Monday, February 28, 2011

"The Accidental Farmers" :: Chapter 1 Book Report

When I heard that Tim Young of Nature's Harmony Farm was writing a book I knew with out a doubt that it would be reading it and I was fairly certain that I would enjoy it. I was able to be pretty confident of those two points because I have been following along with his farm since the beginning and I've enjoyed and appreciated his blog posts, e-mails, and podcasts. So, now that I have my hands on a copy I'm beginning to make my way through the book. The first section of the book deals with the "Birth of a Farm" ... their farm specifically ... while the second section is more about their values, methods, and farm in general. If your interested in a copy of the book for yourself be sure to click through to from the picture to the right.

Chapter one of "The Accidental Farmers" deals with the awaking that Tim and Liz Young had that eventually (and by eventually I mean fairly quickly) to the farm. The Young's were living the typical "American Dream" life in suburban America when a trip to the country changed their outlook on life and on their values and goals ... at least that is what I'm taking away from this first chapter. I really appreciate the honesty and picture that Mr. Young paints in this chapter as he shows how they made the decision to transition to the farm.

I think it is a good reminder to follow our passions and look for ways to make them happen. Thanks to a few suggestions on one of my previous blog posts I'm also reading 48 Days to the Work You Love: Preparing for the New Normal by Dan Miller and I appreciate the idea of making your work your passion. If nothing else this first chapter may give you some encouragement to to form your values and think outside of the box.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

My Kingdom for a Horse ...

"A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse." At least that is what King Richard III says in Shakespeare's Richard III (this blog has really gone high brow if I quote Shakespeare). Lately though I've been thinking ... "A job! A job! My kingdom (or farm) for a job!" The cold hard reality is that the farm is not ready to carry itself quite yet and it might not be ready for some time. As much as I would love to just throw myself into it and give it a go there just isn't enough money in the back to tide it over until things get up and going to the level it would need to be at. So I need a job ... a decent job ... in the area where the farm is ... that will allow me to keep farming at least on some level (if I want to keep the farm going).

Right now that seems like the tallest order possible. Obviously it is not the best job market out there right now, and finding a job that is in my area and provides enough financial stability with my Associate of Arts degree is proving more difficult than I had hoped. For the previous ten-and-a-half years I have done basically the same job ... working in ministry with students (both in church's and at a boarding school). To be completely honest though my biggest struggle is trying to figure out how my past experience translates into a job in the secular world.

There is me ... being brutally honest. I guess what I'm saying is if you have any tips, suggestions, job searching ideas, leads, snide remarks, or help of any sort I'm open and willing to take it all! This is something that I've never experienced before (and yes I understand that so many are having to deal with it ... and probably worse than I am) so I'm humbly asking for help.

Thank you all for your support ...

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Dirty Coveralls

The other day as I was throwing on my coveralls and boots in the mud room I became acutely aware of just how dirty, smelly, and blown out those poor coveralls were. That of course makes perfect sense because I wear them every day throughout the winter and I put them through a lot of abuse and of course they never fail to snag on any little sharp edge that I cross paths with. But, the reason that it really hit home with me is because it wasn't that long ago that I was at my uncle's plow day and he and my cousin were commenting on just how clean and nice looking my coveralls were ... they looked like I didn't even do any work (and to be fair to them the only thing I used them for at the time was shoveling snow).

But now ... well now they are just pretty nasty and worn and ... and ... and I love them! I love the fact that I have dirty, smelly, and blown out coveralls. I love the fact that I haven't taken the time to wash them yet this winter (in hindsight I should probably make time) because they are just such an important part of my "winter on the farm" arsenal. These coveralls have protected me from the cold and wind on the bitter winter days, they've protected my "good clothes" from the mud and yuck and other farm related goop, they've provided they perfect place to wipe my dirty goods, and they have become a visible reminder of what I'm doing.

It amazes me that such a little comment about the lack of dirt and wear on my coveralls is a comment that would stick with me, but if I'm honest with myself it amazes me even more that they are dirty, smelly, and blown out. Five years ago if you would have painted me a picture of the farm that is now a part of me I would have never believed it. I would have wanted it, but I would have never believed it! Despite all of the limiting factors (see yesterday's post) and the things that continually get me down and make me feel defeated on the farm I know that I've come a long ways and that I'm making progress.

I think that is what makes things so difficult. The fact that I've made progress and I'm seeing things come together (in there very slow way) makes me see and believe that the farm is possible. At the same time though the changing landscape of my life sometimes has me doubting the possibility of moving the farm to another level. If nothing else though I now have some dirty, smelly, and blown out coveralls ... and a stack of worn out mud boots ...

**That's my philosophical and introspective post for the week ;) Check back tomorrow and I'll try to be a bit more normal **

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Limiting Factors ...

Sometimes when I think about the farm I think about what I've done and what could have been done differently. Or more specifically, how I would do things differently if I started over again. All of those thoughts lead me to what I consider the limiting factors are for my farm ... not that they spell the end, but just that they are factors that limit my growth and that to succeed at a greater level I need to get past these factors. I also think they are good things for other beginning farmers like myself to consider. So ... here a four of my major limiting factors (as far as I see it) ::

Knowledge :: As has been discussed numerous times on this blog my farming background prior to starting consisted of weekends as a child at my dad's and uncle's where I was just there to tag along. This has meant that there has been a huge learning curve as I try to learn everything from books, questions, phone calls, and of course trial and error. Learning on the fly is wonderful in some ways because it causes you to really grasp something fully and think about the why's and how's of what you are actually doing. But, it can also mean that there are consequences for the lack of knowledge and there have been plenty of times that I've had to pay the consequences for not knowing enough in certain situations.

Time :: This is an interesting limiting factor and I think in some beginning farms it would be less of a factor than it is in my farm. With my desire to start a pasture based livestock farm and my lack of large amounts of cash (see the next two limiting factors below) I needed to continue working a full-time job in town to help pay the farm mortgage. Because my time is always limited the amount of time I have to spend on marketing or other things important to a direct marketing farm is much less than I would like, especially after taking time to do chores and other farm jobs. It also means that I have less time to do projects that would make the farm more efficient or help the farm grow more quickly. Time is one of the limiting factors that I butt my head up against the most it seems.

Land :: From the outset of my farm thoughts and adventure it was obvious to me that I wanted to have a pasture based livestock farm. That is just where my passions were and it is what got my juices really flowing. The thing about livestock though is that they take much more land than rows of carrots, beans, lettuce, and other garden fare. So, I ended up with 40 acres (even though that is very small in the livestock farm realm). At some point land becomes a limiting factor to my growth because even a great pasture has a limit to what it can carry. There is also the whole factor of the land payment (which also connects to the next limiting factor). With my still owned by the wonderful lending institutions I have to make payments and even on a relatively small 40 acre farm those are big enough payments. If I was farming this land and it was owned free and clear ... well, let's just say that I would have to be making a lot less money! One other factor with the land though that I know some will think about is the fact that there are other farmers out there doing stocker cattle or grassfed livestock on rented ground. I think that can be a very profitable venture and a great thing for a beginner ... if you have experience ... which I do not have.

Money :: Of course this is the obvious one, so I won't spend much time on it. But, if I had begun my farm with a decent amount of capital and I was able to pay for the farm or at least pay enough that the land payments weren't a huge factor then other things would fall into place. Or, if I was making more money in town that allowed me to hire work done (things like fence, water systems, electricity to my shed, structures, etc.) my time could be spent in other areas of growth. I'm not going to lament the money issue though. It is what it is and everyone has to deal with it in some way. I'm just saying it is one of those limiting factors that one should think about when they are diving in head first to a farm.

This is the end all list of limiting factors and points to consider when beginning a farm (or continuing a farm), but these four are the ones that pop up most in my mind as I drive around the Iowa country side and ponder the Crooked Gap. I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject and what some of your limiting factors are, and if I get really ambitious I'll try to share (it will take a while) what I would have done different if I knew what I know now.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Pricing ...

When the first pigs were ready on the farm pricing was a big deal and something that was difficult to figure out. Then when the first individual cuts were ready for sale pricing became even more confusing ... at least trying to figure out what price to give each cut was confusing. Pricing is an interesting thing though because when the first prices were made my custom pig ration was running about $3.50 on average per 50 lb. bag. Now here I am over a year later (corn is now over $7 a bushel soybeans are over $13 per bushel) and the same feed is running around $8 plus per bag (unfortunately the bags are still 50 lbs.). Obviously that means that it will cost twice as much to finish a pig on the farm and that doesn't even include the rising prices of other things (fuel, materials, etc.).

One of the major upsides of direct marketing (besides getting to know the consumers) is that you can become a price maker instead of a price taker. One of the major downsides of direct marketing is that being a price maker means that sometimes I need to raise my prices to make the farm financially sustainable. Right now the live hog market seems to generally be trending up with feed prices (I realize that always/usually isn't the case), but I haven't raised my prices.

I understand that price change ... an upward price change ... might be hard to handle for some customers. With my current job changes and situations, farm mortgage, and the inputs it takes to run the farm I'm acutely aware of the fact that we need to watch every penny and squeeze them even tighter. But, on the flip side if I don't work to make the farm financially sustainable then there will be no farm for consumers like ours to visit and purchase from

I feel very strongly about the importance of farms like Crooked Gap Farm. I believe it is important to be able to get great, clean, healthy meat from your own area. I know that we need strong local business (including farms) to help sustain a community. I'm very passionate about the farm and what it's all about ... but, I hate the idea of raising prices ... even if it's what needs to happen.

Friday, February 18, 2011

A Friendly Reminder ...

Sometimes I just need to give myself friendly little reminders. Today's reminder has to do with the image above ... yesterday it touched the lower 70's on the farm and it was just wonderful. All the snow is gone up around the house and the buildings and I would say that the ground was even beginning to dry up and the puddles were disappearing. But, as you can see above the weather is about to change a bit and I think I'm going to be reminded that it's still February (although I'm never going to get upset about temps in the 30's as long as everything keeps drying).

Even though there hasn't been as much snow as last year I feel like this has been a long winer and I'm ready to move on and start getting projects done on the farm instead of just keeping up with things. It's not that I think I will have much more time when the weather gets warmer, but that the sun will stay out to play longer so that I will be more efficient with the time that I have.

Like I say ... sometimes I need a friendly little reminder on the farm. Today I need to be reminded that spring is not here yet (but it's coming) and that today's mud will eventually turn into summer's green grass. That will happen right ...

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Bar the Doors and Lock up Your Pigs

With live hog prices hitting $60 plus dollars per hundred weight and feeder pig prices going through the roof I have a feeling stories like this won't be completely out of the ordinary. That's right ... in my own little Iowa county a couple of hog rustlers have been caught trying to take 13 stolen hogs to the sale barn. I guess they decided that with feed prices going through the roof it would be easier and more profitable to steal the pigs instead of raise them and feed them out ... of course I don't think they factored in the possibility of getting caught!

The pigs were valued at $2408 (which breaks down to $185.23 per pig). Let's just say that I'm going to keep eye on my pigs from now on ... of course someone stealing my pigs would entail them actually penning them back up (yes they like to get out) and then loading them into a trailer. I think I'll be safe ...

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Mud and Farrowing Fun ...

It has been unseasonably warm lately. The kind of warm that has me thinking about spring and green grass, but I'm trying to keep myself grounded and remember that it is still the middle of February. Obviously the frost hasn't left the ground yet, but the top couple of inches are thawing and making everything nice and muddy ... which I'm not going to complain about! The warm weather though came at just the perfect time though because yesterday my second Tamworth sow farrowed in the lean-to off the back of the shed. You can check out my Twitter feed to see the new picture.

This sow was the last of the group of four I purchased a few weeks ago and so far so good with her. Well I guess I should say ... so far so okay. She, like the others, would not farrow in the huts and I'm a little disappointed that the instinct of building a nest in them did not come out like I've experienced with some of my other sows (the Hereford and the crosses). She did only lose one so far (it was dead when I found it) and after a few hours I was able to get her calmed down and in the hut with her pigs. I checked her throughout the night and then again this morning and the only problem was that one little pig had found its way out. I nailed a board up on the door hoping to keep them in, but I did that last night as well and the sow wouldn't go in ... I'm hoping that her spending the night in the hut will take care of that problem.

It's during these farrowing times and other times like this that I realize just how much I have to learn! Don't get me wrong, I do feel like I've come a long way, but there are plenty of times when I feel like things aren't going well and I don't know what I'm doing! You just have to keep your chin up and keep pressing on though ...

Friday, February 11, 2011

2011 Farmer's Markets Season

Either it is the seven day forecast that includes above freezing temperatures that has me thinking about the upcoming market season or the e-mail that I received from the Des Moines Downtown Farmer's Market, either way it's really on my mind. This year I'm really hoping to up my market involvement and the farm's visibility to consumers. I think it is just the next natural step in the process of a beginning farm.

Last summer I did a Wednesday evening market that was more small than it was large. It would have been nice to have a slightly more successful market season, but in all honestly it was a perfect start for me. Since I had no background in marketing or setting up a booth it was good to have a chance to get things going at a market that was a little less stressful. I took away a lot of things ... things that I need to change and things that I need to improve in order to make more sales and to be more efficient. For example, I feel like I need to come up with a better system for checking out customers ... it just seemed slow!

But, the one thing I really need help with is my farmer's market booth/space/tent thing. I feel like all those fruit and vegetable farmers have it easy because they can cover their tables with their beautiful produce each week. On the other hand when I show up at the farmer's market I have coolers full of frozen meat. That is not exactly something you want to put out on the table for customers to look at ... the rancid meat isn't a super draw! So, I have to come up with a super duper market table that catches the eye of all the customers walking by and draws them in.

If anyone has any ideas or examples of what you've done in the past please let me know. I'm always on the lookout for some creative help and great ideas! Also, if there are any books or publications please let me know. I did come across this book on Amazon though ... it has some decent reviews, so I might check it out.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Little Things and a Thank You ...

Sometimes it's the little things on the farm that amaze me. Or more specifically the little things that have become routine parts of my life since taking on the farm. Here are just a few mundane and not so mundane things that have become part of my farming life. For someone who grew up on the farm these things are just things that happen in the course of the life of a farm ... for me ... well, let's just say I didn't grow up on the farm!
  • I am working on perfecting the art of the hose drain. After stretching out the 300 feet of hose to water the hogs/cattle/sheep I need to drain all of the water out in order to keep the hose from freezing shut. I've worked out a great system ... I hold the hose above my head and count to fifteen (my unscientific research tells me that 15 is the perfect number). After my fifteen count I reach ahead a couple of feet and repeat the process. I do this every day ...
  • In the past week I've had to lance an infection on a baby pig not once, but twice. Many people that have known me my whole life might be surprised that I just take this as part of the farm and that I can do it without losing my cookies. Let's just say that most of the time I don't have a stomach for most things, but for some reason when it comes to the farm I can just dig in and do it. Even when there was that rectal prolapse that one time ...
  • Circumstances that I have had no control over this winter have led to my arms being completely submerged in water ... while the temperature is hovering around zero and the water temperature was struggling to stay above freezing. It's just one of those things that you have to do on the farm.
  • A few weeks ago I spent an hour laying in deep bedding in the pig shed trying to introduce some baby pigs back to their mother who had decided to have them in the alleyway instead of in the hut. Of course prior to me laying in the deep bedding I was in the house feeding the little pigs some electrolytes and warming them up while their mother was trying to tear apart the hut I had put her in ... in the end things kinda worked out.
Those things may seem simple or common place for those with more experience than me, but at the end of the day I'm proud that I can accomplish something! Sometimes it's just important to find comfort and strength in the simple things of the farm ... even if they are a little out of the ordinary.

There is one more thing though. I just want to send out a big thank You for the surprise gift that I received this week. Let's just say someone really knows me and I'm thankful to have them in my life. I can't even begin to express my gratitude and I hope this gets to You! Thank You ...

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

"Accidental Farmers" :: A New Book

Way back in December of 2007 I had the opportunity to interview Tim Young of Nature's Harmony Farm (you can read the four part interview HERE ... HERE ... HERE ... HERE). I'm not positive, but I'm fairly sure that at the time of the Q & A interview the farm was in it's very beginning stages and they were just beginning to get their feet wet. One thing that I noticed as I read through the interviews again is that they have remained true to their values as their farm has grown and as they have grown as farmers. I'm sure you'll noticed that they have learned along the way, but it's also obvious that they have worked things through in their minds and they have a focused vision.

What is exciting now is that Mr. Young now has a book available titled "Accidental Farmers" that is hot off the presses. You can order your paperback copy here, if you have a Kindle it will be available soon from Amazon (ordering through Amazon also helps support Crooked Gap Farm), and I believe it will be on the iTunes store soon as well. If you would like to check out a sample chapter head to the "Accidental Farmers" website or check out this link.

Last night I took some time to read through the preview chapter titled, "Pig Tales". I think my best one sentence summation would be :: Mr. Young gives you a great inside look at the happenings and thoughts of a couple beginning farmers ... and he holds nothing back! Really it was great to see his honesty and transparency in his writing because it gave a great glimpse of exactly what it was like starting from the very beginning (and pigs were the first animals to come to their farm). In this chapter, and probably throughout the rest of the book, Mr. Young shares experiences from the farm ... insight into their values and methods ... and honest descriptions of beginning farmer experiences (really honest!).

If you know anything about Nature's Harmony Farm I suggest you check this book out. If you don't know anything about Nature's Harmony Farm I suggest you check this book out! No matter what your farming methods are you I think you will be able to take something away from each chapter, and if nothing else you have to respect the work and passion that they have put into their farm and the animals they raise.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

A Thriving Local Food System :: Joel Salatin

Sometimes I feel like I'm pretty tech savvy farmer who understands the world of social media. Other times I feel like a farmer who kind of understands Blogger, but not much else. Either way ... I was excited to see that @chelseagreen (the book publisher) was following me on Twitter. To be completely honest I'm always a bit excited when I have a new follower, but I was especially happy about this one because it lead me to their own Twitter account and quite a few neat links.

One that I found really interesting is a link to an older article from Australia that features Joel Salatin talking about how to have a thriving local food system. Mr. Salatin lists six areas of need for a local food system :: Producer, Young People on the Farm, Accounting, Marketing, Distribution, and a Buyer/Patron. Under each one of those areas he hits a few bullet points in greater detail. Plus if you're interested there is a link at the bottom of the article for a radio interview.

A few things that stuck in my mind after reading through his talking points were the importance of having "a Jeffersonian intellectual agrarian concept" (I wonder how that played in Australia), that the farm needs a "gregarious story teller," his break down of the Polyface Farm sales, and of course the importance of the customer. I really appreciate the way that Mr. Salatin likes to pull out things from history so that we can recognize the importance of our past and how things worked out before our agricultural systems started the major changes. Of course I'm not suggesting we make the change back to 18th century agriculture (although it would be right up my alley), but I do think it's important for us to remember and learn from our history!

Monday, February 07, 2011

The Beginning Farmer on the Kindle (and more)

Sometimes you just need to try new things, and right now I'm thinking about trying some new things. I've been blogging on this site for nearly four-and-a-half years now and I've amassed nearly 750 blog posts in that time and I have gained a lot! I have learned a lot of things from all of the readers and lately I have been encouraged as the farm and I go though some changes. One thing that I've always be scared of doing though is throwing a lot of ads up on the site. You may have noticed a few from time to time, but for the most part I figured that I was receiving more than I could ever possibly hope to give just from the comments left by everyone.

Of course all that is just a lot of fancy talk to say that I'm now going to have some advertisements up on the blog ;) At least I'm going to try some out for now. I've added some ads and I'm going to try it for a while. I'm also going to be adding some Amazon advertisements (mostly for the books that I really appreciate and talk about). They way the Amazon deal works is that the blog gets a cut if you click through and make your purchases by going through the links on my site.

Which brings me to one other thing that I'm trying right now. If you are a Kindle user (which I'm not ... yet ... I think they are pretty neat though and with my book obsession one might come in handy) you can now subscribe to The Beginning Farmer blog for a monthly rate and have each post delivered directly to your Kindle. It may seem like a frivolous thing, but I'm just throwing it out there for anyone that wants to keep up-to-date on the blog.

As I've mentioned in previous posts lately I've mentioned trying to think outside of the box and come up with ways to work more creatively and at the same time in my areas of passion. Besides farming itself one of the things that I'm passionate about is sharing my farm story and encouraging and helping others along a similar path. As I try to think of these outside of the box ideas I keep coming back in my mind to "The Contrary Farmer" by Gene Logsdon. He wrote about the diverse farm that not only had a large variety of farm income sources (livestock, produce, etc.), but also other ways of making income (repair, wood sales, anything along those lines). I love that idea!

Friday, February 04, 2011

The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer :: Chapter 2 Book Report

The second chapter of Joel Salatin's latest book is titled, "Grass Farmer" and it is another one of those passion topics for him. It's easy to understand why because the soil and the grass (and the sun) are the basis of any farm like Mr. Salatin's. In this chapter he gives a great overview of the importance of grass and the basics of grass farming. You can tell that he has changed his grazing management over time and has now moved to more of tall grass mob grazing system as opposed to the managed intensive grazing he practiced when he wrote "Salad Bar Beef". Of course it's all some sort of managed grazing.

If you've read anything on the subject of mob grazing before he hits all the main points in an overview sort of way ... grass being a mirror image above and below ground, the use of grazing management that mimics nature, the importance of keeping your nutrients and water on your farm, and things like that. But, the thing that I really took away from this chapter is fact that I love the location of my house.

I used to drive around the Iowa countryside and wonder what exactly got into a person's head that they decided to build a nice house in the middle of a corn field ... with no trees in sight. It just seemed like it would be so awful to live out in the middle of the corn field with nothing exciting to look at except for the dirt and the corn/soybeans. I just thought it seemed weird to have a beautiful and expensive new house in the middle of nothing.

Then of course I chose the top of a hill with no trees for the location for my house! When the house was being built I always envisioned where the trees would be and what they would look like when the were mature shade trees all around the house and barnyard. Then I lived here for awhile and something crazy happened ... I decided I wasn't crazy about a ton of trees. In fact I really liked not having them blocking my view of the pasture! There was just something beautiful about looking out at the grass and the livestock doing their thing.

As I said yesterday my soil is not where I want it to be or need it to be and my grass is the same way. But, this encourages me. It encourages me that eventually I'll be able to look out (with a couple trees around the yard ... not blocking my view) to a grass land that sustains a variety of livestock and wildlife ... just like a few hundred years ago in this same location.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer :: Chapter 1 Book Report

It's been awhile since I've taken the time to do a book report, but I've been wanting to make the time as I pick my way through Joel Salatin's latest book, "The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer". I know that you're not supposed to judge a book by the cover (or the title in this case), but if you were going to do that I think the title alone would be enough to interest you in this book. Really ... who wouldn't want to enjoy the life of a "Lunatic Farmer"!

Before I get to the first chapter let me just quickly mention something from the introduction. Mr. Salatin shares a little story about a time where he was trying to get a load of sawdust for the farm. He relates that all was well until the man delivering the load realized just who he would be delivering to and then he backed out because he said that Polyface Farm was cruel to it's animals by not giving hormones or grain and making them live outside. I have no reason to doubt this really happened and all I can say is ... WOW!!! Now, one to chapter one ...

The first chapter of this book is titled, "Growing Soil". If you have read any other books by Mr. Salatin you will recognize some of the same stories, but I think there is a reason for this. He is passionate about the soil being the basis for all that a farm is and can be so we expresses that every chance he gets. At least that is what I take away from it.

It's always encouraging for me to read success stories like this when it comes to rehabilitating the ground. From the stories Mr. Salatin relates his ground was very bad when the family purchased it and now it is like a completely different farm. I don't think my farm is anywhere near what he had to deal with (and that's good because he had a head start from the help of his dad's farming practices), but I know that my soil is not where I want it to be so it is always good to read about the possibilities.

As always his keys are adding carbons to your soil, keeping your nutrients (manure) on your farm, letting the animals work for you, using perennials to grow soil health, and recognizing what soil really is. Healthy soil is packed full of living and moving and breathing organisms that all play a part in creating a healthy farm. If we take the time to key in on the importance of this then we will understand just how important a farm full of living and breathing dirt really is!

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

2011 INCA Conference

The Iowa Network for Community Agriculture (INCA) is an organization that honestly I didn't know much about until recently. But, it is an organization that I should know more about ... especially after I realized that three of the members on the leadership are (somewhat) neighbors or people that I have had a chance to meet quite a few times. After bumping around their website a little I think it sounds like a pretty cool organization with goals and values that are very similar to mine. I encourage you to check out their website and see what they are all about (even if you're not from Iowa).

But, the real reason I'm brining up INCA today is because on Saturday, March 5th I'll have the opportunity to share at one of their afternoon workshops. The workshop that I will be a part of (along with an organic grain/meat goat farmer) will be about marketing and the various venues that you can seek out to market your products. I'm always excited about opportunities like this because I love to talk about the farm, but more importantly because I always seem to learn so much through the connections that I make at these events.

All to often I find myself isolating myself from others that can help me shape my vision and goals for the farm and it takes things like this for me to break out of my shell and get plugged in. If you're farming now (or interested in farming in the future) I really want to encourage you to attend as many conferences, field days, meetings, or other gatherings of farmers that you can. It's opportunities like those where you can really learn and be encouraged. I know I need it as often as I can get it!

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Living on the Crooked Road ...

The name "Crooked Gap Farm" comes from the fact that the farm is located just off the "Crooked Road to Melcher". Unless you live in my area or have traveled this slightly winding road though the idea of the "Crooked Road to Melcher" is pretty much meaningless ... although I do think it helps create a great farm name! One thing that I think we can all relate to though is the fact that life sometimes is a "crooked road". Like traveling on a crooked road ... we can't always see what is coming ahead of us or even what is around the next bend.

Life is full of bends and turns on the crooked road and my life has been no exception. Just recently I found myself no longer working at the church where I have served for the last six plus years. It was one of those crooked road moments where they road in front of me just took a big swinging bend and I was faced with a new road ahead. I know that the road ahead has something laid out for me though and I'm impatiently nervous to see what is ahead.

Of course one big question floating around in my head right now is how the farm will fit into this new section of road that lays before me. I think beginning a farm enterprise (or any business for that matter) from scratch will always have a large uphill climb at the beginning, but that at some point you will feel like you are starting to climb and make progress. While I don't feel like I had completely made it up this first hill yet I do think that farm was and is just starting to take off. I feel like I'm starting to gain on the learning curve a little, that some of the marketing things are coming together, and that I see that success is possible for this farm and this place.

One thing I do know is that I'm passionate about the farm. Even though sometimes I feel like there have been more trials than success stories in the beginning I am excited about the possibilities of creating a farm that can provide a great product to the surrounding communities and a sustainable living. I love working with the customers ... I love seeing the animals do their thing out on pasture ... I love being part of the farm and I think that Crooked Gap Farm can work!

But, there is always a but ... But, I can only continue the farm here (and in some ways I feel like I can only continue it here or no where else) if I can figure out a work situation that allows me to get the farm going the rest of the way. The reality is that it takes quite a bit to start from nothing and build it to something ... especially when there is a mortgage and other start up costs involved. And, I haven't quite reached the point yet where the farm is supporting itself all the way and helping pay for the farm.

So, that is where the crooked road is leading right now. I'm working to keep my chin up and figure out ways that the farm can continue on. I'm searching for jobs around the area that would allow me to keep it all together, and I'm really trying to come up with those outside of the box ideas that will really allow me to throw myself into the farm!

**Insert Awkwardness Here** I know that there are quite a few readers of this blog and I'm always surprised by the number of people that pop in from time to time. I also know that I've been blessed by so many of the suggestions, comments, and encouragements posted on the blog or e-mailed to me. Right now though the farm is kind of in a tight spot as I look to find the next move on the road ahead. If you would have any job suggestions (creative or mundane) I would be truly grateful. And, I'll do my best to keep everyone updated with the farm in the meantime ...
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