Monday, May 14, 2012

What's Next?

I feel like I am at a crossroads in my life.
I am very fortunate. I've had two careers, one which required a university degree, and one which requires a lot of fortitude, hard work and resiliency.
As I get older, I find I am not as resilient anymore.  I am getting a bit tired too..
My first career was stressful. I worked hard in the sense that I problem solved, put out fires and wrote report after report. Considering everything, I was well paid.
I bought my first house while at this career, had new cars when I needed them, and although I am not an extravagant person, I wanted for nothing at all.
I could go on vacations, buy things on a whim, and look after my family which arrived along the way.

Despite all this, the stress of the job took it's toll. Gratification from the job was limited and as I listened to that old Boston song "Peace of Mind" over and over again, I knew I had to get out.

I did get out.
Now I am doing what I love to do, but wondering if I can continue on.

I work long hours. I work hard physically. Many things that will ensure I make an income any given year are completely out of my control.
I don't make minimum wage, I have no job security or pension.
I could take on a part time job to ensure that I can continue doing what I do, but I have no time left to do this at the end of a day.
And like many others who do what I do, I am getting older.
The work is becoming harder.

I farm for a living.

I don't farm big. I farm small.
I don't have big machinery, big fields, quotas or crop insurance.

I have only myself to depend on and if I get sick, I'm up the proverbial creek without a paddle. My income dries up.

If the weather doesn't cooperate as it frequently doesn't, farmers take the loss on the chin.
This year alone  summer weather in March forced early blossoming and quick new growth of plants, only to have a hard frost wipe out blossoms and some crops for the entire year. The losses have been huge.

You would think that things for a small farmer would be easier now. Everyone wants to eat local, talk local and support local.
But I don't think that is how it is. Most people buy on price and always will.
I understand this.  If you go to a mega box store and can buy a head of broccoli for 99 cents, and I am asking $3.00 for mine, the choice may seem obvious.
If you actually knew what went into growing that head of broccoli, you might think that $3.00 is inexpensive. From seed to harvest is a journey, and growing food is hard work.
Most people don't know though and their reality is that they are not making enough money to spend it on higher priced food. It's survival, and when the bills have to be paid, cheap food it may just have to be.
But how do small farmers survive?
Providing our essential food, but earning less than minimum wage seems to me to be a very strange situation in modern day society. Are farmers not providing an essential service? Perhaps the most essential of all?
By way of comparison I needed servicing for my water system last week so I could wash my vegetables in very clean, ultra filtered water. One can't take a chance with these things.
Just to have the company show up was 60-$3 broccoli heads. That's a whole lot of time....months of growing to get somebody here to assess my water issues. Then the work, the parts....oh my. All of the sudden we're talking fields of broccoli. Egad.
Years ago I spoke to a high school class about what I do. There was mild, and not necessarily polite interest. I understand that because their world is pretty far removed from mine. When I was done, I asked the class if anyone was interested in farming for a living. Of course I wasn't surprised when the heads nodded no unanimously.
When I questioned the students why, the answers came in as expected. The work is too hard and the pay too poor. They knew nothing about growing food, but they certainly knew about the profession.
What are the answers? I really don't know.
I do know though that it is time to look carefully and realistically at what I do for a living and determine if I can still afford to do it, and have the energy to do it.
It's a good life, but it's getting tougher.

I wonder if other farmers feel this way, and if they do, what is the future of farming? 
I'll always grow my own food. But what about you?


Chez Nous Farms said...

Hi Linda. We feel your pain....

Niagara Terroiriste said...

Linda (& Chez Nous & other small-scale 'urban farmers'),

it's a race to be won by the tortoise, not the hare! There are victories being made, but the cost is still high (in all ways). Changing the ways that we have been accustomed to (or swindled into) living takes both patience & dedication. "Survival" living has been elevated beyond what is reasonable over the past century, and the whirlwind is slowly being harvested. I'll leave it at this for now...

Telling a New Story said...

Changing the ways we are accustomed to farming can make a big difference as well. Loving what you do and finding a way to make it work for you with less energy might be an answer. Take a look at this web site and if it turns your crank, email me at for more info. I was sold on them as soon as I saw the video about them. It doesn't hurt to look. Dianne

Anonymous said...

Hey Linda.

Jim and Shelley here from ShimJelly Farm.

How are those tomato's and peppers doing? :)

No worries Linda, this is just the low-point, it gets way better from here. :) This is a new year with many challenges, none of which you have not risen to in the past. I do agree though, it is pretty hard physically but, when I look at all the people spending a few grand to look fit, I kind of chuckle.

Love to you and your loved ones Linda. :)


Elva said...

Hi Linda!

Elva here from "Rhizome Farms"... As a young person just getting into a farming "career" these are things I always worry about too. I currently have 2 part-time jobs in addition to the farming, and so I have to allot my time around those jobs, and take on what i can in regards to farming. (which pretty much means 20+ hours part-time, and the rest of my time farming). Farming is definitely not an easy job (physically/emotionally demanding, long hours, etc.) i think the community food store Facebook comment said something like "farming is not the romantic notion" that people often think of, and i agree. The job security is something that i find very worrisome - no compensation, no pension, etc.

What is the future of small farming? As a newbie, I'm curious because I don't know what support is already available for small farmers, and I'm still finding out this information. I am passionate about what I do and love doing it so I hope that there is a future in it.

I also find it curious that there is small farming businesses which support the local communities, and then there are small farmers who take their produce very far away to fetch a better profit for their produce. Maybe this is necessary, but I personally don't think it helps the future of food... to each their own (and perhaps my views on producing and distributing foods locally are idealistic and naive...)

Thank you for opening up this dialogue. Maybe us as small farmers/producers can get together and have a chat sometime!

PS: I like the comment above "it is pretty hard physically but, when I look at all the people spending a few grand to look fit, I kind of chuckle"

Linda said...

Thanks for the comments everyone, and for reading. These are not new thoughts for me..they are certainly ones I have had for a few years. It is interesting to me that I have had comments and phone calls about possibly the need for me to business differently. I am open to listening, but the problem is not how i do business I believe, but the fact that this business is farming, and small farmers everywhere face the same problems. Make no mistake, I love what I do, love my land and love the people I have met. I've diversified and been creative with my business, and scrambled.
I'm not wanting any sympathy-please don't take it as that. I'm fortunate. But I am tired.
Elva-I'd LOVE to sit and talk with you. Let's do that!

Anonymous said...

A co-worker was recently explaining WWOOFING to me. Is this something you've ever thought of?
Food for thought? Karen

Linda said...

Hi Karen, Thanks for reading.
Yes-I have had wwoofers here and had mixed experiences. I find it is hard to depend on that as consistent help...

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