By Hannah Becker, Willow Springs Farm
There are pros and cons to every endeavor, and farming is no exception. As a first-generation farmer, I did not have ancestral insight into the world of agriculture; the majority of my education came via trial and error. Looking back on my experiences thus far, here are the top five things I think new farmers should know:
Farming is expensive
I’d always heard, “it takes money to make money”—well this entrepreneur’s adage is certainly relevant to farming! The cost of land required to make a living is often seven figures. Property improvements can cost thousands more. And those costs will only get you a place to farm—what about seeds and/or livestock? Equipment alone can cost more than the average American’s mortgage (and they give you 30 years to pay that off!).
Farming is expensive, especially for us first-generation folks. It took me several years to accept the endless stream of zeros behind the initial investment for farming—more money than I thought I’d even make in a lifetime! Don’t be daunted; we’re all in the same boat. First generation farmers have a unique set of challenges, and startup capital tops the list.
Farming is dangerous
Noted as one of the most dangerous professions, farming is no joke. Growing up a tomboy, I’ve always considered myself pretty invincible. Sprains, cuts, and broken bones accompanied my years of playing sports; however, the risks that often accompany farming pose unique dangers. Much of my farm work involves beings miles away from civilization with no cell service. Just me, my equipment, and my animals. I can attribute a broken leg, muscle tears, and a back injury to my agricultural efforts. Thankfully I’ve never suffered a more serious injury, but I’m always seeking to minimize risk.
Farming takes a family
I’m really fortunate to be married to a man who shares my farming dreams. My husband has derailed his career and delayed the acquisition of many material things to ensure Willow Springs’ development. He’s always the first to help out with bushhogging, fence mending, and sick animals. He understands the demands a farm presents, and he supports all our efforts. Maybe you don’t have a supportive family; that’s ok. Develop a family around your farm: your neighbors, your customers, your community leaders. To be successful, every farm needs a “family,” supportive people who will be rooting for you even through the bad years.
Farming will stretch you
It was 4 degrees Fahrenheit and a winter storm was blowing across the prairie. As the only people within 5+ miles, it was up to my husband and me to repair the barn roof before the surprise storm ruined hundreds of dollars’ worth of hay. Straddling rafters 50 feet in the air while trying to keep sheets of tin from blowing off in the wintery gusts, my crippling fear of heights had no place. Mid-panic attack, I pounded roofing nails and asked myself if this farming adventure had been one big mistake. With the barn sufficiently sealed and hail coming down, I hunkered down in a stall corner and threw up. I hate heights.
Farming will take you out of your comfort zone. It’s just you and Mother Nature—a relationship that fluctuates between symbiotic and full blown enemies. Rising to the occasion will stretch you, push your limits, and give you confidence to take on the world.
Farming is awesome
Theodore Roosevelt said, “Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” While I may not have the six-figure salary or half-a-million-dollar home enjoyed my many of my business school classmates, I’m pretty excited to be “working hard at work worth doing.” Despite the massive investment, the physical risks, and hours of hard work with no guarantee of return, I still believe farming is the most amazing profession. The pride I feel in creating something out of nothing is worth every drop of sweat, blood, and tears I shed over this labor of love. Farming isn’t for the faint of heart. It’ll test you and everyone around you. You’ll be pushed to the max, and then some—but farming is awesome.