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.
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.