Farming isn’t about money on our farm. Not that our farm budget isn’t important. With the layoff of my husband’s entire division last year, maintaining the farm used up the last of our resources. We had used the majority of our financial cushion to establish the diary and maintain the farm for the 4 years it took to get certified, so there wasn’t much left.
This winter the frightening decision of whether or not to implement our ‘exit strategy’ was heavy on our hearts and minds. Leaving the business out of the farm and selling the equipment would give us the funds we need to maintain the farm for up to a year, and with me going back to work off the farm full time and stopping production, we would be okay indefinitely. The financial indicators pointed to the decision we should make, but our hearts would not accept it.
Now my supportive, loving husband gets on a flight every Sunday afternoon to head to work in California, he flies back home every Thursday, getting home in the middle of the night. During the week that leaves me, in sickness and in health, to manage the farm. I manage the milking, the feeding, the waters, the babies, the milk, the cheesemaking, the cheese tending, the cheese wrapping, the cheese marketing, the sales, the deliveries, the tours, the cleaning, the dishes, the goat emergencies… you get the idea.
On the weekend my husband is home, so I can go sell the cheese at our local market (Bayview Farmers Market), and make deliveries to local stores and restaurants. Sometimes we even get a meal together… rarely it’s sitting down and talking to each other. It’s much more likely to find us eating standing in the milk parlor plotting what needs to be done before we can crash, exhausted, in bed at night.
It is a lot and it is not sustainable. We hope to find a real solution soon, but in the meantime, we will continue to fight tooth and nail and sleepless nights to pursue our dream.
The reason? Why would anyone do this? Why would anyone work 18 hours a day to make not even enough money to support just the feed bill for the farm for 10 months? Yes, you read that right, if we sell ALL of the cheese we make this year, it will pay for our feed bill for 10 months, meaning my husband’s work is paying for 2 months of feed and all of the containers, packaging, labels, water, electricity, market tables/tents/samples/etc. Why, again, would anyone do this?
There are a few reasons, this is our start-up period. Most businesses are not profitable during their start-up time. Even in our business plan our dairy wasn’t intended to have a break-even year until the third year. Feed prices continue to go up, and we keep choosing to select better and better qualities of feed for our girls. But again, this isn’t relevant or even why I started typing this today.
The real reason: Last week I had an amazing Seattle school come for their annual tour of our farm. It’s a small group, and a targeted group of kids already interested in farming. These kids are AMAZING! I have never been more impressed with a group of pre-teens and teenagers as I have been with the groups that have come to our farm.
I get to show the kids and their chaperones the goats, the parlor and impart information about the cheesemaking process. These kids know more about where their food comes from more than most people that pride themselves on being locavores or foodies. But these kids don’t even know how powerful what they know is yet. One day they will.
Today I got this year’s ‘Thank You’ notes in the mail (I know, handwritten and in the MAIL – what a nice touch!!). One of them actually made me cry, tears of joy, reminding me exactly why I work so hard.
Let me share with you what it said.
“Thank You Vicky!
I learned the basic steps of how to make cheese. I found that you can feed baby goats cow milk interesting. I thought they could only drink goat milk. I have decided to spread the word about your farm and to eat more organic food. Thank you so much for the cheese tasting and letting us feed the baby goats.”
Did you get that? “and to eat more organic food”
A connection. A young human that is learning the connection and true cost of food. Eureka!!!
I have always said that if I can reach one person and help them make better decisions than I have made, help them learn where food really comes from, then I will be happy. But I’m not, one child isn’t enough. I know this because I reached at least one child from the group last year, and it’s addictive. I can’t stop. I am completely and udderly (get it?) addicted to reaching out and educating people.
Now if I can just make the time to get those cheesemaking classes started.
My love, my passion (outside of my family) is the goats first, then the education, then the cheese… it’s a good thing there’s enough of me to go around. 18 hour days pursuing your passion will make you tired, but it’s the kind of tired you can get sleep and wake up rested from.
Now, back to work – I’ve got a market and deliveries to make tomorrow, with our new cheese, Caprizella making its debut!
Don’t be a stranger,