3 Principles for Beginning Farmers: Part TWO…

…You are the Tortoise AND the Hare.

I may be stretching Aesop’s intent here but this is a story about abundance and scarcity.  The principle: develop your own vision for your own farm then put your hands in your dirt. This is a kind of “mind your own” dirty business admonition along with a principle of action.  In the first post of this trilogy, I claimed that a model is a model, in other words, a starting point not an end point.  Here I claim that the finish line is not at a fixed point in time.  In fact, if farming is both an economic venture and a lifestyle there are only goals, benchmarks, and milestones, no real arrival at a “finish” until the race is actually over. 

In farming terms, this means some people will jump out of the gate and be farming “full time” in a season or two. Maybe this is you and goodonya. Others may never make the “full time” leap despite the effort and still others never plan to move beyond self-sufficiency.  Don’t let the farm dream or another farmer’s success tyrannize you (if you’ve read my meager blog, you know I have this thing for hands in the dirt and tyranny). Our retail focused economy would have you believe that the first to market is the winner. That’s shortsighted. As a farmer, you know that cultivation of living systems take time, among other things, and the end result for the small producer should be quality food.  Be careful not to push the timeline too fast. Cultivating your inner producer is as critical to long-term resilience as the production itself.  And do not get intoxicated with early success.

I’ve heard people say chickens are the gateway drug to livestock farming, Well, similarly, if you buy one cow, you’re bound to want (“need”) another…and another.  We went from two cows to four in a matter of three months. With the confidence of youth and drunk on my “skill” in bovine husbandry, I jumped at an opportunity to achieve abundance.   I quickly learned that twice the time, twice the alfalfa pellets, twice the winter hay (you get the idea) were all impacting my management system in ways I did not anticipate. Oh and I forgot, twice the calves.  Calves are like different animals. They look like little cows but less predictable and more curious or, in other words, children. And managing one calf at a time is very different than managing four calves at a time. The point is that I had what I thought was an abundance of knowledge and systems to manage a couple cows but that quickly became scarcity when the animals doubled, and four is still a microherd.  My systems were not designed for scale then in the way they are now but that took some failure to help me revise. It’s a cycle, we restart at the finish, again and again and again.  

There is no winner.  And no, the message here is not that everyone is amazing at everything. That plastic trophy will die hard.  Producing food is, at times, hard work. Failure is inevitable. Perseverance is not. Produce at the pace of observation.  Take care. But be prepared to make split decisions when necessary and to assume up front that those decisions won’t always work out as planned.  It’s okay. Slow and steady accomplishes a life.  You’ll need to be a tortoise and a hare.

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