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.