This has been our household discussion for the past several months as we begin planning for our 2013 growing season. Anyone who has been following our journal may know that several years ago we had winter computer work that supplemented our farming income making it financially feasible to farm during the summer. Our computer work provided income for investment in the farm infrastructure and a bit of savings for our retirement. During these times, we hadn’t even considered investing in a “Farm Vacation” cabin rental, only because the computer work allowed us additional income without the capital outlay for building a cabin.
The income from our computer job disappeared a few years ago. A combination of the economy crashing, and after we completed the software for running their business, the company no longer had enough additional work to sustain our farming career. It was at this time we decided that, if we wanted to continue farming, we needed to have additional income and needed a job that we could juggle with farming. We decided the Farm Vacation Cabin Rental would provide additional income while allowing us to continue farming.
Further complicating matters in transitioning towards offering Farm Vacations, is that because we are full-time farmers, we don’t qualify for loans because we have no capital or documented income. In the bank’s mind, the trailer that we call our home, isn’t valuable enough for use as collateral in securing a loan nor our farm land. Our farm land, in the bank’s mind, is considered raw land and not valuable, even though it provides families with food. Since we are self employed, we don’t have W2’s, so the bank’s don’t see us as having a steady income. So we decided to harvest the trees from the farm and saw our own lumber for the cabin, allowing us to move ahead in building a farm vacation cabin rental, and perhaps one day offering farm vacations without much capital outlay.
In reality, it has been much easier writing about our dreams than actually physically moving towards achieving our dreams, as we have been busy harvesting and cutting timber for the past few winters and crop farming during the summer. The past couple growing seasons we hired 5 or 4 apprentices, rather than our normal 2.5, hoping to free up our time so that we could prioritize the farm vacation cabin rental during our crop production season. That hasn’t seemed to work these past couple seasons, mostly because farming continually demands our attention, and work on a farm is never done. One can always look around and find something that “needs” to be done right now and those tasks continually take priority over moving towards the farm vacation cabin rental. There is always the desire to have perfectly weeded crops and as long as we have crops growing the weeds will also be thriving. Each week during the crop season, we are always trying to meet the demands of our production schedule in providing highly diversified CSA shares and a booth full of produce for market customers, taking away from moving forward with the farm vacation cabin.
So that is our issue – how do we transition from crop production to building the farm vacation cabin rental – while still having an income? Our production income is currently paying our bills so we need to continue farming enough to cover our living expenses. On the other hand, farming takes an extraordinarily amount of labor, and we can’t seem to free up our time to work on the cabin, because as long as there is a production schedule and crops in the field we feel committed to caring for them. For example, it is very difficult for us to say, let the weeds overtake the spinach, that way we can prioritize building the cabin. We can’t simply walk by the spinach without weeding it and then lo and behold where did the time go?
Suggestions have been made to us that perhaps we should hire someone to help build the farm vacation cabin rental. From a financial perspective, it doesn’t make sense to us because most carpenters earn $15 to $25 per hour for their labor, while we are earning at the most $5 per hour growing crops. We can’t justify paying someone more for their carpentry skills when we know full well we are capable of doing the same work.
So how does the small farm re-invent itself? I bet almost any small business has this issue. For that matter, our country is having a hard time figuring this out, in deciding how to live within our means and creating new jobs. New jobs for our small business is a farm vacation cabin rental, new jobs for our country might be healthcare, sadly hydrofracking, but hopefully someday jobs will be created in alternative energy but that probably won’t be until the economic model factors the environmental impact of hydrofracking into the cost of this energy source. We on this small farm are trying trying to figure this out. The difference with our country is that it has an unlimited credit line. Our small business, and many others like it, don’t have this option. At this time we feel that we have to decrease our production by half and “tighten” our belts a little further in decreasing our spending all the while prioritizing the cabin. This is a necessary step for us to make a living from the farm. The cabin will be our retirement. We don’t have near enough retirement funds at this time, nor will we be able to keep up this scale of production as we age, and we do not want to sell the farm land but rather transition it into a “farm trust” for future farmers.
Life is COMPLICATED. It is really hard for a small business, where you have such intimate relationships with your customers, to make a decision to decrease production. We have been discussing decreasing the size of the CSA or even eliminating our CSA for the 2013 season. The reasoning behind this concept is that because we feel committed to our CSA, we will always go above and beyond what is required just to have a continuous production for the CSA, so we feel we could never prioritize the farm vacation cabin. When growing for market, if we didn’t get a crop hoed or seeded because we were working on constructing the cabin, we wouldn’t feel as bad not having as much produce for sale at market as long as we can earn enough to cover our living expenses. However, the CSA has been KEY in our farm surviving and thriving, these families have supported us for the past 13 years as we have learned how to farm. For us, it is very difficult to think about not supplying the CSA members with a weekly basket of veggies throughout the growing season. These are HARD and SERIOUS decisions for us to make and we need to make these before ordering seeds for our 2013 growing season so our goal is to make these decisions by the end of December.
What have we been up to in November? We’ve been harvesting for market and our last CSA delivery. We also finished planting our garlic, later than normal, but our garlic seems to be developing a root system underneath our cold soil. I took Vanessa’s suggestion to dig a few cloves up to see what was happening beneath the soil and we saw a lot of little roots! We also took a weeks vacation with Mom and Dad. THANKS for visiting Mom and dad we had a BLAST with you. We also spent a bit of time concreting the posts for our second deer fence.
Production note to self: We planted garlic November 4th trough the 11th in between delivering CSA shares. This is the latest we’ve planted garlic but our temperatures have been very warm this November.