Monday, July 15, 2013

Hobby Lobby!

Saturday's fortune cookie. Maybe my new collection should be cows!

Just to set the record straight, we don't really think of our farm as a "hobby farm." We are truly trying to make Squash Blossom Farm into a viable operation. It  requires way more than 40 hours per week work, which is the reason I left my (wonderful, rewarding and decently-compensated)  part-time job a year ago. Both Rog and I have heard our farm referred to as a "Hobby Farm" by several friends and colleagues recently, and we realize we are not quite a conventional farm, but there must be a more fitting phrase.

I looked up the definition of "hobby farm" and it was described as a farm where the principal income does not come from the farm and is a farm operated for leisure and pleasure.  It is very true that our main income dos not come from the farm; we absolutely need Rog's income` to cover the mortgage and college loans.  But that situation is probably the norm for most farms these days: last week on my radio show I interviewed a retired dairy farmer whose kids  all farm and he said that all of his sons' wives make more money working off the farm than their sons make dairying.  Nobody would ever call those hardworking dairy farmers "hobby farmers."

Although we find farm work pleasurable, we would not equate it with leisure.  Perhaps there are farms somewhere out there where the famers consider it a leisure pastime--farms with a couple of riding horses and a couple of sheep or chickens for pasture ornaments. I envision those farms as being perfectly manicured, with pretty fencing, probably with hired landscaping experts to do the gardening.  I don't personally know any of those farmers, but they might exist.

Maybe people think of our farm as a hobby farm because we are quite small and we have a bunch of micro-enterprises rather than focusing on just raising pigs, for instance, or corn and soybeans. Our farm income comes from  growing veggies for the  CSA; selling our own eggs, honey, vegetables, meat chickens, beef, and turkeys from the farm; selling antiques, vintage items,  and local artisan works in the farm store; selling our bread, baked goods and  farm products at the farmers market.   These enterprises support the farm, or at least are working toward supporting the farm, they are not hobbies.  

Or, maybe people think of us as a hobby farm because we recently became farmers at age 50, when some people are already thinking about retirement and we had no previous farming experience.  Part of our strategy is that the physical work of farming will help keep us fit, the ongoing learning will keep our minds sharp, and the  healthy, organic food we raise will keep us healthy. We take all aspects of the farm very seriously, especially the livestock.  My bedtime reading is devoted to books about raising cows, chickens, and better gardening techniques.  We are both amazed by and extremely proud of our healthy, happy animals and beautiful, delicious vegetables.

We agonize over the difficult decisions that are required to make our farm financially viable.  Although we treat our livestock almost like pets, we cannot afford to keep them as pets. Nothing is more difficult than harvesting a beloved steer, or our annual small flock of personable turkeys. Tears are shed and we then reconsider whether we should even raise livestock.  But animals are a vital part of the cycle in a permaculture farm, they bring us so much joy, and we have learned so much from them.  As farm animals go, they have probably hit the jackpot to be living on a farm like this rather than a feedlot. (Our neighbor Don reassured us, they have only have one bad day their entire life.) We hope that when our  customers eat our meat, they get extra nourishment and satisfaction from all the heart and soul that went into it.

Yesterday was a pretty typical Sunday.  After morning chores and coffee and a bit of mowing, Cadence and I went to a friend's farm to harvest cherries. When we got home, she and Israel climbed up the scaffolding and painted the house for the next 10 hours.  Rog applied the insulating layer to the clay pizza oven while I picked up three loads of hay.  Rog took short breaks from the pizza oven project to help me unload and stack each truckload of hay. We  moved a stack of crummy old haybales out of the barn and I used it to mulch over a section of the garden I weeded the day before.  I was sweaty and covered in hay dust and dirt, so took my second quick shower of the day and put on clean clothes before people began arriving at the farm. I opened up the store and Rog set up the  sound system for the live music. I made the pizza sauce and prepared ingredients while Rog built the fire in the clay oven  and cleaned up the patio dining area. I gave visitors mini tours of the farm and Rog got the musicians going,  then rolled out pizza crusts. After the music, we made delicious wood-fired pizzas with our  guests and enjoyed delightful conversation. Then, after everyone left, we cleaned up, I did the evening chores, Rog put away the music set up, I closed up the store for the week, Israel cleaned up the house-painting gear, and Cadence and I picked 18 pints of raspberries, accompanied by twinkling fireflies and voracious mosquitos.  It was a very pleasurable day, but not exactly leisurely. Leisurely would have included a nap in the hammock!

Our goal is to create a joyous life at the intersection of farming, art, music and community.  We thank our lucky stars every day that we have the opportunity pursue this dream! This farm is a passion, a dream, a work-in-progress, and  striving to be a viable enterprise.  We want to be an alternative kind of farm, a farmstead that hearkens back to our grandparents' way of farming, shares our abundance and the knowledge we gain, and is connected to the community. 

In fumbling around for an alternative phrase to "Hobby Farm" I  have finally come up with a description that sounds right to me:  Artisan Farm. We would be delighted if you called us an Artisan Farm!


Anonymous said...

Enjoy your blog! Steers and heifers go to the feedlot at 750 to 800 pounds and stay there (on full feed) for 60 days while eating themselves silly. Then they do meet the executioner. Prior to reaching the required weight to get "fattened out" at the feedlot, steers and heifers are born and raised in pastures where they run and play just like your beloved livestock. Feedlots are not breeding pens. Even large cattle operations hate to see their beautiful herds being trucked off to feed America and the rest of the world. This is the life cycle of raising meat.

Marcia said...

Artisan farm is the perfect name for what you are doing. And I never thought of you as a hobby farmer. You do an incredible amount of work in a day and night. I hope you shared that essay on your radio program, too.

katiegirl said...

Artisan farm sounds perfect!

Anonymous said...

My love of farming came from my Great Uncle who said that as farmers, "we do more work by 7am than most people do in a day". I know some farms on two acres that have incredible earnings. Artisan farm sounds good. Just 'farm' works too.

Ron Shepard
Shepard Buffalo Farm

Susan said...

Ron, please share the secrets of those two-acre farms with incredible earnings!

Charity said...

This is great!