What does someone mean when they say they “love their job”?
I realize that this is not something that is said very often, but SOMEONE out there must positively connect with what they do! I refuse to believe that there is no-one out there who has landed their “dream job”; and not in terms of $$$, but in terms of what they have “always dreamed about doing!”
There must be people out there that love their jobs. But what does that really mean?
I have heard people say “I love working with kids.” or “I love working with animals.” or “I love crunching numbers!”…(really, person? Do you really love crunching numbers?…Or are you just saying that because nerds are “in” right now…((thank you Big Bang Theory!!!))
But this “love” so often seems to end at 5:00PM.
And then you move on to the things that you REALLY love; puttering around in your garden, reading a good book, playing music, writing, watching the Big Bang Theory, WHATEVER. But the point is that the majority of the people that say they “love their job” really mean, “If I have to work, I’d rather do THIS job than anything else.”
That‘s great! But that’s not love.
I don’t think a spouse of 30 years looks into the eyes of his/her partner and says;
“Honey; I just wanted to let you know that, in my limited experience of being married to other people, I can honestly say that I probably would rather be married to YOU than to anyone else who lives within an average commuting distance from my house!”
Or a soccer Mom pulls over her van on the side of the highway and says:
“Whoops, look at the time! 5:00PM! Everybody out! Looks like you’re hitching a ride to the YMCA today kiddies! Ladies night tonight! This Mama has to get her DRINK on!”
Or a Veterinarian saying:
“Hey now! Woah! All right guys drop what you’re doing…that prolapsed ewe will have to wait ’till tomorrow…I got T-time in 5! Meh! Her uterus ain’t going anywhere further tonight!”
THAT’S NOT LOVE!!! It’s a JOB that you ENJOY……but not love.
(And seriously Moms…c’mon…maybe you should think about cutting back on the booze a bit huh? And going out clubbing at your age??? Ain‘t nobody want to see that twerking…)
Now: there ARE definitely people out there that truly love what they do. They go to work all day, and then come home and pick up right where they left off at work. Not sayin’ people are not fulfilling their other responsibilities or whatever…but you know what I mean. What they choose to do in their FREE time, is the same thing that they do in their UN-free time. Also not saying that they don’t have other interests as well….I’m just saying that what they do for their living is something they are happy doing for fun.
That’s love baby!
Why are you telling me this…?
Over the years I have witnessed many, many farms in their early stages (I have been a part of my fair share as well.) Most of them end up failing. As blunt and uncaring as that sounds, it is true.
Most flounder for a few years (if that) consuming time, resources, and sanity; and what you are left with are frustrated, tired, bitter, poor people, who go back to their old jobs that they hate (which is what prompted the move to try and farm in the first place.)
There are millions of reasons for the failures. Lack of capitol, lack of knowledge or experience, poor quality land, or poor management skills, etc., etc., etc, we could go on an on. It is not easy to start a farm!
That being said, I think anybody can/could farm successfully!
Let me repeat that…
Anybody could farm successfully!!!!
I can spell it out for you…
How ’bout for all you French speakers out there?
Hoh-hoh-HOH Pomplemouse mademoiselle!!!……..okay yeah…I don’t speak French…but you get the point.
The ISSUE is that people have to adjust their expectations of what it MEANS to farm successfully!
Before you go out and buy miniature goats (because they are SO damn CUTE!!!) you need a holistic management plan FOR YOU WHOLE LIFE!
I am not talking a FARM plan here…I am talking a LIFE plan.
Because that’s what farming is! It’s a life choice! And I am here to tell you, that if you are unsure on if you are going to “love” your job as a farmer and the lifestyle that comes with it, then by no means give up on “farming”, just adjust your goals as a farmer.
My wife and I lived in an apartment in Webster, MA for a couple of years. Definitely not a rural area…more of a strip mall, (strip CLUB), liquor store with guns in the back, lower-working class type town. Nothing terrible, nothing amazing, it just was what it was.
She was a full-time graduate student working on her Masters degree in Speech and Language Pathology. I was working at the Umass Medical School as a Laboratory Animal Technician to put her through school. Not a job I enjoyed, but Umass would pay for a portion of Cathy’s tuition…so it was worth it.
We didn’t have access to any yard-space (our landlord refused to let me start a small garden OR a compost pile) And so we put planting boxes on all of our window sills full of lettuces, cucumbers, herbs, and worms. I raised rabbits in my mother’s backyard (in Worcester) at the time as well. I convinced a friend of mine from work to let me grow shiitake mushrooms in his backyard.
We did anything we could to keep our fingers in the dirt, keep some sort of our own food on our table, and to be involved in agriculture in some way.
Was it ideal? No!
Were we still “farmers”? Why the hell not? Not full-time, but we were growing plants and raising animals for food.
Unglamorous, unimportant (as viewed by many)), unprofitable yes…but agricultural? Sure!
Satisfying? You better believe it. Especially because I knew that I would only be moving up in the world from there (agriculturally…financially? Not-so-much…)
We were looking for the “farming” lifestyle because it was something that we both knew we loved. We started small, because that is all we COULD do. And we are STILL very small…but we continue to grow and are not broke or bitter, or crawling back to our old jobs.
What do you want in your life as a farmer?
I’m going to paraphrase, from an interview that I heard of Joel Salatin, two times in this blog post. Once, to agree with him, and once to disagree (and probably jab at and make fun of in the process….whoops.)
One of the things he said “to beginning farmers” was to, “Plant the things you like, because you may have to eat your products!”
He was literally referring to plants in your garden. If something goes wrong, you can’t sell your product, or you have an abundance of a particular product, and you have sufficient scruples that will not allow you to waste food…tuck in that napkin boy and eat up! You have to eat, don’t you? Problem solved.
On the livestock side of it; I love raising the rabbits because on one hand they are fun to have around, but they are also cheap to feed and take up relatively little space. On top of all that, I can sell them as babies for pets or breeding stock, or then as meat, pets, or breeding stock when they are older. The absolute WORST possible scenario, is that I never get them sold and I end up having to feed my family some extremely high quality, cheap, finger-lickin’, lip-smackin’, 100% delicious, locally raised, no hormone or antibiotic added, love-infused, humanely treated and processed meat.
…sucks to be us in that situation, right?
The worst case scenario sounds pretty damn good to me.
Now to take what Joel said a step further: Plant or raise the plants and animals that you like to eat, and that make you happy!
And what’s more do it somewhere that makes you happy as well!
If you want to be a farmer, find the things that make you the happiest to buy, raise, weed, feed, get kicked and pooped on by, harvest/slaughter, process, and eat! If you don’t feel good about your products, how are you going to convince someone that they are great?
Pick the products that make you happy and then, if you never sell anything you at least have the value of your own happiness…
…put a dollar value on that…
Find What You Love!
Most of us don’t marry the first person we see…
Talk to people, find farms in your area, intern, volunteer, take classes, listen to pod cast, search the web, read books, go to conferences. Find different people in the field that are successful. Learn, learn, learn, learn, learn!!!!!!!
But most importantly get that hands-on experience first before you try it on your own!
I have been farming for over 20 years in some form or other, and I went to college for it. I still am constantly seeking out other people with more, or just different, experiences than me. I am always trying new things, imitating other people, innovating my own techniques, succeeding sometimes, failing often, but always striving to broaden my understanding of agriculture. Once you think you know it all, or enough at least, you’ve probably forfeited your chance for survival in such a field that is constantly changing.
I hate (and it happens more often then you’d think) when “new farmers” complain to me about projects that have failed epically, when they never looked for advice in the first place. Chances are you are not doing something that no-one has ever done before! Ask other people before you throw away your time and money! If they had just asked, someone could have been like “Oh yeah…I tried that…it failed epically…here’s what I would have done differently if I did it again…” Money saved! Time saved! Sanity saved!
And be logical about things. This also can be lumped into the “raise what you want to eat” category…but just think about what you are raising before you do it! If you are Jewish…maybe pass up on those feeder piglets! If you are a vegan, maybe broilers aren’t a good choice! If you are like me and hate beans (oh God I hate beans…“magical fruit” my arse…) don’t plant 1,000 acres of pintos!
So many times I hear about people who raised meat-rabbits, or broiler chickens, or turkeys, but when it came time to process them “just couldn’t do it!” Then they have a hundred fat animals on their hands with nothing to do but mill around and eat you out of house and home! If keeping all 100 broilers as pets is valuable to you…then great! But I have gone and processed tons of animals for people who couldn’t do the deed themselves…generally for a fee. You don’t have to look into the limpid-pool-eyes of a cucumber as you violently tear it from it’s vine…you don’t have to subdue and calm a tomato as you pluck it from it’s home…
…know what it takes to produce your chosen product in it’s entirety before you raise it yourself…hence the “hands-on experience” first.
Keep it small stupid!
There’s a reason they call us “small farmers” and it don’t got nothing’ to do with our appetites or our egos, take it from me.
Find the things you want to grow, and then be like the wussy kid at the beach! While everyone else just runs and dives into the water (and then proceeds to flail around freezing for a few seconds) be like the kid (you know who you are!!!) who inches in slowly, letting his body acclimate to the temperature one baby step at a time.
Now, you can definitely argue with me on this point. Big business d-bags (cough cough) will say jocky stuff like ‘No risk, no reward!” (and then probably playfully punch another guy who looks just like them, make a sexist comment about a female volleyball player, teacher, or librarian, and then flip off his Abercrombie and Fitch flip-flops and hop up for a keg-stand…….just sayin’…) They would tell me that I have to “Go big, or go home!”
…but I love my job and they don’t love theirs…so bleah!!!
If you are doing something you love and not bankrupting yourself doing it, then profits are secondary.
Clearly I am not a fan of randomly quitting your job to go off and fulfilling your life-long dream of becoming a full-time farmer. Because honestly, this rarely ends well. Ease into things. Figure out what you want to produce, start small, and then build as your market comes!
Market!?! Who said anything about a “Market”?!?
Marketing is huge! Marketing can be an amazingly good, or horrendously bad thing.
I used to manage a farm at a Quaker boarding school. The Headmaster and I used to argue back and forth about marketing farm products. She was of the mind that I should market products despite having a pretty good idea that I wouldn’t have that product when it came time to deliver. Her reasoning was that “If you pique enough interest, customers won’t mind waiting for a product!”…even though the “waiting” we are talking about was upwards of a year.
I disagree with this completely.
In my experience, return customers are what keeps a business running. If you promise someone a side of beef in the spring, and they don’t get a product until the following summer, chances are they are not going to order another side the net spring. AND chances are they are not going to sit around and wait for their beef! People have to eat! There are plenty of places to buy food. If you don’t deliver, someone else will..
And don’t get me started on taking someone’s money and then not providing a product at all! Sounds silly right? This happens all the time!!!
Farmer’s who don’t understand what is means to actually be a community supported farm, think that it means “I take people’s money, and then if the crops fail, it’s okay because I still get paid!” Good for the farmer in a very short-term sense, but bad for the customer (which is bad for the farmer overall.) Those customers are not coming back! There! I said it! They will find another farm to buy their food from and leave you (and your failed crops) in the dust!
Know that you can actually produce a quality product before you sell it! And if your product fails (because this happens…bad growing seasons, freak accidents…it happens, you lose crops and animals some times) figure out some way to make things right! Farmers may not be financially wealthy, but we are often wealthy in other ways. Find out what your farm can offer, and offer this in exchange for a lack of product if you have to.
Or simply give people their money back!
Treat customers how you would expect to be treated at any store. If you mess up, make things right! Being a small farmer does not give you a “get out of jail free” card allowing you to mistreat customers.
Quality?!? Who said anything about “Quality”?!?
If you went to the grocery store and bought a steak for $21.00 a pound, took it home, marinated it for 5 hours, slapped in on the grill and charred it to perfection, and then took a huge bite to find that it was tough, flavorless, and generally disgusting….are you going to pay $21.00/lb to buy that same steak next time you go to the store? HELL NO!
People! It is possible to provide a quality, consistent product on a small farm! It really is!!! You just have to know what you are doing!
Vegetables are a little simpler than livestock (easier to maintain consistency) but you still have to know how to grow a decent crop. Understand the plant and it’s lifecycle, soil sciences…etc.
For livestock you need to understand genetics! We’re talking science here folks! As much as Joel Salatin wants to tell you that science is killing agriculture (and the world) you cannot produce a consistent high-quality product without understanding the science behind how it is produced! (And, for the record, I have heard through the grapevine that ((due to inconsistencies in the genetic make-up of his breeding stock)) Joel doesn’t deliver a consistent product…….just sayin’ what I have heard…)
The “Small farms saving the world” story only goes so far. People need to eat, and they want to LIKE what they eat. At SOME point you have to provide families with food that they actually want to eat in order to justify the increased cost.
As far as I am concerned, if I can sell you the story of small farms, AND provide you with a product that is leagues better than what you can get at the grocery store, THAT’s when I will have happy customers.
…and so far, no complaints.
Do you really want to farm? It’s awesome! It sucks! Is this what you want?
Farm at your own level! This includes size, and experience.
Go and get help! It’s hard sometimes, but do it! Recognize when you don’t know something, and find someone who does!
Stay positive and raise what you love! Fruits? Veggies? Fly Larvae (Yes! Seriously!), Compost? Cattle? Whatever! Find out what makes you happy and work with that!
Set realistic goals and expectations. Don’t base your goals on the romantic idea of “farming” that you’ve dreamt about. Look around you, talk to farmers, do some research, and set your goals based as closely on facts as possible. And then adjust those goals as you gain experience.
Develop your market to reflect your farm’s growth. The ideal amount of customers is equivalent to the amount of product you produce.
Treat customers like equals. They are not the means that keep you in business. One of the reasons I got into farming was because I wanted to provide people with an amazing product that was produced in the most humane manner possible. I work FOR my customer.
Provide a quality product.
Always be true to your personal values and goals.
If you are happy in yourself, and doing what you are doing, customers will reflect this. AND it will be a hell of a lot easier to market a product that you know and love! No hypothetical’s, no unknowns, just facts.
Good products raised right going to good people. What could be better than that?