Saturday, January 8, 2011

So you wanna be a farmer?!

 I grew up on a farm on Highway 6 North, in what was Flamborough in Southern Ontario.. West Flamborough at that.

Now it is all the City of Hamilton, but if you live there I know it is still Flamborough.  City of Hamilton...pfft!!  Like saying Wellandport is the City of St Catharines.  Double pfft!!

When my mom and dad sold our family farm in 1989 after deciding it was all a bit too much at their age, I was devastated.  One of my worst dreams.  Like when you think your parents will never die.  Like when you think your childhood home will never be sold. Then those things happen.

I racked my brain for a solution as I walked through the fields and bushes one of the last time.  But there was no solution. I couldn't buy the farm, it was beyond me.
And a part of me is still on that farm.  The part that feels an extreme peace and calm; a feeling that I am whole.  No other place on earth does that for me.

And now I am in Niagara, outside the sleepy village of Wellandport.  Most people don't know Wellandport. Even lots of people who live in the same region.  After a long stint as a harried and stressed out social worker, I try to make my living on the land.  If I could in fact survive here on my own without my husbands' income is unknown.  Most farmers have partners who work off the farm, or they themselves do.

I've done okay.  I'm not rich, but I can generally sell what I grow.  And clearly it isn't about the money anyways.

For me, it is a bit of an affair of the heart. No, I'm not on the family farm, but I'm working outside and I love the physical work.  I love "my guys", I love heirlooms  and I appreciate the new people I've met as a result of this career change.  A diverse group to be sure.  It is a heck of a lot of work though.  And if you are thinking about getting into the food growing business, you need to be realistic about quite a few things.

I always marvel at people who go into farming and growing food who didn't grow up on a farm. For me love of the land is my history.  What a huge life change if that isn't part of your knowledge base and background.  I'm intrigued where this desire comes from.  I think it is wonderful.

Over the years I've had lots of people stop in and talk to me about what I do, with the thought that they would like to do something similar.  That too has been a diverse group of people.  A lawyer who was wanting to get out of the city and grow organic food.  There have been teachers, professionals of all stripes, lots of university students and people who have grown other products.

I don't pretend to have all the answers.  I mean, how could I?  Every year there are new challenges, and you just continue to learn as you go.  I had a fellow here today, and this is what I told him.

I think the first is to be realistic.  Recognize your limits and the limits of the profession.  I know the more I  take on,  the more people I need to help me, the more I pay out in wages and supplies and the more headaches I have.  Economy of scale doesn't seem to apply to what I do.

Find your niche.  Be known for one particular thing and do it well.  Specialize in one thing, but have a diversity of products.  This will carry you through the seasons.

My best investments?  My hoophouses and my Troybilt tiller.  Then of course my little John Deere tractor! Love that tractor.

Know your markets before you grow anything.  Know that you can sell what you want to grow before you even grow it.  Really do your research.

And some things go without saying.  It is hard work, the hours are long and tiring and sometimes the pay sucks.  Especially if the weather ruins everything, machinery breaks down or the help is unreliable.

Feel good about the product you sell and only sell the best.  That is your reputation. Under-promise and over-deliver.

But most of all love what you do.  Born in the county or the city, I don't think you can farm if your heart isn't in it.  Whether a born country girl or a transplanted country girl the love of the land needs to live in you.  And in the end, love of the land is the payoff too.


Buttons said...

Hello I found your blog and was blown away by this post. I farm in Ontario also and I love farming. I love to get my hands dirty and you are right about there being nothing else like it.
My husband and I are getting older the farm is getting harder but we are trying to work around all that. I hope to keep it for our girls.Your blog made me tear up thinking of what you went through. Check out my blog and you can see what we do. Thank you for the great post. Later

Linda said...

Thanks for your comment and for reading. Selling the farm was a life changer for me...but you can't take the farm out of the girl, i guess.
I enjoyed reading your blog!
take care on these chilly winter days,

Heavy Petal said...

Hi Linda,

Great post, and good food for thought. I admit to being one of those who has a romantic notion of farming without any real experience to back that up. For me, I think it comes from loving to grow food, and wishing that I had a lot more space to do it.

Thank you so much for the 'Amish Pimento' pepper and 'Cincinnati Market' radish seeds - can't wait to try them!