it all starts with passion

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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?

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9 thoughts on “it all starts with passion

  1. Great post, and great point you’re making. And it makes the soap I’m using in the shower right now doubly special 🙂

    So if goats were the big passion of the time, how else could you have derived an income stream from them besides soap? Maybe that was the right choice for that time, because you wouldn’t have known until you experienced it, how much you didn’t enjoy soapmaking at that level of production. It seems to me from this story that the real passion was to get to the point where you could live on farm income alone. I think that continues to be true, because how many goats do you have now? 🙂 And you did quit your off farm job!

    1. I’m glad you picked up on that, and I kind of struggled to write that I initially failed at what I am advising others to do! You are right, the actual passion was indeed to quit my day job. (Busted!!) I was flailing about back then, trying to figure out how to do that. I shouldn’t have deluded myself about goats being my passion (they were more of an obsession,) because the only way to really make a living with them would be to do a raw dairy, which was/is illegal in WI, or to run a pretty sizeable soap business. If I’d been honest with myself I would have realized I only needed one goat to make all the soap I’d need, but that didn’t work to serve my goat hoarding desire back in the day. I had much to learn!

  2. Greetings from NW Oregon. I am so glad you found me so I could find you! Love your blog and looking forward to digging into your farm archives from the beginning.
    Remember… Life is a journey and that journey will take many twists and turns along the way. What fits now may not fit 3 years from now. There are no failures, only learning opportunities.
    Enjoy the journey, it is the best!!!

    1. thank you! Wise advice that I need to remind myself of here and there. I can be hard on myself when I can so clearly see what I did wrong in the past. Live and learn, but also enjoy it! Thank you!

  3. What a beautiful recollection.. and memory of how it used to be! I remember that milk stand!! 🙂 Khaiti.. I believe that whatever you decide to do, people will support you. You know this, eh? You could even start selling raw Highland cattle poo and people would start shipping it across the country– BECAUSE of your passionate mentality, your love for authenticity, your drive for helping others. People like you, sacrificial and humble, sassy and confident, are the ones who are going to change the world. (YES I SAID IT! Haha) Thanks for your continual donation of hard work and sacrifice.. you are an incredible example of who I want to be! xox

  4. There is a lot in this post to think about. Even if you are 100% passionate your product there may be a little time spent getting up to speed.

    What interests me most is the mention of your New Farmer Book. I enjoy your writing style and can’t wait to read it. We have been at it for a few years too but I still have everything to learn. Your recent comments on my blog have caused me to reevaluate positions I have taken in the recent past. Your book will certainly do the same. Can’t wait.

  5. Wow, thank you SO much, this made me smile after just having spent 3 hours working on it.Time for a break, and what a nice thing to read! I really appreciate your writing style, perspective and knowledge sharing!

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