Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Where the Farming Road Began...

I mentioned yesterday that I was going to take some time over the next few blog posts to write specifically about the nuts and bolts of how we came to farming and how we are trying to make it work while starting from scratch. I suppose you could say that my desire to farm really started a long time ago as a child. Before I wanted to be a youth pastor I wanted to be a farmer because even though I had grown up in town I had spent a lot of time on the family farms. In fact I really have only had two jobs that I really wanted to do ... youth work and farming.

But, the road to making it a reality actually started with life insurance. If you have ever signed up for life insurance you know that they like to send out a nurse to find out if you are healthy. Our insurance company did that and they found that I was relatively healthy except for one thing ... I had cholesterol through the roof, especially considering my age.

Since they didn't want to put me on medicine for the rest of my life we began looking for ways to lower my cholesterol without drugs. Of course we started watching my intake of certain foods and exercise became a slightly larger priority (I do coach soccer so I have to be kind of in shape). But, we (especially my wife) wanted to do more. She started reaching apple cider vinegar which has many uses (just ask Mrs. Yonder Way Farm or This Abode) and I started to drink the tonic. But, we also began learning about grassfed beef and its beneficial properties.

Many of you know that the benefits of grassfed beef include: more antioxidents, more vitamins, extra "good" fat, less "bad" fat, and elevated Omega-3 levels. You can read more about the benefits at this link on EatWild.com. Needless to say the idea of eating healthy beef really sounded good to me and the farming seed that had been planted all those years ago started to sprout.

We began reading and talking to as many people as we could about grassfed beef and different cattle breeds, and even about the possibility of starting a farm from scratch. It was at this point that our dreams of a place in the country to live began to morph into a desire to farm and even pick up steam. It was through the research, discussion, and questioning that we started to look at what was possible.

A few months later the first Dexter cow and steer showed up on my dad's farm and we began looking at the pieces that we need to put together to farm. More on those pieces tomorrow.

13 comments:

Yeoman said...

"I suppose you could say that my desire to farm really started a long time ago as a child."

I'd wager that most of us share that statement.

For quite a while, I've suspected that wanting to be farmer, amongst those of us who possess it, is an elemental part of our nature. An instinct, if you will. You can suppress it, just as you can keep a cat in an apartment against its instincts. But you can't keep the desire down, just as the cat will sit all day in the window watching the birds.

I've done a lot of things in my 45 years, and I've worked in one way or another in a lot of jobs for 32 of those 45. But wanting to raise cattle is one of my earliest memories.

Over time, after your early 20s, it seems to me that the false desire a person picks up as a teenager wonder away, and you are left back with who you really were, which is usually the same person you were at five years old, or ten years old, but older. I suspect that's why so many people are so miserable in their working years, as the jobs they picked up were those that they were told they wanted, and were convinced they wanted, in their late teens and early 20s, when many people have false personalities.

Steven said...

My cousin, who is very skeptical of my farming endeavor said once, "I don't remember you wanting to be a farmer as a kid". He was actually the one that was always riding around with our Papaw on the farm. Well, I thought about it alot and realized, that though I never wanted to be the guy on the tractor on the dusty corn field, I did always have a garden next to our dog pen in my grade school, early high school years and I always loved to work with any kind of animal. We raised golden retrievers when I was little and I became a pretty good dog trainer. Then, at about 20, I started working alot with my future wife's horse and ended up taking care of it while she was away at college.

All I know is I'm pretty miserable sitting here in the a/c calculating steel weights and drawing structure, but after a long day of sweating on the farm I feel great and my wife has to make me stop talking about the current state of the pastures/cows. :-)

I think Yeoman is definitely right about the time as a teen when you decide your career path, and the time later when you start to find out what you really should be.

Everett said...

"Over time, after your early 20s, it seems to me that the false desire a person picks up as a teenager wonder away, and you are left back with who you really were, which is usually the same person you were at five years old, or ten years old, but older."

AMEN - I couldn't agree more; very well said.

I am 31 year old and first started thinking about this at around 29. I make great money and have a great job in Denver, after having travel all over the world, including three years of college in Australia. Now that I'm a working professional though, this gnawing desire to work with the land is increasingly on my mind. Every day I spend in a cubicle just makes it seem more urgent that I stake out a piece of land to get started.

But how does one get started when there are bills to pay (car, mortgage, student loans...) and knowing that, in this country, one accident on the farm without health insurance could put you on the streets? Last I checked, health insurance without an employer to cover some of it would run me around $500 a month for my family. Add to that a mortgage on a farm and things like feed, tools and electricity... It can be an overwhelming thought.

Any advice in this regard is much appreciated. :-)

Yeoman said...

"
All I know is I'm pretty miserable sitting here in the a/c calculating steel weights and drawing structure, but after a long day of sweating on the farm I feel great and my wife has to make me stop talking about the current state of the pastures/cows. :-)"

I know that feeling exactly.

It's interesting how we get where we are. In retrospect, when I look back on my time as a university undergraduate, I realize that the thing I liked most about my science curriculum is that I spent a lot of time outdoors, or thinking on the outdoors. I was supposedly studying for my major, but in reality what I was doing was observing was the ranchland. I just didn't think it practical to try to go into agriculture.

In grad (law) school, in retrospect, to the extent I was focusing on my studies it was in the same way that I focused on the history classes (of which I took quite a few, as an undergrad) and not as something I'd be working at. Looking back, I realize that I was pretty detached then, and I thought a lot about farms and ranches, and was much more interested in them than in the field I was studying in order to employ for a living.

Both those courses of study were directed towards practical goals, finding paying work. I never hoped (and still don't) to get rich, but I hoped to make a living.

Be that as it may, working in the office has been entirely unsatisfactory. My time raising cattle has been entirely satisfactory. I dread the office, where I make most of our family money, and would leave in an instance if I could.

None of this should surprise me. I can clearly seem myself now, in nearly every aspect of my character, in what I was when I was ten. All the same likes and dislikes, and the same strong beliefs, were there. I have a harder time recognizing myself from about age 16 to age 26. Perhaps the me of that decade was more worldly, but also more practical. I was less practical before that, and after that. But then, where ever these strong desires come from, I didn't place them there, and they're there. I wish in retrospect, that I'd followed them back then. But I know now that there's no suppressing them.

Yeoman said...

"But how does one get started when there are bills to pay (car, mortgage, student loans...) and knowing that, in this country, one accident on the farm without health insurance could put you on the streets? Last I checked, health insurance without an employer to cover some of it would run me around $500 a month for my family. Add to that a mortgage on a farm and things like feed, tools and electricity... It can be an overwhelming thought.

Any advice in this regard is much appreciated. :-)"

If you can figure it out, let us all know. To add to your list, how to you get started when your income supports your wife and kids, and your spouse reasonably fears that abandoning that office job would be an economic reduction of epic proportions.

All I can say is that starting about 13 years ago opportunities opened up for me to have cattle, and I've been building up my numbers slowly since. I don't have enough yet to only do that. I almost see my goals in sight. Almost. More accurately, I think I see where I will be able to see them, but it's been a long haul.

Still, working on that goal, no matter how unrealistic, has been an element of hope for me, and likely an element of aggravation for my wife. I now know that I'll never be happy in my office, no matter what. I also know that I'm always happy with the cows. At least I've had the cows.

Steven said...

Yeoman,
I don't believe you've ever told us what kind of cows you have, and how many. If you did, I don't remember.

Ethan Book said...

Good thoughts everyone ... I would say that I tend to agree, except that maybe I'm an exception. I didn't really wait until my mid 20's to do the work I wanted to do. As much as I love farming and growing the farm I'm absolutely in love with youth ministry and I have been doing that since I was 20 and plan to continue as long as I can.

Everett - Just keep following the posts for the next few days, I'm going to tackle some of those issues you bring up. The answers might be a little outside of the box and not for everyone, but I think they work.

Steven said...

Ethan, I also do some youth ministry. My mom was a paid youth minister at one of the local parishes for a few years and I also volunteer for alot of stuff. For the last couple of years I've been setting up my sound system for a youth program once a month, I make about what it takes to pay for my cell phone bill and my gas for that day. It's alot of fun, but I've seen how much work being a full time youth minister can be and I'll leave that to someone else. It's one of those jobs that people rarely see how much you're really doing too!

Everett said...

I'm glad I found this blog. Yes, I'll check back over the next few days (I always do since your RSS feed found its way into my Bloglines account last month) and look forward to any answers you can provide - however out of the box they may be.

Yeoman said...

Interesting the common themes here. I'm not a youth minister, but I am a lector in my Parish.

Here too, I again note what I did above. I've always been close to my faith, but in that 16-22 time frame, while I never strayed away, I was much less focused on it.

As a total aside, last year before I trailed I had a couple of experiences at Daily Mass where the readings were directly applicable to herdsmen, which was a strange experience.

Steven. Black Baldies. Only 50. Probably increase that to 75 shortly, or perhaps more.

Yeoman said...

That's 50 pair, of course. And the necessary bulls are on top of that. That was probably clear, but thought I'd add it. We run with my wife's family.

Kwan said...

Always great to read your blog ethan. I've skimmed back through your posts trying to learn more about how you got started, so Im glad you are now writing in retrospects about your journey. What has (or is) your experience with loans?

great comments too. I totally agree you are born with farming in your blood - its the only way I can explain to my peers why I am obsessed with beeves. Afterall, I grew up in the suburbs and before that immigrated over from a country whose population is pretty much lactose intolerant, but growing up I hiked, I studied plants, I caught tadpoles where I could in the city. I ended up studying landscape art, plants, then forestry, and then realized i'd just been picking the best of what I knew at the time until I realized it was plain old agriculture.

Yeoman said...

I suspect the basic rural instincts run through a lot more people that we'd suspect, and perhaps in all people to some degree.

Indeed, I suspect that part of the reason that modern man has so many odd hang ups, problems, and difficulties is that we're basically like the tiger at the zoo. We've been taken out of nature, but nature can't be taken out of us. As a species, we're only removed from our rural natures very recently. The US, for example, has only had a majority non rural population for less than a Century, and many states for a much shorter period of time than that.

Given that, the human equivalent of pacing back and forth in front of the cage comes out in all sorts of behavioral problems.

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