for and there were the daily chores. Water to haul, feed to carry here and there, turkey babies to tend to in the bathroom, eggs to gather and clean, hay to pull off the big round bales, seedlings to start and coddle in the grow room and hoophouse, baby goats to play with, cheesemaking workshops through Community Ed to prepare for, goats to milk, food to cook, pigs to feed, and several days worth of grains to soak for their feed.

As soon as spring arrived, we’d be preparing the garden, setting up raised beds for seeding and transplanting our little planties, mulching, weeding, then our second batch of turkey babies would arrive, as well as the 70 broiler chicks, and the first group of turkey babies would be ready to move outside.

 

Update March 2014
“the small scale myth”

This has been a rough winter, and the winter blues have been finally hitting us in the past week. Something about 3 feet of snow, plumbing in the house freezing, and subzero temperatures that just won’t quit is bringing out the hopeless feelings. Besides all the bad stuff that comes with cabin fever and our animals’ comfort and productivity, honestly, we’ve been struggling over how to make this farm bring in income.

As I’ve been writing this book here on my blog, detailing my farm dream beginnings, and our beginnings here on our farm, I recently hit a wall in recounting my story- because I am dreading reviewing all the failures and huge mistakes we made in 2011 through 2013. The biggest failure, and I can see it clearly now (and this is the stuff we’ve been talking about in our winter doldrums) is perpetuating the “small scale myth.” It was a HUGE mistake because we believed in it. We felt we could raise small amounts of good food for people and make a living. We did raise a lot of food, but we did not raise enough of it.

The trouble with choosing small scale farming as your dream occupation is that it is not a lucrative, or even a minimum wage, business plan. Food has a limit in how much people will pay, and the number of people who will pay a fair price for really good food is limited as well.This is where we’ve been stuck. WE HAVE TO GROW. Otherwise, we will not be able to afford to continue being farmers. We cannot stay “small scale” unless we want to get day jobs to pay for our farm expenses, and then, what is the point?

Scaling up is scary. Risk is scary. Spending every last penny you have on a hope is scary. But we HAVE to do it. There is no choice.

My husband and I watch this show on Hulu called Shark Tank, and it’s fueled the entrepreneur side of our farming dream. It’s taught us how to measure risk on good ideas. It’s taught us that food businesses have to be at a bigger level of production because food products are so much more expensive to produce than a cheap gadget made overseas.

So as we gear up and figure out how to maximize our farm in 2014, I want to assure you that the small scale ethics we have will not go away. I believe that we can have a small scale mentality even as we scale up. Raising lots of good food with integrity and the utmost care for the animals and land IS possible. We’re going for it.

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9 thoughts on “Chapter 29 – balance

  1. I am so enjoying your stories…farming is just the hardest thing in the world..success depending on so much more than desire…weather, weather, weather and world politics!
    I grew up in a rural, agricultural based, area and I understand your frustration and hope very well. Looking forward to the next chapter.

  2. Teresa, your message is so endearing to me today, thank you. I would really like your advice- should I keep soldiering through the beautiful and hard times as they occurred, or leap forward into the present? I’m up in the air right now, and would love to know your opinion!

    1. It is true, farming is not for the faint of heart or the lovers of cash in hand. We work SO hard and yet are still at “room and board as pay” level, which isn’t quite good enough when you have health insurance, car repairs and other things come up, we’re gonna keep trying.

      1. Than you Jenn- that is a very thorough and great article- it’s recountings of raw milk farmers and their victories which have made raw milk so alluring to me!

  3. This is the dilemma that really sorts the sheep from the goats isn’t it? Not that it’s bad or wrong to be one or the other, but you do end up one side of the fence depending…I think you’re correct, that small scale ethics can be maintained on a commercial scale, if done right. I’m not near that junction point yet, but I have friends who are, and it’s a little scary. To grow more food requires more labour which means more workers – they need to be paid. Inputs have to be paid for – all of that before any money comes back from produce sales. It’s probably the labour issue that sucks so many farmers into automating, leading them down the path that isn’t labelled “small scale”. But many farmers do make it work.

    Joel Salatin is probably a good example here. The way he raises beef, pork and chicken is the same way now as it was when he was doing just a few hundred broilers, a dozen beef and 2 pigs. He’s scaled up the quantities, but his methods are the same. The fact that he’s selling pork to the Chipotle in his area, as well as to restaurants, buying clubs and direct off the farm makes him commercial, but doesn’t take away from his small scale ethics. If he were selling beef that was marketed through Whole Foods throughout the US? That would violate his mantra about local, which would step outside his version of small scale ethics.

    He’s not alone out there. There are lots of farmers with small scale ethics who are making a decent living. Not rich. But decent. You can do this. And I look forward to reading about i.

    1. This is such a lovely comment for you to have taken the time to write, I really, really appreciate it! I can assure you we are on course, holding course and growing and succeeding. It can be so slow, and I have to admit I am extremely impatient.But every year the amount of food we grow increases, our skill level increases, and our sales improve. Hold the course, hold to the ethics….I’m working on a series of articles for new farmers for ACRES magazine right now, so it’s fascinating to review our failures and what i wish i had known then, and then try to help others skip past parts of the learning curve of the “brand new farmer” mentality. Scale up, but don’t scale down on the important things in order to make it, otherwise, what’s the point. We need to farm and follow our hearts too.

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