A Farmer’s Reality: Would You Be Cut Out For It?

What are your plans for this weekend?  Off to the theatre to see a movie?  Out to a pub with friends, perhaps?  Going away to visit family?

If there’s one thing you’re probably not doing, it’s working.  While there are some who do work weekends, those people usually end up getting some time off to compensate for the extra hours worked.  Or they’ll receive overtime pay, which is equally awesome.

Let’s say you had to work at your job every day of the week with no days off.  Would you stay at that job, or leave and find something with more flexible hours?  Would you stay, bank the overtime pay, and go on a once-in-a-lifetime vacation when you finally were able to leave work for a while (if you were at all)?  What if your job – this job that had you working essentially every day of your life – didn’t even have the decency to offer you benefits?  Or a promotion? Or even a guarantee that you’d even make any money at all after your countless hours of hard work?

Welcome to the reality of being a farmer.

#farm365.  Literally.

If you’ve searched that hashtag on Twitter, you’ll know there is a movement across all social media channels where farmers post photos of daily events on their farms.  The point is to educate the consumer about where their food comes from and to show them that, despite all the scare tactics out there, you don’t need to be afraid of your food or of the farms that produce your food.

But I’d like to propose a different idea behind #farm365.  Just like any other entrepreneurial business, farming is not exactly a fit for the lover of weekends and holidays and two-hour company lunch breaks (which is completely fine). Because you’ve really gotta work hard to be a farmer.  I can only speak from the perspective of a dairy and crop farmer, but I’m sure other producers will agree – farming is 7 days a week, 365 days a year.  There are no sick days (unless you’re in-the-hospital kind of sick. And even then, as long as you’ve got your smartphone…).  There are no long weekends.  There are no evenings away from work, unless you’re sleeping.  And sometimes, you don’t even get much of that (hello, cow calving at 2 AM).

I know of a few farmers who haven’t had a day off, let alone a vacation, in a really, really long time.  I feel like it’s kind of an inside joke, the idea of farmers taking vacations.  It just doesn’t seem to happen very often.  But oftentimes, it’s not that they don’t want a vacation, it’s that there’s so much to do, there’s no time for one!  Now, we are very, very lucky because we have two families farming our land and milking our cows.  So if one family wants or needs to get away, then the other one pitches in to make sure chores still get done and everything can run smoothly while they’re away.  Some farmers – a lot of farmers – don’t have this luxury (and it IS a luxury).

Rolling in the Benjamins… Or Not.

Some say that farmers are all rich buggers who don’t lift a finger (and okay, I’m sure there might be a couple out there like that but I certainly don’t know them).  That we profit off of the land and our animals.  That we are profiteers.

Do you know what a profiteer IS?  Merriam Webster online says it means ‘one who makes what is considered an unreasonable profit especially on the sale of essential goods during times of emergency.’  A simple Google search for ‘definition of profiteering’ returns this description: make or seek to make an excessive or unfair profit, especially illegally or in a black market.

Let me just say this: neither one of those definitions even comes close to being in the same ballpark as what a farmer actually is and actually does.  So no, profiteer does not equal farmer.  Just in case you were curious.

But I’d like to just mention something here because this misconception kinda really grinds my gears.  Why is it not okay for me and my family to have an income/make a profit from our business?  I would not ask someone to work at their chosen career and assume they’re working for free (unless they’re volunteering.  But you know what I mean). Somehow, people have got to thinking that it’s bad when farmers make a profit.  Why?  Please, someone explain this to me.  Because am I not allowed to financially provide for my family?  Have money to pay a (really, really, really big) mortgage so I can put a roof over their head?  Clothes on their back?  Food on the table?  How is it okay for everyone else to work and make money at their jobs, but not farmers?

Some years, we are actually very lucky to break even let alone make a profit.  Prime example: it costs a LOT of money to buy seed corn and plant it so it grows into the lovely, green, tall stalks of awesomeness you see as you drive through the country in late summer/early fall.  But if corn prices tank (which is entirely possible; prices are market-driven, after all) then it ends up having cost us money to plant, grow, harvest and sell our corn that year.  So, almost a year’s worth of money and work and worry and watching the weather, for nothing.  And it’s essentially out of the farmer’s control.  That actually happens.  Could you imagine if your boss came to you and said, “Hey, yeah, I can’t pay you for the work you’ve done for me because your time isn’t worth as much as it was when you started.  Sorry!” I’m willing to bet you wouldn’t stay at that job for very long.

So… Why Farm?

You might be wondering, at this point, why we farm.  Sometimes we ask ourselves that very same question.  When the day just hasn’t gone as you’d hoped or it’s been an extra expensive week that was actually more expensive that you thought it would be (that was SO us last week), you can’t help but second guess your career aspiration skills.

But you know what?  Despite the no weekends/holidays, the crazy schedule, the worry, the money, the misconceptions… I would not trade in this life.  I have seen the alternative, I have lived the alternative.  And this is better.

My children are already learning to love and respect the land and the cows.  Geez, I am learning to love and respect the land and the cows!  And respect is a big but wonderful lesson that everyone could benefit from learning.

Even though it’s nuts, we do control our own schedule most of the time.  If there are things we need to do that take us away from the farm and from chores, then we plan around it.  And while we do need to be in the barn for milking at the same time every 12 hours, there are some times when someone gets to sleep in and have the morning off.  But even then, that person will usually still go to the barn to help finish up (because when you get up at 4:30 every morning, every day, it kind of makes you an early riser; sleeping in be damned!).

As far as money and making a living goes, we will never be millionaires.  Sure, there’s always the lottery but they say you shouldn’t include that in your financial planning.  But even without the lottery, we do okay.  Okay enough for me to leave my corporate job to write and stay home to raise our kids and become a more active member of our farm.  Okay enough for my husband to start his own business on top of his responsibilities on the farm.  Okay enough for us to have vehicles that are in good shape and a fresh coat of paint on the walls every now and then and to go out to dinner every once in a while.  We may not be as well off as some but we are certainly doing a whole lot better than others, and I thank God for that each and every day.

So in spite of all the tough stuff and hardships – we farm.  We soldier on.  We love what we do and we will continue to do it as long as our bodies and the Lord will let us.  And even though farming is not something I ever thought I’d be doing, I know it’s the right choice and the right life for me.  Because the reality of farming is, it’s pretty awesome.

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