There are a handful of major milestones that you can go through in life. Being born is a good start, graduating school, getting married and starting a family, buying a house, etc…
Everyone is going to have different definitions of what is a big deal to them. Even as we go through life our classification of what is a “big deal” is going to change and adapt as we experience more and grow as people.
In 2013 I was fortunate enough to experience several of those milestones. Now several years later they remain important aspects of my life for one reason or another. For those of you following my story looking for advice, I would advise against trying to cram all of this into one year.
Becoming a Parent
By far and away the most amazing thing that happened to me that year, and in any year that I can remember is the birth of my daughter Mabel.
I thought getting married to Kate changed the way I saw the world. Oh man, welcoming Mabel into the world changed the way I saw everything. What I considered important, what I expected out of the future, how I would shape my life going forward, all changed because I now got to share it with a human that I helped create. It still blows my mind.
As I write this Mabel is four years old. From day one she operated on her own schedule. She was born in July, right smack-dab in the middle of the farm’s high season. It was hot, I was busy, and there came Mabel.
It was the desire to grow healthy food for myself and those around me that first attracted me to sustainable agriculture. Now that Mabel was in the picture I had a reason to start looking into regenerative agriculture. A style of agriculture that didn’t just sustain the world, but made it a better place for the future.
With the addition of a baby in the house our already upside-down life got even more turned around. Kate and I could no longer just figure it out as we went, we needed a plan, some solid funding, and it wouldn’t hurt if we could move to a place with a proper washer/dryer.
It was during that first season when I was talking about chicken tractors in order to attract customers to my pastured poultry farm that the internet first took notice of what I was doing. Aside from attracting new customers to buy chicken, I attracted a crowd of people interested in my chicken tractor design.
At night while Kate and Mabel slept in between feedings I capitalized on the few hours of quiet to start writing a book. My farm was new and I had bitten off a bit more than I could chew and I needed some more money. My motivation slept in the room next to me as I set to work writing and drafting the first iteration of my book Stress-Free Chicken Tractor Plans.
For 2-3 hours every night I would draft, write, edit, or format until Mabel decided it was time to eat again. That feeding was my clue that it was in fact late and I had to wake up the next morning and move chickens on a field and feed my other baby chicks. I helped Kate as much as a man is able to help in those scenarios and then we all fell asleep exhausted as a family.
The launch of the book and the income it generated helped us get through the fall and winter as we transitioned to work and life on another farm. To this day the income that I generate from Farm Marketing Solutions helps support my family as well as occasionally buys me a cool piece of camera equipment.
Mabel still keeps me on my toes and motivates me to be a better person. Even as young as she still is, you can tell she feels a lot of love for those around her and she’s always willing to make a new friend.
Starting a Farm Business
Kate and I were talking a few months back about what it takes to be a farmer. The most successful farmers that I have seen have something special about them. There is a grit, a determination that I couldn’t quite define. Something about them gave them the strength to spit in the eye of adversity and persevere when the going got tough.
Kate very casually and very simply said, “Yeah, they’re entrepreneurs.”
In business there are two hard facts:
Not everyone should start a business
80% of small businesses fail for one reason or another
What intelligent person enters into a situation with those odds? A crazy person, that’s who!
After bicycling 5,500 miles across the Country visiting farms and breweries and living intentionally homeless for a year or two we knew we qualified as crazy people. I didn’t have a second career lined up because I was going to build one from scratch.
When we were cycling across the country we kept a blog (now defunct) FoodCyclist.com. We spent three years (before, during, and after the trip) blogging about food and our story. Naturally when we started our own farm we called it FoodCyclist Farm.
Kate and I raised pastured poultry and a variety of herbs and had a Chicken CSA where members got a chicken a week and a bundle of herbs as their share in the farm. I worked out a handshake deal with a hay farmer that I would run birds in between cuttings to help fertilize his fields and he was cool with that.
That season was quite insane. I kept broilers in an old box truck body, brought water out to the field in five gallon buckets because my birds were over a mile away from a water source, and when I got sick with campylobacter (Google that) I did my chores alone in a field with a roll of toilet paper always close on hand.
It was a struggle, but a struggle I did with a smile on my face. I can only imagine what my family thought, what my friends thought, and what my customers thought. I was willing to do whatever it took to make it work, and looking back, that was a little foolish. Without the support of my family, friends, and CSA members I know that I would not have made it through that year with my sanity. I love you all.
With that level of struggle you can imagine my willingness to join forces with another local farm start up who was raising chickens for eggs and wanted to start a brewery. The Food Cycle needed a farmer and I needed partners. They were starting up what is now Camps Road Farm. With a shared interest in making the world a better place, the desire to create delicious craft products, and the grit to stick with it we became good friends.
Through the end of my season I gradually moved my farm infrastructure 11 miles from my starting point to my current home. We rolled FoodCyclist Farm into Camps Road and the rest will be covered in future blog posts.
I found home.
Moving (Twice in One Year)
The year started with a move to New Milford Connecticut to rent space in a one bedroom apartment owned by a relative. No solid deal on farmland, no employment for either Kate or I, and not much to our names except what fit into a small SUV.
Moving is stressful no matter who you are or where you’re moving to. There are plenty of reasons to move. Kate and I were moving because we were starting over from scratch.
Moving eats up time, money, and plenty of energy. However, after a year of living on bikes and another working as apprentices we were now closer to family, and sometimes family is the only reason you need to be happy. We had a home, we were starting our own little family, and we had a great support system.
We lived and rented in New Milford for just about a year before moving to Kent to start working at the new farm. In December we officially moved to the farm, started caring for chickens in the winter without a good winter chicken system, and once again made it all work.
There’s not as much to say about the moves except I don’t recommend doing it twice in one year if you have a lot of other things going on. But hey, we made it, we’re here, and we’ve been grateful every step of the way.
Buying a Car
This was a big one for me personally. I’m a gear guy. I obsess over every detail when it comes to equipment. Farm equipment, video equipment, woodworking equipment, I love and appreciate good tools.
The car decision cycles back to the whole starting a family and having a baby thing. We had a borrowed car from my dad for getting around. A 1995 GMC Jimmy with 200 million miles on it. The engine was primarily rust, the doors made an amazing metal grinding noise when you opened them, and we’ll just say that while it had a lot of heart I didn’t feel comfortable putting a baby in it.
I wanted something that would double as a family car and a farm car. We ended up with a 2010 Honda Pilot. The Pilot gave us everything we needed:
Safety and reliability
High wheel base for driving through fields
4500lbs towing capacity
Plenty of room for farmers’ market or baby stuff inside
A working radio
I want to point this out because now years later I realize the move was a little foolish. We took on a bunch of debt to buy the car and we’re still paying it off. With over 170k miles on it we still owe a little over $6k. We’re now facing a series of repairs that’s going to add up.
The plan as it stands is to run the thing into the ground and get what miles we can out of it while finishing paying off the loan. Some of the repairs I can do or have done to save us money, and some I feel safer having a real mechanic do. And some things, like new tires, you just can’t avoid with New England winters.
It’s my plan to go over the finances of the car situation in a blog post this winter. So stay tuned. But for now the take away here is that if you’re starting a farm please please be more careful of the debt that you may or may not take on. Paying down debt is possible with a plan and some solid budgeting, but if you don’t have to be saddled with it then avoid it at all costs.
“Those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”
Like the past two blog posts this one was a lot of fun to put together. There’s a universal truth that if you’re alive and you’re a human you’re going to be in some kind of sticky situation. There’s always something to figure out and some problem to solve. The best you can do is wake up with a smile and try and make today a little better.
I am SUPER happy that the things I need to figure out now are not as dire as they felt that first year farming alone. I am fortunate to now have a roof over my head, a beautiful and intelligent daughter, a loving and supportive partner, a great family, and friends who are always there when you need them.
There is one last group that I am grateful for and that is you, the readers, listeners, viewers, and subscribers. Through Farm Marketing Solutions I receive an overwhelming amount of support, positivity, advice, and at times commiseration. There are people who have been following me since this first year which now feels like a lifetime ago. Thank you all.
I promise that I won’t end every blog post like an acceptance speech, haha.
My story will continue to come out week to week through the rest of this fall and into the winter. Together we’ll share in some stories, some strategies, some reflection, and some dreams. I have yet to find complete balance in life but that’s life. It is a process, one that we are all going through together.
I hope you stick around and follow along and together we will Fix My Farm.