As we officially ended our season and are slowly finishing up end of the year garden chores, we're gradually adjusting to normal speed again. Steve and I work extra hard six months out of the year to be able to share our food with the local community and to build our farm business. After all, you can never have too many farmers growing nutritious, local food!
I've shared how we got started in shifting from a small, family-size garden to a larger, two acre plot and the reasons why growing our own food matters to us. However, I have not shared the struggles of building not only a business but a farm. It is not always Facebook picture perfect. It is not always catchy, Instagram worthy stories either. We do not wait until almost sundown, grab our baskets and frolic happily about our tomato plants. Nor spring out of bed at dawn and harvest away, humming effortlessly.
We smell...a lot. We have more dirty, garden clothes than nice clothes. We lose a lot of sleep over things we have no control over. Sometimes we throw tomatoes at one another because we decided to harvest near each other and had our differences (it's happened more than once). We argue about plants and each stress out about different things. Or stress out because one of us isn't stressing out during an obviously stressful time. During August, our nails are permanently black and arms occasionally green from tomato picking. The mosquito bites are countless and the bee stings painful. The days earlier than they should be and later than an office-job. Sometimes we ponder about what 'normal' people do; work 8-5 then relax at home afterwards.
Would you be surprised to hear that we both have jobs outside of the farm? Many small-scale farmers do as having only farm income is not always an option. Steve began framing houses at 17 years old and became self-employed at 22. He has continued to frame houses for 14 years and in the past few years worked doing trim carpentry as well. Steve is the smartest person I know, his friends would agree with me. I've known Steve since we were juniors in high school and he was always a solid student, though college was never in his future. He had wanted to be a woodworker since he was 5 years old. I on the other hand had various jobs working in a restaurant, hotel and as of the past ten years; an airport. I studied Criminal Justice at Grand Valley State with no interest in farming.
Obviously our interests have changed over the past few years and after starting our farm, they've changed even more. We see food in an entirely new light, and having the ability to connect with the community from it, is a blessing. We've met so many people and farmers who we would have never met otherwise. In addition, we've met people over the past two years who have invested in our farm through CSA shares. People who trusted us enough to grow vegetables that they decided to pay four months before they would even receive food.
Steve works a full-time job and six days a week with the farmers market. I work a part-time job and seven days a week with the farmers market. To say that we pour every ounce of our energy into our garden is an understatement. This year our season started much like last year, though Steve was faced with a tough decision in February of leaving his job of 14 years. The sub-contractor who he worked with, did not enjoy us having a farm. He did not like us spending our weekends at the farmers market or evenings working in the garden (trust me, it did not seem fair to us either). Steve was given a choice of solely pursuing carpentry or growing our farm.
Steve did not make minimum wage in his profession. He made a respectable living and could easily support our family of four from it. He made enough that we could invest our extra income into hobbies including our farm business without any loans or debt. He made enough that we were able to vacation easily and afford the time off to do so. However we knew in our hearts, though it seemed far from logical at the time, that him solely pursuing our farm was the right decision.
Steve stepped away from new construction to grow our farm and work in our 'not-so-busy' season doing carpentry. What we didn't expect was him to get emails and phone calls almost immediately from leaving his job. He was instantly booked two months out and had managed to maintain that during our busy garden season with little effort. Coincidentally, this year also happened to be our busiest farm season yet. We had ambitiously doubled our CSA members, sold double in wholesale then last year, attended a weekend farmers market and began a small, road-side table. Oh yeah, and started beekeeping.
We had no idea life was going to work out the way it did and still decided to go after the farm nonetheless. We did not know Steve was going to be scheduled continuously. That speaks volumes for what we do and why we do it. Life has a funny way of working out sometimes.
Would you be surprised to hear that after three years, this season may be the first year we may have earned a profit from our hard work? We have invested not only much of our time but money into the garden. Our expenses have far exceeded our profit. Our seed order alone is consistently over $1,000 each year. We have spent over $2,500 on our large chicken coop and will be putting another $1,000 into it very soon. This money has come not only from our pockets but yours as well, every time you chose to buy local.
We do have a goal in mind of what we ultimately want our farm to become and each year we get a little bit closer to it. We knew it would be a lot of work but any business is starting out. It's a large investment for both our time and money but we have no plans in giving up now. We hope to not always be so busy, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Each year we grow not only as a business but farmers as well by working smarter not harder.
Next year, we have goals for tripling our CSA and building a large walk-in roadside stand in the early spring. We will not be attending any farmers markets on a regular basis. This will allow us to work a five day work week and focus our time strictly at our farm. We can't wait to share our other ideas with you next year. Steve and I have a rule that once our garden is dead, we do not talk about farm plans until after the New Year.
Thanks for giving us the opportunity to grow.