By Maggie Bowling, Old Homeplace Farm
As I begin my third year as a farmer, I find most of my thoughts divided between two major categories: farming is really hard, and farming is really rewarding. But it might help if I break those ideas down a little more. Here are the top five things I want you to know about being a farmer:
1) Local food advocates often tell people to get to know their farmer, but it is really nice for farmers to know their customers as well. As someone who is direct marketing the majority of my products, it is a joy to meet the folks who eat my food. It is heartwarming to hear what customers are cooking with food I’ve raised, to learn what their favorite vegetables or cuts of meat are, and to know that their toddler requested more okra after being offered ice cream. I love knowing that someone bought an extra dozen eggs because he recently bought a pasta maker, and that he has perfected is mother’s pasta sauce. I treasure these moments, and these relationships.
I believe that I am often more excited about my regular customers than they are about me (I’ve had to stop myself from trying to hug a few of them after not seeing them for a couple of weeks)! If you are someone who knows your farmer, just know this—your farmer values you too!
2) Farming is physically, emotionally, and financially difficult. Farming means long days; hot days; cold days; wet days; and many, many muddy days. Hopefully I’ll get better at delegating and time management as I grow as a farmer, but right now farming means that the words “weekend” and “evening” are not in my vocabulary from April-October. Farming means that during the main growing season, I probably won’t be attending any cookouts, I will not be preparing supper until after the sun has set, and I will be responding to emails and doing record keeping after 10 p.m.
Every day and every week is different, which can be invigorating, but the changes also come with many emotional highs and lows. While I try to keep all of my interactions with customers positive and only tell them bad news if they truly need to know, I also think it is important not to overly romanticize farm life, especially when other beginning or aspiring farmers may be listening. Not only do you have to have the “want” to farm, you have to feel the “need” to farm, because this is hard work.
3) Farmers don’t have an “off season.” No matter what type of farming someone does, farming is almost always a year-round job. As someone who is primarily growing vegetables, my winters are much slower, but I am still active.
I sell some veggies year round, in addition to the meat and eggs that I partner with my in-laws to raise and market. I harvest some produce during the winter, and I care for many flats of seedlings. I do record keeping from the previous year, planning for the year to come, ordering and picking up supplies, creating a marketing plan, researching, etc. I also attend conferences and workshops during the winter in order to improve my business.
And in the winter I rest. Remember those cookouts I skipped during the summer? I make time for friends and family during the winter, eat supper at a normal hour, read books, and even relax in front of the TV in the evenings.
4) Farmers are some of the smartest people I know. Farmers are constantly learning, planning, adjusting, and adapting. After our first year of college, one of my friends realized that the classroom wasn’t where she needed to be and left to pursue other opportunities. When she first decided to farm she told me that she felt a twinge at the thought of becoming a farmer without a college degree. She didn’t want to be part of the “uneducated farmer” stereotype. She now operates a prosperous farm business.
The truth is that while many farmers do have degrees, a degree does not indicate intelligence or knowledge, and farmers are as a whole are a pretty incredible group. Farmers are running businesses, and running a business takes a diverse set of knowledge and skills in addition to the expertise it takes to raise food successfully.
5) The farming community is a wonderful place to be. On days when I can feel my skin burning and the dirt on my forearms has turned to mud because I’m sweating so much, it is comforting to know that other growers are in the same situation. I’ve found so many wonderful farmers willing to share their stories and experiences in order to help my farm succeed.
The farmers in my family and in my community are always willing to lend equipment and knowledge. I really think that despite different farming philosophies and sizes, farmers can work together to strengthen our rural communities. When you’re with farmers, you are in good company.