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Posts Tagged ‘money’

HOMEGROWN Life: The Richness of Farming

Thursday, April 7th, 2016

 

HOMEGROWN LifeMy Grandmother’s saying, one she borrowed from Benjamin Franklin, “the only two things certain in life are death and taxes,” came to mind this week. Yes, it’s tax season.

In between birthing 2 more sets of twins (that makes 4 in all), I’m tending the flocks and herds, starting up the dairy, chasing lambs, and howling at the goat kid antics. I’m wondering if the day will ever come when I actually sleep 8 or even 6 hours in a row. It’s time I bravely face the pile of paperwork that’s been patiently waiting on my desk.

Even though I am a tiny micro blip on the farming radar screen, I still keep track of the reality of what it costs and how much can be made working at this thing we call farming. I am proud to say that Bittersweet has been a sustainable operation since its second year! No, it didn’t happen because I have some magic formula for the farm supporting itself. It happens out of the sheer terror that if that changes, I won’t be able to continue.

The realities farmers face each year are enormous. The biggest realities are always: how much each year will cost? Can I continue year after year without at least making it pay for itself? That’s the very least farmers expect, because if we can’t say that – if we aren’t at least growing or raising beasts or plants to feed ourselves to cut down on the grocery bill –it’s hard to continue justifying the effort. Most people will say, you’ll never get rich farming.

After sitting down with all my piles, sorting through the slips and bits of paper with numbers scratched on them, I add up the two columns. One is what it costs to open my barn door every day. The other shows how much wool and cheese and milk and jam and pickles and soaps and other things I’ve sold. Turns out, at the end of the day, every day, 365 days a year, I am earning 91 cents an hour. That’s my definition of sustainable. I am earning, not losing, 91 cents an hour.

Now you may say, “You’re kidding, right? 91 cents an hour? Who would work for 91 cents an hour?” As it turns out, there are a lot of folks who do, and they wouldn’t trade it for 9,100 cents an hour. I’ve met a lot of them and we all seem to have something in common. We love what we do.

bittersweet2

There’s a certain pride and satisfaction in farming. Things almost never go according to plan. When you’re relying on Mother Nature in the form of living things, whether it’s beasts or plants, it’s all a crap shoot. I think it’s hard to explain why we do it to someone who thinks we’re all crazy for choosing the farming life style.

I’m frequently asked, “You can’t go anywhere, can you?” My reply is always, “I’ve been other places. I’m happy right where I am.”

I’m not a person who spent their life dreaming of having a farm. I did set out to get some sheep 20 years ago for a property I bought in Southern Pennsylvania. It was an old stone house Jacob Flohr built in 1855 and I/we were restoring it to its original state. I’ll never forget the day my husband came home and I was pitching the 1950’s oak flooring out the front door. There were wide pines boards underneath that needed to be revealed.

The house sat 10 miles south of Gettysburg and was on Lee’s retreat route. It had been a farm, and it was a hospital during the Civil War. All farms were. Every inch of space was utilized for tending to wounded soldiers. I found blood stains in the old crumbling plaster ceiling, blood that had dripped through the floor from above where probably more than one of them had lain, maybe dying.

The stone foundation for the old barn was still there. The original barn had burned down, maybe more than once. I found a gorgeous post and bean barn further up the road that would fit the foundation perfectly and the people who owned it just happened to want to take it down. The plan was to use it for sheep who would graze up above in the old apple orchards. But, the dream for sheep ended along with the marriage. We never got around to rebuilding the barn.

Twenty five years later, as I sit with my bits of paper, I gaze across the pasture watching my newborn lambs leap in spring’s cold morning air. The flock doesn’t have a post and bean barn with a stone foundation to lamb in, but they do have a view of Mosquito Harbor leading out to the Penobscot Bay. Some mornings, their fleeces are misty with the dew coming off the water and often they are treated to dried seaweed treats from Drift Inn Beach down the street. I think it’s a good trade off.

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I think I’ll take a break from my paperwork for an hour or so today and invest my 91 cents or even $1.92, in snuggling lambs, sitting with a baby goat in my lap, or running the brush over the girls’ backs. I might even bake a custard on this cool spring day with eggs from the coop and milk the girls gave me this morning.

After all the other jobs I’ve had and all the paychecks I’ve gotten over the years, it’s today that I receive the largest paycheck I’ve ever had, plus 91 cents an hour. That’s the richness of farming.

MORE FROM DYAN:

HOMEGROWN-life-dyan-150x150Dyan Redick calls herself “an accidental farmer with a purpose.” Bittersweet Heritage Farm, located on the St. George peninsula of Maine, is a certified Maine State Dairy offering cheeses made with milk from a registered Saanen goat herd, a seasonal farm stand full of wool from a Romney cross flock, goat milk soap, lavender woolens, and whatever else strikes Dyan’s fancy. Her farm is also an extension of her belief that we should all gain a better understanding of our food sources, our connection to where we live, and to the animals with whom we share the earth.

PHOTOS: DYAN REDICK

HOMEGROWN Life: The Finance of Farming

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

 

 

 

 

 

Diversification.  Saving.  Investing.  Building a portfolio…

No, I’m not blogging today about actual finance.  That would be such a snoozefest!  Instead, this post is about the finance of farming, and I’ll serve as the Suze Orman of seed saving.  Get it?  No?  You will…

Seed packets

With farming, seeds are currency, and financial jargon can be used to help teach ways of success.

One lesson to be learned is the importance of investing.  When Justin and I first started urban farming, we incurred a myriad of expenses (building materials, compost, feed), and one of our largest expenditures was seeds.  We doled out several hundred dollars our first year in fruit, herb, and vegetable seeds.  But thankfully as with most smart investments, our initial expense was rewarded with a profitable return.  See, if you grow heirloom produce, the seeds can be saved year after year – so one packet of seeds costing $3.50 can easily turn into several hundred seeds, and save you hundreds of dollars as well.

Which brings me to the second tip, saving.  With every variety of heirloom produce you grow, you should make a point to save some seeds to plant again the next year or share with other avid growers.  Why order again from a catalog, when you could take a couple minutes to save enough seed to supply the catalog?! This means carefully chopping your tomatoes during dinner one night, for example, and taking care not to discard the seeds – instead rinse them, set them aside to dry, and store them away for the following year.  This also means you can feel free to neglect little patches of lettuce or herbs and let them go to seed as well.  I happen to spend many lazy days in the heat of summertime gathering and spreading chamomile seeds.

Another point to keep in mind is the value of cultivating a diversified portfolio.  For instance, at YellowTree Farm we grow several dozen different types of tomatoes not only because we have trouble making up our minds, but also because we always budget for failure.  (We typically grow several varieties of every category of produce we offer.) Bad weather, lackluster soil, or a plague of pests could wipe out our crops in a flash.  The benefit to growing varying varieties of items is that different species wind up being more or less resistant to disease and pests than others.  By growing different types of a kind of vegetable or fruit, we’re taking steps to actively minimize our risk.  It’s one of the smarter moves a gardener can make to ensure success.

Though winter may not officially be over yet, this is the time of year most pros get their seed orders in, and if you’re really on top of things, you’ve already got some seedlings started.  Regardless, it’s never too late to think carefully about these “financial” approaches to farming, and hopefully this post helps you think of ways to save both seeds and money!

 

Danielle Yellow Tree

“I’m half of YellowTree Farm, an urban homestead that I founded with my husband in late 2008. Together, my husband and I grow vegetables and raise animals on less than 1/10 of an acre in St. Louis, Missouri. We speak publicly about urban farming, sew, and make our own toiletries.  I don’t have children. I have animals, which is kind of the same thing as being a parent, except I eat my babies.”