Feeling a bit like the boy who cried, “WOLF!,” having tried to quit once before, I’m sorry to say that I need to close the farm, for the time being.
This time I am resolved.
In March, it will have been five challenging years.
I have learned that food production is a curious and demanding business. Having had grandparents who farmed, I understood the amount of work involved, but, shame on businessman-me, I underestimated the capital required to build an efficient farm infrastructure. I also underestimated the re-training required for an industrial brain to become a farmer’s brain. Agricultural work-in-process is measured in months and requires both urgency and patience and faith… all at the same time!
For these reasons, most farms are multi-generational highlighting the tragedy of much of our agricultural policy over the last 50 years. By industrializing (get big or get out) food production we detached ourselves from our food producers. Without a human face and human accountability we came to accept the inferior food products dominating our store shelves, products that are celebrated by elaborate marketing programs, food products that fatten, weaken and sicken us — food products and processes that you would never tolerate from a farmer that you know, nor would a farmer you know attempt to foist such products on you.
And, at least partially, as a result of the false value of cheap food and the faulty values behind its flourishing, a farm business requires more than one set of hands working full-time and at least one off-farm income with health insurance in order to survive.
I am convinced, more than ever, that our food system is wrong. Fortunately, there is a gathering momentum behind the move to change.
I have tried to be innovative in my approach to the farm. I adopted many new/old ways of managing animals. I developed and invested in methods to reduce my farm’s carbon footprint while improving soil quality. But cleverness is no guarantee of success, even though the absence of cleverness assures failure.
I have toiled for five years, but industry is no guarantor of success. I have built buildings, renovated my house, improved a barn, built four greenhouse structures, opened up 25 acres of woods, built a wood-fired heating system, gardened, weeded, wept and written and sang (and talked to myself), maintained a milking herd of Jerseys, kept sheep (lawn ornaments, really), pigs, chickens, eaten and sold GREAT food, learned a ton and gone broke.
Cash IS King.
I have learned that it is easier to save money than to make money. You can’t just save your way to financial stability.
The two big cash drains are insurance (health, property and liability), and property taxes. If I was 30 years old, I would try to go without the health insurance. But at 51, I don’t think it would be wise. And not paying one’s property taxes, well, that is a path that leads nowhere… fast.
I am fortunate to have had an opportunity to do this work. It has been the most meaning-filled work that I have done in my life. The rewards of having people come to the farm and buy my products kept me going perhaps longer than I should have.
I am as committed as ever to the notion that our strength as individuals is derived from our sense of community and that a connection to the land, with its demand for shared labor and struggle and its reward of shared joy and sacrifice is the deepest and most durable component of creating community. It is ironic that the job that has required me to be as rugged-an-individual-as-possible has taught me the impossibility and fraud that the notion of the rugged individual is.
We are who we are because of who we all are.
I will stop milking the cows in the next week or two. I will sell them as soon as possible. I also have a fair amount of equipment that I will sell off. Stuff that I never quite got into production, but that would have been necessary for the conversion of raw materials into finished, value-added products.
I will hold onto a tractor and the implements that I have. There continue to be tasks necessary for the maintenance and improvement of the pasture land — it would be a crime to let it return to forest. It is a tool that should be handed to the next generation.
I will, over the next couple of months be finishing up the ell and getting some heat in the upstairs of the new building, as well as finishing up the grant for charcoal creation. These completed activities may open up some opportunity for cash flow generation.
I desperately hate the idea of giving up, but this is an opportunity to find other meaningful work that may, or may not, enable me to find my way back, refreshed, replenished and wiser.
I thank you all for the patronage, kindness and support you have provided me. I am happy to have been a part of a growing local food movement that can now step in and provide you with the products that you have been getting here.
One’s reach should always outstrip one’s grasp.
I am truly grateful and proud to have been a farmer for you and your families,