Whew! The past 12-18 months have been an absolutely insane rollercoaster ride (even without that pesky pandemic thrown in)!
Allow me to take this opportunity to update you, my readers and farm customers, on what has been happening with me and with the farm.
In 2019, I began to seriously consider leaving the farm. A few different health issues had combined to pull me up short when considering the future of the farm and my own well-being. I decided that it would be wise to take a full-time off-farm job - something that would keep me in the world of agriculture, but that would be easier on me physically than the farm work to which I was accustomed. Taking some sound advice from the local agricultural fieldmen, I took a summer job to get a foot in the door so that I could eventually get a permanent job either with a county or with an extension organization.
By the end of the summer, I had realized a few things:
a) I am not cut out to deal with the general public as the major portion of my job.
b) It's okay to think creatively about how to make the farm work (I owe this realization to my friend and summer co-worker, Melanie).
c) If I take my overall health - including mental health - into consideration, the risk associated with staying on the farm is manageable.
I was also excited to see what I could do to change the farm to make it BOTH physically manageable and financially viable.
Here are the changes I settled on:
a) I would expand my direct beef sales.
Yes, the pandemic did help me out with this decision. I had just shut down my beef sales "forever" when the pandemic hit and people began searching for affordable sources of meat. Boy was I kicking myself for selling those last few steers!
Aside from the incredible expansion of my customer base thanks to the pandemic and associated beef shortage, I had a variety of reasons to keep my cows and continue selling the beef directly to consumers. The first reason is that my annual review of my financial statements revealed that my cattle were my most profitable enterprise. Secondly, I have learned in the past few years that cattle are a critical component to a healthy grassland ecosystem. Correctly managing my cattle and the land they graze will result in healthy soil, healthy plants, and healthy beef. Why would I want to take my cattle off the land and just watch it deteriorate? My third reason to keep my cattle is simply that I am addicted to having cows. That's a real thing. It's why old farmers don't retire.
|Delicious Ehrenholz beef crammed into my sister's freezer.
b) I would stop growing cereal grains and oilseed crops.
The physical strain involved with growing these crops is not worth it. Lifting heavy bags of seed, shoveling grain, and wrestling heavy pieces of broke-down equipment into position to fix them are all too hard on me. The lack of sleep associated with seeding and harvest make also make me weaker and less able to monitor my actual ability to accomplish such tasks without hurting myself.
In addition, the costs associated with growing these crops in a conventional system (which is what I am used to doing) are too high to allow for this enterprise to be financially (or environmentally) sustainable, especially in years when the weather takes a significant portion of the crop off my hands (as has happened every year since I took over the farm).
c) I would start a market garden.
This is one of the most exciting changes I have made! In spring 2021, I will transform a tiny hay field behind my house into a garden. I have spent weeks researching different vegetables, fruits, and herbs and how to grow them in a way that creates a healthy ecosystem to produce healthy food. A healthy ecosystem requires healthy soil microbes, a variety of healthy plants, and a wonderful diversity of pollinators and other beneficial insects. I feel incredibly overwhelmed thinking of the huge variety of seed I have purchased; I am overwhelmed with both excitement and a sense of inadequacy as I think of how much there still is to learn and how much work there is to do!
I will be selling produce box subscriptions for the 2021 growing season, and will likely sell any excess produce through word-of-mouth and social media. Maybe one day there will even be a little store on the farm.
Of course, the market garden will require me to do some heavy lifting and hard physical work, but it is a level of physical exertion that I think I can handle. I have also hired some seasonal employees to help with the physical work, which is another source of excitement and an overwhelming learning curve.
|My goal with the market garden is to create a diverse ecosystem.
I have no idea how this will all work out, but I look forward to finding out! Stay tuned to hear how these adventures go!