I spent $200 this month to bail out my four pigs. They got out of their electric fence and wandered 1.5 miles until they were almost in the neighboring town. It took two towns of animal control, the fire department, and public works to coral them into a trailer, all while I was blissfully unaware and happily selling produce at the farmers’ market. I arrived home after dark in a monsoon of rain to find them missing and wasn’t able to get them back (after rebuilding the fence, renting a Uhaul, and doling out several checks) until the following afternoon. And I’ve never been so embarrassed.
I had hoped this would be a story I’d laugh about later – like earlier in the summer when the pigs escaped for a swim in the neighbor’s pool while I was at church. But this story spread like wildfire around our small town and I still find myself turning pink when someone approaches me to ask about it.
Part of it is loss of pride over my perfectly well behaved pigs, which come when they’re called and are exceptionally good listeners. The other part is that this incident shed light on how unprepared I am for the “unexpected” aspects of farming. My ability to think quickly and creatively always gets me by and out of trouble, but I’m used to being READY. Too often I’m spending my time putting out fires (like having to repair the lawn mower every time I use it), instead of preventing the fires from starting in the first place (and just having the lawn mower serviced so that it’s in good working order, for example). I’ve been getting better, but sometimes the day-to-day tasks overwhelm my ability to work towards future goals.
My preparedness for starting a farm also comes as a reminder when I organize my monthly finances. I’ve been doing well keeping my anticipated costs under budget (things like grain and electricity). But then there is a growing list of items I never budgeted for but are essential to making things run smoothly. I spent months developing the budget with the help of Farm Service Agency, other farmers, my own records, and lots of internet research, but there are still so many things that slipped through the cracks: both small items (like sawdust for brooding the chicks) and larger ones (like coolers and a larger chest freezer…and escaped pigs). Everyone warned me that things would cost more than I anticipated (even without knowing any dollar amounts), but two house renovations and a new farm later, all of those unanticipated extras are starting to add up.
I could spend all day worrying about money, but I don’t concern myself with it. I have rain to worry about and predators and poor carrot germination. Money comes and goes so quickly on the farm and I feel surprisingly joyful that I’ve finally spent my hard-earned savings on the one thing I’ve been working towards. I live modestly and work endlessly, but I also feel healthier than I ever have, spend more time with my family than I could have wished, and eat like a queen most nights.
The other good news is that we’ve expanded our MemberShare program for the fall (from 15 members to 25) and have a waiting list. People are excited about our food and we’re excited to have built such an incredible little community around our farm. Fall is here and our workload is beginning to lighten as animals and vegetables are harvested and not replaced with new ones. We’re on the right track, even if we’re lagging behind.
Next week I will celebrate my one-year anniversary of “retiring” from my farm manager’s job to pursue my dream of having a farm of my own. It’s hard to be disappointed that not all of my lofty first-year farm goals were met knowing that overall I have accomplished more than I ever really thought was possible. I’ll get through this winter by doing whatever I need to, just like I always have. And I know that no matter how prepared I am, something unexpected will always challenge me and force me to improve. It’s all part of the adventure.