Milking one of my first goats, Sesame, on the porch of my old place in 2006
This “morning,” I was up at 3:30am to stoke the woodstove, as we’ve learned it won’t keep the house warm over an 8 hour sleep. At least not when it is -12 out overnight. I wonder, did we do the 8 inch insulation, or is it just 6″? I think it’s 6 because we were pinching pennies during the building process. An unwise decision, and although I know it would have cost us a lot more to make the walls thicker, in our extreme climate I think we need it. Oh well, next time. (Ha!)
Normally I would have stoked the stove and gone back to bed, but this morning my mind was busy, so I just stayed up, got the stove roaring, took off my socks and sat on the couch in leggings and a tshirt, drinking coffee and working on my book project.
This is my 3rd winter on the farm when I haven’t had to go to a job. I intentionally sought this out, this independence was part of what I wanted as I pursued my dream to become a real farmer. Following this dream hasn’t been and never will be easy in any way, shape, or form, but it does feel like a monumental achievement to just be here. Most people who farm also have day-jobs, because it’s SO hard to make a living raising food. I still don’t get a paycheck, but we have just enough in the bank to get through winter expenses and then as the ducks begin to lay again and our Meat CSA deposits come in, that will help us cash flow purchasing the chicks, poults, goslings and cattle in the spring (ok, I am looking for Highlands already, but that’s just in case something excellent comes up.)
If I were to start this farming adventure all over again, knowing what I have learned over the past 8 years, where would I begin? This is what I am trying to address right now, working on the manuscript for my New Farmer Book project. I want to help others pursue their farm dream. This is about as maternal as I’ll get towards people, wanting to help guide the new and young around obstacles and deterrents, prevent them from making the same mistakes I did.
My first mistake was not authentically following my passion, but I didn’t know better. Like that one uncle who gets into all of those pyramid marketing schemes, I leapt blindly at any money-making opportunity I could think of related to my tiny farm, because I was just so desperate to quit my day job and become self-employed. This was in 2006, in my very beginnings of trying to be a farmer. If I had focused all my energy instead on the one or two things that I was the most passionate about, I may have moved along my farming path more quickly. At the time, goats were my passion, and so I decided that I’d focus on making soap from their milk. The soap turned out awesome, but I didn’t really like making soap.
A farmer friend had told me to actually plan how to becoming a full time farmer, I should first figure out how much money I needed to live on, and then base my business plan on that number. My bills for the year were around 20,000, just to pay my mortgage, taxes and bills, I lived (and still do) very frugally. So, based on needing that amount, I needed to make and sell 8,000 bars of soap a year @ $5/ea = gross sales of $40,000, with a net profit of around $20,000 would be enough to be a fulltime farmer. Perfect! Except- I loved the goats, not making soap. And the other “but” was that I was not budgeting in anything to pay myself, another classic newbie mistake.
I didn’t know how to actually make and sell that many bars of soap, and I didn’t feel passionate about the soap, so how was I going to sell it without that twinkle in my eye? I mean- it’s good soap, but not what gives me utmost joy and pleasure. Choosing something I wasn’t ga-ga bananas over was the wrong choice as I tried to start my farmer career, it’s perfectly clear to me now. I didn’t want to make that much soap, on a scale that would provide me with a living. I loved my goats, loved milking them and I loved having a legal way I could use their milk to make something to sell (versus doing an illegal raw dairy.) The reason I didn’t get anywhere fast with my initial attempt was that I picked something I was not 100% truly passionate about. Because of this experience, “following your passion” is the beginning premise of my book for new farmers. What do you think about your farming endeavors? If you buy from farmers, do you ever find yourself wanting to buy and more from the ones who are the most genuinely passionate about their products?