I know the year isn’t over. Christmas isn’t even here yet. It seems Christmas arrives in the retail shops sometime in September and now here I am hurrying right past it to the New Year. Well, not really rushing the New Year, but rather checking my rear view for what has passed so far in 2011. The seemingly premature musings make a bit more sense if I let you know that today was the last market of the year for us.
Today, I wanted to take a few moments to let you know what you did. Well, what we did, but could not have done without you. Your purchase of a $5 “Taste of Whidbey” snack at the Bayview Farmers Market or $600 worth of cheese for your restaurant or $85 special order for your special event or $1200 for your store… or even that $5 bag of Laughing Bellies Toffee you picked up at the Bayview Hall – Holiday Market today.
Without exaggeration, our farm would not exist without you.
This is what we did this year, with your support.
We survived unemployment. My husband lost his job in the fall of 2010. His job is what our 300+ page business plan relied on. The farm is not intended to be profitable at this point. It isn’t even expected to pay for itself for another few years. Without his job, and with all of our savings/retirement/equity sunk into the construction and paying feed bills as we endured Island delays, we were in BAD shape. Finally, less than 2 weeks ago, my husband secured a job. Once again we look forward to little things like being able to see a doctor. Sometimes our income from the Farmers Market, indeed sometimes the ‘trades’ at market, were what saw us through. Thank you.
We survived my husband’s absence from the farm. Again, referring to that business plan, we planned to one day become an employer in Island County, but in the first few ‘running in the red’ years, I counted on free labor from an underpaid, overworked, but always willing husband. Then my sweet husband had to take a consulting gig in the Bay Area to pay our bills, flying every week to California and back. I’m sure you can imagine the toll the constant travel takes on someone. There were mornings he woke up literally not knowing if he was here or there. There were times he nearly missed his flight from falling into an exhausted sleep at the airport. There were times he couldn’t get home because of travel delays. There were weeks I worked more than 125 hours on the farm, although I averaged a mere 115 work hours per week during our main season.
We survived illness. The first time I was sick and Tom was gone, I dutifully did my chores. I milked the working girls morning and night and made sure they were fed and watered. What I didn’t do was make cheese – to our fiscal loss, but I think I might have died… and who really wants cheese made by someone with the Plague?
We survived injury. I twisted my ankle, an atypical severe sprain that still gives me occasional trouble because I don’t follow my Physical Therapist’s instructions. The fall happened on a Monday and it could have been much worse, but was bad enough to keep me on crutches for two+ weeks. Fortunately by that time I had help and someone I was able to rely on during that frustrating time.
We survived loss. We lost my mother-in-law, initially to the ravages of Alzheimer’s, then from this world completely. When thinking of mother-in-laws you could hope to have, Candy exceeded the best one you could design. Maybe it’s because I didn’t set my sights that high after having a monster-in-law my first marriage, maybe just because Candy’s patience, smile, genuine caring, joy, humor exceeded any average persons at any given time. I think it is the later, Candy’s beautiful spirit if fortunately not lost, for she has left a legacy of her gifts in her remarkable family.
We survived. And for that we are grateful. We survived kidding season, weaning season, a harassing neighbor, 14+ inspector visits, grain that made my entire milking herd gravely ill, unresponsive vets, sick kids, sick momma goats, injured bucks, unrelenting rain, wind, and mud, noxious weeds, cheese that failed, spilled milk, unreliable vendors and help, people late for appointments (or failing to show up), inability to access medical care, parasites (both 2-legged and affecting the working girls), automotive woes, and I’m sure more things that I can’t even remember right now.
We survived all of this with your help, but we are remarkably lucky. WITH your help, we were able to not just survive. We flourished.
With the hardships of the year, we found a spectacular farm hand. So spectacular that in 2012 the Little Brown Farm will become an employer. In my fantasies and realm of self-importance, I think this is our contribution to the healing of this great nation on some small scale. We never even believed we could be lucky enough to find someone that was reliable, thoughtful, willing to do whatever was needed and equally as comfortable (and helpful!) in the cheeseroom as in goat pen. Hopefully someday we will be able to reward her equal to her real value here.
For the first time, we are able to offer cheese year round, using aged cheeses and frozen cheeses – our girls still get the rest they need.
We are able to pay, with cheese sales, for 9 months of our feed bill and a portion of our other farm expenses, including some of our cultures and milking supplies, instead of relying solely on Tom’s or my employment income or worse, our now non-existent savings.
We are able to keep our herd in health and put premium food on both their and our tables. The majority of our food dollars are reinvested right here on Whidbey Island. More than $.75 on every food dollar we spend is spent here with other farmers, growers, food producers and a portion of the remainder is spent just a bit north of Whidbey on Highway 20.
We feel your support. Your dollars translate into sustainable support. Your emotional support translates into strength during our times of weakness (physical and/or emotional). We rely on you, and you’ve always been there for us. Thank you.
We exceeded our business plan projections for 2011 and hope to move ever closer to being a truly sustainable farm in 2012. We know that with our hard work and your support, ultimately we will get there.
I hope this long-winded collection of words helps express to you the value you have to our farm and our lives and how much we appreciate it and look forward to Spring on the farm (come snuggle babies in March!!).