I have found that there are four basic things needed to become a farmer; time, land, money and big dreams. I’ve also found that it’s fairly easy to obtain two of these, three is a challenge and all four… well, we aren’t there yet! Today I will share my thoughts on two of these “farming basics”- time and land.
According to USDA standards we fall into the very small to small farm category. This means we are too small to farm full time, but too big to be easy to maintain. It’s really not the greatest position to be in. However, we purchased our farm from family at a great price and have been granted an excellent footing to farm. Agriculture is changing drastically as all of the world is with technology advances. Along with economic changes, we are challenged to farm in new ways. Farming is changing. If we want to maintain, we must adapt.
Living in the quiet and solitude of the country can be a dream, but everything comes with a price. Cows don’t feed themselves, hay needs to be cut, tractors maintained. You might not have noticed, but I most often refer to myself as a farmer’s wife, not as a farmer. This is not a sexist statement. There are LOTS of women farmers, I know some great ones. However, I am not a farmer. Nor do I have great desire to become a farmer. I support my husband. I help him when I can, but it is not my place of expertise. Therefore, he is the one that works the farm. On average he spends two hours per night on farm chores. Some days it’s more, like when he is cutting, raking and bailing hay or helping a first time cow give birth. Some days it’s less, when it’s recently rained and the cows are in the pasture, not needing extra food or water. But those days are rare. Two hours doesn’t sound like much to start. However, Ross’s day often looks like this: Wake up at 4:00am to go to work, he gets home around 4:30/5:00pm. Chores until 6:00pm when he comes to eat supper with his family, then back out to finish chores or work on whatever project that needs attention by 6:30pm. He gets back in the house at 8:30pm to tuck the kids into bed. If he has finished the farm work, he goes to bed about 9:00pm, if not, he keeps working. There are many days, especially during the summer and harvest times that he doesn’t come into the house until after midnight. That is not a schedule to maintain health of a person, relationship, or family. And yet, this is not atypical for a farmer. This is how they all function. They rise before the sun and go to bed long after it’s set. This schedule is hard for my children as they crave attention and time with their dad. It’s hard for our marriage as it leaves the house work and parenting to me. Ross helps me immensely whenever he can and is an amazing dad. He takes the kids on the tractor, has them working on equipment by his side and wakes early to do dishes. He takes on extra duties, I give things up and together we sacrifice. Our balance isn’t always good, but we continue to work as a team, to the best of our abilities to manage and maintain.
But it isn’t enough. There are not enough hours in the day to devote the time needed towards every demand. Our farm is a hobby farm because it does not yet generate the income needed to sustain it. As we watch on the news and read stories of the “small farm” being a thing of the past, we are living that reality. We are working hard to explore various options for our farm. New technology, new innovations, new ideas. It is what we must do if we wish to continue living on this land, building this life. My father-in-law recently said to us, “I never had to do any of this,” referencing our ideas for our farm. This is true, he didn’t. But life is different on a farm now, it’s more expensive, insurances are higher, more certifications are needed, and prices for our produce are at a disastrous low. It takes money to make money in this industry.
There is a saying that farmers live poor and die rich. This is referencing the amount of money that goes into land and equipment. I may not have much money, but I live a rich life. My children have space to run, breath and grow.
Do me a favor, go support your local farmer. Buy their sweet corn, cheese curds and grass fed beef. You will never have better, because everything that Farmer has, they have put into their goods. You won’t be disappointed, and you might just save their lives.