Tuesday, May 3, 2016

What Is the Risk To Being A Full Time Farmer Today?

I have been thinking about this question a lot lately.  It's a complex question.  It means a lot of the same things it meant 20 years ago.  30 years ago.  100 years ago.

Farming as a main source of income is scary.  Money comes into the operation in unpredictable ways.  Sometimes, things are hopping.  Orders are frequent and all a farmer can do is try desperately to keep up.  Often, money comes into the operation in spurts.  Little bits here, little bits there.  One thing that is always predictable is the bills.  The bills are always due no matter whether you are facing feast or famine.

The smart farmer puts a little something away for the lean times.  He pays bills ahead when money is plentiful.  He stocks up the pantry with some extra groceries and he pads the savings account.  This is a great way to help even out those slow times.  However, how do you predict how long that slow time is going to last?  How do you know how much to stockpile to get you over the rough spot?  The short answer is, you don't.  It's all a gamble.

Sometimes the slow time outlasts the reserves.  Sometimes all of the feed is gone, the bills come due again, the pantry runs low and there is no income in sight.  Now what does the farmer do?  He makes some tough decisions.

The farmer must feed his flock and family.  He must keep the electricity on, pay the mortgage, pay the taxes.  Now its gets gritty.  The farmer can look for extra work.  He can take on a full or part time job to bring in some extra cash to tide him over.  This sure helps out the old bank account, but it can hinder the farm.  Who takes care of the chores while the farmer is away?  Do the animals stop eating?  Do the weeds take a break from growing?  Nope.  So now the farmer is burning the candle at both ends.  He is trying to do justice to this job so that he can keep everyone in bread and butter while still keeping the farm running to at least a minimum degree.

Another option is to sell of some livestock or equipment.  Helpful friends and family always suggest this option first.  They reason that by not having as many mouths to feed or that implement to maintain expenses will go down and the money earned by selling will go further.  And, this is true to some degree.  However, production also goes down.  Without the implement, some chores can't be done.  Or maybe they can, but they take extra people or time to do them.  There is less product available to sell which means less income which means the bills don't get met....get the picture?  What about selling off livestock?  Fewer breeding animals means fewer babies which, in turn, means fewer dollars at market. 

The farmer could try and increase business.  Making more sales means making more money.  The farmer can advertise his wares.  He could have a sale.  He could ask his friends and neighbors to shop in his shop, market stall, etc.  He could attend a trade show.  All of these things are good and could help his business to grow and prosper.  However, usually these are things that the farmer is already doing.  After all, he has wanted to sell his goods all along.  Also consider, most of these things cost money.  Money is the thing that was in short supply to begin with.  It's a real conundrum.

The long and the short of this whole exercise is there is no one right answer here.  What works for one farm or in one situation may not work for the next.  Each farmer has to make their own decisions.  They may be the right ones.  Or they may be very wrong.  The only way to know is to take the plunge and find out. 

Friends, this farm is in month 15 of a famine.  We have used up all the resources we stored up during the last milk and honey time.  The pantry is played out.  We are down to brass tacks.  No, we are not starving.  The livestock is not going without.  But we are at the point where we are now living hand to mouth and we don't know for sure where the next extra little bit of income is coming from.  We are lucky that one of us does work a full time job.  We do have some steady money coming in.  It's not enough.  Without the farm income to help fill in, we just can't keep up. 

We will persevere.  God will look out for us and we will find a time of feasting again.  The farm will go on and we will get over this rough patch.  We have faith.  Thank you once again to all who have supported us in this journey.  Thank you to those who cheer for us, pray for us, hold us up and shop with us.  We appreciate each and every one of you. 

Please understand that we are not complaining.  We are not seeking business advice or looking for handouts.  We are simply sharing a little bit about what it means, on a daily basis, to be a farm that depends upon farming income.  We are hoping to shed a little light on how all of this works for those who have never experienced it themselves.  Hopefully, by sharing a little of our experience, we can help someone else to learn and grow.  By putting our hearts out in the open, maybe we can offer comfort and solidarity to another family in similar circumstances.  And, finally, maybe we can learn and grow from this earthly existence while coming to appreciate what it has to offer us.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Why Bother?

Why do I even bother?  Why do I spend so much effort, time and resources providing fiber that has been processed the old fashioned way?  I could purchase big boxes of pre dyed wool from overseas for pennies.  Then, I could stand at the carder for a few days and crank out batt after batt of fiber like so many others do.  After all, it seems like this is the current buying trend. 

Why do I spend time raising sheep?  Feeding, watering, cleaning.  Helping with births.  Mending fences.  Stacking hay.  Shearing in inclement weather.

Why take the time to hand select fleeces to be processed?  Scouring other small farms.  Visiting with shepherds.  Attending sales and open houses.  Putting myself on waiting lists.

Why hand pick through each fleece, one at a time?  Why hand wash, over an open fire?  Why hand dye in individual stock pots and lay them out to dry in the sun?  Why flick card and pick with the cradle picker?  Why blend batts one by one on the drum carder and spin each yarn myself, without the aid of motors?  Why bother when I could do it more cheaply, more quickly, with less mess, fuss and strain?

I do it this way because I care about the product I am placing in your hands.  I take the time to complete each painstaking step because I want you to have the very best of what fiber artists have to offer for your project.  Small farms, and small farm families, matter to me.  The sheep matter to me.  The process matters to me. 

Every step of the process is completed with love, attention and care.  Your product has not been mass produced.  It has character.  It has provenance.  It has been bathed in attention. 

You can purchase products from us, and from artists like us, and know that you are holding in your hands something that was crafted especially for your purpose.  You can appreciate the effort and love that went into the production of your fiber.  Most importantly you can take pride in knowing that you supported something that is special and endangered.  Thank you for caring enough to bother purchasing fibers produced with intention.  Whether they be from us, or from others like us, we appreciate that you took the time and effort to participate in something truly special. 


Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Where do our fibers come from?

We get asked this question at every event we attend.  This subject is very near and dear to our heart because it is the basis for our business model.



We believe in small family farms.  We believe in American grown.  We believe in supporting other families and their endeavors.  Because this is so dear to us, we have chosen to use as many American grown, small family produced fibers as we can.  When we run out of our own fleeces, we start buying fleeces from other family flocks. 

I am very choosy about the fleeces I buy.  Because we are hand processing our fibers, I try to get fleece that is fairly clean to start.  The more picking I have to do, the more time it takes and the fewer products I can put out there for my customers.  I also work hard to make sure that the fleece is of excellent quality.  It is important to our farm that we are using the best of what America grows. 



I also purchase fleeces that I like to work with.  It doesn't make any sense to me to work with wool that doesn't excite me.  I have to spend a lot of time with the fiber.  Why should it be anything less than enjoyable?  So, because I tend to be a long wool lover, you will see that I use lots of Romney,
Shetland, Lincoln, Border Leicester, Jacob and Teeswater.  I also enjoy a little Rambouillet every now and then and some Merino from time to time.  Of course, adding some mohair into the mix always makes our products more interesting, so you will see those fibers crop up when I get my hands on them. 



Purchasing fiber products from us not only supports our farm.  We work extra hard to make sure that it is helping to support other families' farms.  We rarely use animal fibers from overseas or from 'big box' type producers.  Its not that we think badly of them, its just that our hearts are drawn to the smaller flocks and we like to purchase directly from those shepherds. 

In the end, our choices are putting us to more manual labor and our products take more time to produce.  We wouldn't have it any other way.  The satisfaction we get, knowing where the materials came from, is so rewarding. 

Sheepishly Yours,

Jennifer

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Water, water everywhere...and boy does it stink!

Ugh!  Everyone on the 'stead is frustrated this week.  That flooding issue we have had in the past is back.  And with a vengeance.  Look at all the water!






The farmers are pumping the water out of the driveway and away from the rabbit barn 2 or 3 times a day, but it just isn't enough.  The water is coming in way too fast.  So now the driveway is muddy and you have to walk through a swamp to get to the rabbits.  The farmers are wearing big, heavy rubber boots all the time.  It makes them cranky to wear those in the heat.  And, to make things oh so much better, there are mosquitoes everywhere!!!  The farmers have tried a couple of natural remedies for the problem.  They work, but there is just so much standing water and they are really having a hard time staying ahead of the problem.  They don't want to have to spray for the mosquitoes, but they are worried they might have to so that they can keep us all safe from West Nile Virus.  Meanwhile, many of the animals here are getting sprayed with essential oils daily to try and protect us from the little blood suckers.


All this water in the driveway means the car has to drive through mud every time someone wants to go in or out.  This is making a big mess of the driveway and the car is really getting muddy.  The farmers are talking about having to park up on the road and walk in for awhile until the mud is under control.  Poor farmers!

I really hope they can find a way to get rid of some of this water soon.  Us sheep got moved back to the barnyard for the time being.  We were out grazing on some of these areas, but we can't be standing around in muddy water.  So, no salad bar for us for a bit.  There is one dry section over on the other side of the property that the farmers were talking about letting us eat.  They have to go into the muddy part first to get all the posts and fencing though.  What a job that's going to be!  If they can get the fencing moved, then we can go back out to graze.  That will be delicious, but I feel bad that our people have to get muddy and wet to make it happen. 

Stay tuned for an update on our little version of "Water World" or "Old MacDonald Had a Swamp"!

This is Blackjack saying, "Keep your feet dry"!

Friday, August 14, 2015

Hi! I'm Dinah and that's my girl with me.  I'm a four month old Shetland/Romney cross lamb.  This week, I get to bring you the Fair Report!

We all got to travel to this place they call, "the Fair".  It was all pretty exciting. The horses got to go over first.


From what I hear, they spent all their time "horsing around".  Bwahahahahaha!!!! But seriously, the horses had a great time.  They got to have baths and spent a lot of time eating hay and getting petted.

The rest of us got to come over a couple of days later.




 The rabbits had a pretty good show.  They sure brought back lots of ribbons.  This was The Boy's last year showing at the Fair.  I heard he is too old now and they are sending him to some place called "college".  I hope I don't get too old and get sent away!  That sounds rotten.
I also learned that this chicken, Cinderella, was super naughty at the show.  She escaped three times and all the kids had to run around like crazy and try to catch her.  Look at how that little girl is trying to keep ahold of her.  Scandalous!

But the sheep show was my favorite part.

Here I am looking gorgeous for the judge.  I had to walk around the building with some other sheep.  Of course, I was the most awesome in the ring.  Then I had to stand pretty and let the judge touch me and talk to my girl.  It was all very cool and educational. 



Blackjack went to the show, too.  He got lots of pretty ribbons (mine were better!).  The judge said he had fine wool and good staple length.  Ha!  I think I did better because he said I had nice density. 

Lots of people came by all week and petted us and told us we are cute.  Like we didn't know.  Silly people!  But it's okay because my girl said they were learning about wool sheep and how awesome we are.  I'm all for that!

I can't wait for it to be Fair time again next year.  I have big plans for a sheepy sleepover party in the barn.  I'm bringing the apple s'mores makings!



Thursday, July 16, 2015

Rumor Has It


Hi!  My name is Blackjack.  I'm a black shetland ram.  I am one year old and that is my girl in the background.  I live here on Desert Garden Farms.  In fact, I was born here.  It's a mighty interesting place.  With the other sheep to hang with and a couple of lazy llamas that let us climb all over them.  The horses are kinda bossy and push us out of the feeder, so we don't hang out much with them.  The goats are okay, though.  They play tag with us and don't smell too bad.

I heard some talk the other day between my girl and the boss lady.  Everybody calls her, "Mom".  Anyway, I heard there are some big changes happening here on the 'stead.  Yeah!  I heard that some new sheep were coming to live with us.  Shetlands, like me.  Woohoo!  I also heard that some of them are super hawt!!!

In just a couple of weeks Mom and the big guy she hangs out with (I think they call him Poppa) are going to pick up these new sheep.  But that's not all I heard!  I heard that when the new sheep get here we are all going to have new jobs.  Our jobs are going to be to "grow shares" for some people who are going to be a part of "the CSA".  Sounds super exciting to me.  I don't know what shares are, but I know I'm pretty good at growing wool.  Hope I still get to do that. 

I also heard that we are all getting brand new coats!  Isn't that just the bees knees?  A new coat for me!  I've never had a coat before but I hear they are just the height of sheep fashion these days.  The girl says it will keep me clean and make my wool nicer for the CSA.  I don't know about this staying clean business.  Honestly, I think dirty sheep are the best, but I'm willing to give it a try if I get to have one of those stylish sheep coats.  I hope mine's blue.  I realy like blue. 

I heard more, too.  I heard that Poppa and all the kids are going to be building some new grazing pens for us.  Yeehaw!  Salad Bar!!!  My girl said that we will get to use the new pens to get fresh greens to eat.  When we have eaten the good stuff from one pen, we get to move to another, fresh pen of greens.  Sounds yummy! 

All in all I think good things are coming for the sheep at Desert Garden Farms.  I know I can't wait to meet...ahem...I mean GREET the new ladies coming to the farm.  That means that this fall there will be 7 shetland sheep, 2 East Friesen sheep (lovely ladies!), two llamas and a pack of pygmy goats living on the 'stead.  Oh, and the pesky horses.  I've heard there are some chickens and rabbits hanging around too.  I've never met them.  Things sure are exciting over here! 

Well, I'm off.  Gotta go eat my weed assignment for today and talk to the farm cat about dropping some live mice into the horses' hay feeder......

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Last night was the first cold night of the season.  Hubby and I celebrated the cooler temperature with a good, old fashioned blanket war.  He opened with a little tug on his edge of the single, lightweight quilt we are currently sleeping under, proceeding to uncover my hip and leg.  I returned with a slightly more insistent tug of my own, uncovering his feet.  You know how this goes.  After some jostling for advantage, I finally ended the foray by tucking my edge under my hip and planting myself firmly upon it.  A couple more tugs from him got no results, and in my half dreamy state, I snickered to myself over having won this round.  Neither one of us ever got up out of bed to close the window, add another blanket or even to turn off the fan!!!  bwahahahaha

This afternoon we laughed about the whole thing and then we talked about the coming cooler weather and what preparations we might need to make before truly cold weather gets here.  The first thing on both our lists was our winter quilt!

Our first winter together as husband and wife was spent on the top of a butte in a single wide, nineteen seventy something mobile home with a wood stove for heat.  We were cold!!!  We were poor!!  We were creative!!  So, we decided we needed a heavy quilt.  We went to all the local thrift stores and begged for any jeans or corduroy pants they had that were unsaleable.  We got garbage bags full for free just because we asked. 



Hubby was in charge of cutting out all the squares.  I was in charge of sewing them all together.  We stitched a denim quilt that we have treasured and we have spent 16 fantastic winters together underneath it. 

Back then we were sleeping on a full size pull out loveseat.  So the quilt we made is really only a skimpy double size.  We've since graduated to a queen sized bed, but we are stubborn and have continued using our beloved quilt.

We've had four children since that quilt was stitched.  It's been washed and hung to dry hundreds of times.  It's been camping with us and thrown in the bottom of a closet through the summers.  It's been hauled in the car and draped over the sofa.  The poor thing is looking pretty shabby.  Still, we are undeterred!



So, this afternoon we dug the ole thing out and set to work on it.  We removed the old blue satin binding and the pink floral pillow ticked flat sheet we backed it with.  We cut loose the old yarn ties and laid the top out on our bed.  We took stock of the situation and came up with a plan.  The worn spots will be patched, just as our jeans are.  New squares will be added along both sides and the bottom to enlarge the quilt to a more currently usable size.  A new backing will be scrounged and our beloved quilt will be made servicable once again.  And, the best part of all, parts of a pair of jeans or overalls from each of the kids will be used in the process.  Each child brought us a contribution and I'm so excited that this time a piece of each of them will be included in the project. 

This winter looks to be warm, toasty, and filled with love.