My first year farming: the highs, the lows, and the future

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By Hannah Becker, Willow Springs Farm

Preparing for this final Bootstrap Blogger post, I went back through my earlier posts and was immediately reminded of just how far we’ve come in a matter of months. The first few posts were all about digging fence postholes and scrounging for cash, and now we’re on to funny piglet stories and taking orders for grass-fed beef. When you’re down in the “day to day trenches,” it’s easy to get lost in the overwhelming list of farm chores and forget to celebrate the mini-successes along the way.

I encountered a few “oh god” moments over the past year:

  • A barn-building back injury turned into lots and lots of doctors visits and physical therapy.
  • Juggling off-farm professional opportunities (income producing) with farm responsibilities (not yet income producing).
  • Budget cuts meant the loss of a contract employment opportunity that had been covering my farm expenses (forcing us to dig deeper in our already empty pockets).
  • It turns out piglets are Houdini-like escape artists.

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And I made some wonderful memories:

  • Sharing our farming story with half-a-dozen community groups and agriculture publications.
  • Feeling the pride of owning a self-funded (and debt FREE!) farm for a full year.
  • Joining Kansas Farm Bureau’s Ag Advocacy SPEAK team.
  • Sleeping in the barn when the piglets arrived (I’m pretty pumped about my piggies!).

I’ve got big plans for Willow Springs in 2016:

  • I applied for a few cost-share programs through our county’s conservation district to help with remaining cedar and bodock tree removal and pasture reseeding.
  • I’m speaking at few agriculture events: Women Managing the Farm and KS Farm Bureau Young Farmers and Ranchers.
  • I’m installing a well for livestock water— and hand drilling it— as soon as the ground thaws (it’s Kansas, so it might be a while).
  • We’re looking forward to establishing the first seedstock (breeding) herd of Scottish Highland cattle for Willow Springs. While our first calf crop won’t be ready to process until 2020, I’ll be tickled pink to have everything “homegrown.”
  • We’re gearing up to grow our heritage pig herd—I love pigs. I wasn’t a big fan of the commercial pigs I was introduced to when working in the ag industry, but I have just fallen in love with the super personable heritage breeds we pasture. Remember the ‘90s movie Babe? Yeah, they are really that sweet.

Hannah and Husband_croppedLike all new businesses, Willow Springs has had its share of ups and downs. I made some wrong decisions—like catching the pasture on fire while welding on a fall day—and some good ones, like keeping a well-stocked water tank for emergencies.

I wanted to give up a few times, like after being bed-ridden with no health insurance due to a farm-related back injury. But I was reminded just how important the farming dream was to my family when we opened the farm to local OEF/OIF veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The farm provides them “back to nature” R&R.

There were a lot of naysayers our first few months of operation. I recall a particularly obstinate Baby Boomer farmer who drove almost an hour to visit my farm following a local newspaper feature, only to tell me how it “was never going to work” and if I was smart enough to teach at a university I should be smart enough to figure out farming wasn’t for “people like me” (whatever that means).

There have also been an overwhelming number of e-mails, calls, and Tweets from fellow farming enthusiasts expressing their admiration that I am starting a farm despite having student loans, and reminding me never to give up on a dream that defines ones’ purpose.

Agriculture is undergoing a number of changes. Female farmers and small-scale organic operations represent the fastest growing segments. Today’s consumers are dedicated to patronizing locally-grown operations. Young farmers of today are agriculture leaders of tomorrow. Stick with it!

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This is Hannah’s last post for our Bootstrap series. For the past seven months, Hannah and three other young farmers have been blogging about what it is like to start a farm. Read all of Hannah’s posts here, and wish her well in the comment section!

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