So You (Don’t Particularly) Want to be a Farmer: A Guide for the Perplexed, Bothered, Bewildered and Outright Resentful Folks Hitched to a Wanna-Be Farmer

Sharon June 4th, 2009

This post is not for my readers who have enthusiastically embraced the agrarian lifestyle, whether city farmers and suburban permaculturists or outright farmers or wanna-be farmers.  This post is for your loved ones – your husband, wife, girlfriend, lover, parents, children and siblings…whoever you are hitched to, the people who have tied their lives to yours, and who are now wondering what on earth happened to their yoked partner?  In some cases, they may be whether to unhitch and run in the opposite direction, since their beloved child/partner/sibling/best friend/whatever has gone completely ’round the bend and is talking about farms.

Now I realize that some of you will look at any advice of mine on this subject with skepticism – after all, you may even blame me (quite correctly, perhaps), for your loved one’s going bonkers and talking about sheep and nut trees all the time.  And yet, I do feel your pain.  Or rather, my husband does, and he’s happy to tell me all about what it is like to look over at the person you love and wonder why on earth she’s babbling about soil. 

Eric got rather a shock around the time of our wedding – you see, he’d met this woman (me) who seemed to be a good match for his goals – both of us working towards academic careers, both of us happily living in the city, both of us planning an intellectual, urban life, complete with cats, futon and travel.  And somewhere between the wedding and the honeymoon, his wife went a little insane.

From my perspective, I can’t really remember what caused it.  I’d had a garden everywhere I lived all through college – it was hugely important to me, and on balconies and in backyards, I always planted some things.  We were living in Somerville Massachusetts, across the street from a major subway/commuter rail station.  You could hear the trains rumbling under the building from our third floor apartment.  And the balcony was covered with food and flowers – alpine strawberries in window boxes, herbs, letuce, peppers, even a few tomatoes, morning glories and moonflowers twining up the balcony.  Every bit of dirt had been hauled up three flights of stairs, but it was beautiful.  I occasionally mentioned how nice it would be to have some dirt on the ground somewhere, but that was really all.  I liked my balcony.  And yes, I liked animals, but hey, I had pet cats.

The first thing I remember was a book – Paul Heiney’s beautiful British coffee table farm book _Country Life: A Handbook for Realists and Dreamers_ – I have no idea what led me to buy it, or even where I found it, but there I was in my apartment, staring at this book and thinking about chickens, to my new husband’s complete and utter disbelief.

And unfortunately, I’m not the only one.  Consider this excerpt from the very funny book _Hit by a Farm_ by Catherine Friend – she writes about her partner Melissa’s sudden shift into “wanna farm” mode:

“I should have realzied what the future held the day I looked up and caught her giving me a dreamy look from across the kitchen table.  Touched, I reached over and took her hand in mine.  She squeezed it gently, and said, ‘God, I love chickens.’

But I still didn’t see it coming.”

And just as I’m still a little mystified by my own sudden urge to farm, other wanna-bes can’t really explain it all very well themselves.  Christopher Losee, coauthor with his wife Kimberly Schaye of _Stronger than Dirt_ writes,

It wasn’t that I’d ever fantasized about being a farmer.  That thought was about as, say, becoming proficient in Chinese and leading tour groups to see the Great Wall.  But between July and October 1994, I somehow became convinced that this was what I wanted to do and this was what I would do.”

The farm dream hits someone, and in many cases, becomes intractable – and bloody annoying for the person not suffering from this weird disease.  And it is a dis-ease – that is, all of a sudden you are dissatisfied with the life you’ve built. I think of it rather like (benign) malarial parasites – the infection could have come from anywhere, and once they build in your bloodstream, well, there’s not much you can do about it.  They are always with you.

In our case, my husband thought it would go away.  I thought it would too – we talked about it, and agreed that eventually, someday, maybe we’d get some land.  So a few months before Eli was born, early in our second year of marriage, we bought an apartment in a very, very urban place – Lowell Massachusetts, a wonderful city of immigrants, with an amazingly diverse culture, a long history and everything we thought we wanted.  We had originally been shopping with a friend for a duplex, but he backed out, and then we purchased an apartment in an old mill building.  It was a great apartment, a wonderful building, filled with wonderful people, a great neighborhood, we could walk to synagogue, it had everything we wanted, except one thing – no outdoor space.  And about two months after we’d moved in, I realize that we’d made a terrible, terrible mistake – much as I loved everything else about the place, the lack of dirt was almost physically painful.  The brain-altering parasites had reached critical mass, and now, nothing looked the same – it was all seen through the lens of the farm I didn’t have.

Now Eric doesn’t like to move.  In fact, he doesn’t like change at all.  We joke that now (we’ve been together almost 13 years), if we left it to him, we might (might, I’m not sure I believe it) be engaged by now.   I, on the other hand, like change – I get bored easily, and like a constant diet of new things.  Eric’s job in our marriage is to try and get me to slow down.  Mine is to drag him kicking and screaming on to the next things ;-) .   It was painful for him to give up the apartment he’d been living in for almost 7 years and move to Lowell. Having done it, he planned to spend at least a decade there.  And here was his crazy wife again, talking farms.

He tried to pacify me – we looked into community garden plots – there was a two year waiting list.  We looked into taking over some small part of the Mill building’s public space – management was not thrilled by the idea of eggplant instead of impatiens.  If I knew then what I know now about urban farming and agriculture, I might have pushed harder or found other solutions.  At the time, all I could think of was getting out to someplace where I could have poultry and a garden.

My husband thought this was nuts.  We didn’t know anything about chickens.  How would we grow our own food – strawberries and basil were a lot different than a huge garden, wheren’t they?  Wouldn’t it be too much work?  What if he didn’t want to do any of it?  Would it be weird?  Would it be different?  What if we screwed up?  No, asking for a farm was too much, pushing him too far.

And quite honestly, he was right.  We would screw up.  It would be weird.  It would be more work than we understood.  He would end up doing things he’d rather have skipped, frankly. 

Catherine Friend observes about the way the farm pushed her limits,

“It turns out that, at age thirty-eight, I knew myself about as well as I knew the breeding habits of the Pygmy Butterfly, which is to say, not at all.  So when I answered Melissa’s request to help her start the farm with a hearty yes, I might as well have stood on the center line of a four-lane highway and opened my arms.  I would witness chicken sex.  I would witness duck sex.  I would even get frightfully involved in sex between two goats, something no feminist should ever have to face….Boundaries are good things; they’re the signposts we use during our lives to measure just how far we’ll go.  My boundaries have always served me well. No touching worms or spiders or anything gross.  No touching wild animals because they could be dangerous.  No touching feces, urine, blood or any other bodily fluid.  Definitely no stocking my hand up inside an animal’s body, or touching it anywhere I wouldn’t want to be touched myself.”

Eric is no where near as squeamish as Friend, but he didn’t feel any particular need to ever, say shine a flashlight on a goat’s genitals to detect whether she’s in heat.  Nor have any of his prior job choices involved nearly as much shit shoveling as agriculture (in teaching astronomy, the manure is mostly metaphorical ;-) ).  And I think it is safe to say that most Americans would regard this lack of interest in these subjects as completely normal, perhaps even a sign of good mental health.

But the thing about the farm-obsessed is that they manage, if they are even remotely persuasive, to make it seem completely normal that one would want to take on a life that involves early morning wakeups, picking vegetables on 100 degree days, more than ample manure, flies and blood, and examing goat pussy.  Indeed, perhaps the most bizarre element of this is that the farm obsessed begin to try and make you feel weird for not wanting to live the agrarian life.  This is a neurological symptom of the farm-thing.

And, of course, they emphasize the benefits.  “Think about all the delicious vegetables.”  “The country life is so great for kids.” “It will be beautiful.” “The farm will pay for itself.” “You’ll hardly have to do anything.”  Even I have to admit that the latter two of these points (which I used on my husband) are outright lies.  The middle one is probably true, for a particular variation on “beautiful” – that is, real working homesteads and farms don’t usually make it house and garden unless there’s money enough to hire a lot of labor.  It is beautiful – but you have to be the sort of person who can look past the clutter, the unmowed grass, the weeds, the manure and see the inner farm.  The first two points are true, but it is worth noting that even the delicious vegetables don’t come without effort, and older kids, attached to their lives, may be less than enthusiastic when presented with “Here’s a creek, now you can play in it every day – no more wii, isn’t that great!”  It is quite possible that some of you are the teenaged children of parents who have gone mad, and wondering what can be done about it.

And that brings us to the central point.  What can be done about it?  Well, if your loved one has a mild case of the farm dream, there’s hope.  One possibility is to simply draw the line “Me or the farm.”  In some cases, you may actually stay together.  The difficulty with this is twofold.  First, it is easy to understate how compelling the farm dream actually is – you can’t make brain-parasites go away easily.   Once the farm dream penetrates into someone’s inner life, it truly becomes their *dream* – and one stands in the way of a loved one’s dream at their peril.  Maybe you have a dream or two also, and you know how fundamentally losing a dream can alter your life – there’s the horrible chance that they might decide that they pick the farm.  And if you do win, your partner may end up behaving like someone who has seen his dream killed – and if you have a good marriage, you may find that’s not so desirable either.

The next possibility is compromise – this will require you to actually get involved to some degree with the farm dream, because you are going to reshape it.  Mom is dreaming of 50 acres and cows?  Your job is to research urban farming, and bring her back to earth, convincing her that you could have a garden and chickens here, or that perhaps a 3 acre lot and 1 cow is sufficient.  Here’s where the magic of the internet and the library come to your aid – “Honey, that’s a great idea, I’d love a farm (yes, it is permissable to lie through your teeth here)…but my dream is not to actually ever help birth a cow, plus to keep my job here – how can we both make it work?  Have you seen this cool stuff on urban permaculture?”

You might even find that there’s an element of this project that can hook into your dreams.  Ok, you really don’t want a llama, not even a llama that your daughter thinks is super-cute.  But you’ve always wanted a big workshop, with all the tools, or some justification for buying more quilt fabric - so perhaps, just perhaps, there’s a portion of this “let’s go live the self-sufficient life like freakin’ Thoreau” that might be turned to your own purposes.  Think self-interest here.

The next possibility for dealing with the farm dream is to accomodate, but draw firm lines about what belongs to whom.  “Yes, honey, we can have a farm.  It will be all yours.  I’m going to keep on commuting, doing my stuff, etc… the farm is yours, and this is mine.”  Inwardly, you think ”He can have pig shit on him, but that’s not going to happen to me.”  This is an excellent plan, one that balances your needs against your crazy loved-one’s.  I commend you for your being accomodating, and your loved one for his/her willingness to divide the labor.  All I can say to this, however, is that you are kidding yourself if you think that’s actually going to happen. Ok, I know a couple of couples where the farm is mostly one person’s job – but even when they manage to keep those boundaries, the farm tends to leak into daily life.

You see, farms suck up your life, whether little or big.  There are a lot of jobs that can’t really be done easily by one person, particularly, most importantly, by one totally inexperienced person.  So unless your loved one grew up on a farm and already knows how to castrate pigs, you will be drafted into helping. Welcome to pig shit central. 

You know those “honey-do” lists?  Well, new and strange things are going to start appearing on them.  It is only a matter of time until you are off to the Ag-way with a list of soil amendments to purchase, as you try to pretend that you have the faintest idea what greensand is, or why you would care about the color of your sand.  The money you’d definitely planned to spend on a weekend meditation retreat is mysteriously gone – replaced by a big pile of stock fencing and orders to go pick up the gas powered augur, whatever that is.  One day, Sweetie-pie comes wandering in, not with a small bag of peaches, but with three bushels, and expects you to help her do something with them.  You can say “wait, this wasn’t in the deal” – good luck with that.

Eric’s advice to all of you, if you have a spouse with a serious case of the farm dream, is simply “let go, complain a lot (so that he/she appreciates properly how much you are suffering, and feels guilty enough to be accomodating of *your* dreams and pleasures), but go with it – it really isn’t that bad.”  Now this is perhaps a little self-serving of me (me, self-serving? ;-) ) to quote, but that’s his genuine take on it – that if the farm dream has penetrated too deep to be removed, you are about to begin a long, strange trip.  And it is a lot more fun if you just try and enjoy it.

And the funny thing is, it can be fun, and not just for the one with the dream. There’s something about learning new stuff, about building, making, growing and tending your own that is…well…neat.  And neat not just to the person deeply infected by the crazy-agrarian-brain-parasite, but often, to the least likely people.  Here’s Catherine Friend again,

“One evening I watched one of my favorite movies, The Hunt for Red October. The submarine commander, played by Sean Connery, used a fascinating battle tactic: he turned his submarine toward the torpedo racing at him through the water.  The sub and the torpedo met before the torpedo had armed itself, so it bounced harmlessly off the sub’s hull.

Hey, what an idea.   Why not move out to meet the farm, embracing it?  I gave it a great deal of thought, then announced to Melissa I would do chorse two days a week.  She was skeptical….Weekend after weekend, I trudged outseide.  I think Melissa expected me to tire and give up after just a week or two….We argued over method, but I insisted that if the end result was teh same, why did I have to do things just like she did?…At one pointe, she literally stamped her foot, shouting ‘You can’t do chores anymore then!’

That would have been the perfect opportunity to utter one simple word.  ‘Okay.’  But my response surprised us both. ‘This is my farm too, and I’m going to do chores.’” 

Kimberly Schaye, initially the reluctant partner to her husband’s flower farm dream eventually begins giving other people lessons in the dream and its realities – and of course, what’s funny about all of them is that most of them applied to her just a few years before:

“I had developed a handy quiz to identify people who should think twice before they start looking for lad.  Tehse are the people who would say any of the following:

‘I like money and feel that I need a lot of it.’ – This disqualifies you instantly

‘I hate bugs and when one lands on me, I tend to scream like I’m being brutally murdered until someone flicks it off.  I’m not much fonder of dirt.” – Get used to both.  As a farmer you will be covered with them most of the time.  But you will get to learn which bugs are truly your friends and which you should kill with wild abandon.

‘I feel I might want to work for someone other than myself again someday.’  – Forget it.  You will be completely ruined for this.  And should you ever find yourself back in a corporate workplace environment, you will immediately wonder why everyone is dressed so uncomfortably and how they can take themselves so seriously

…’How do I tell my friends about my workday and make it sound like I did something?’ – What you mean you don’t think ‘I kneeled in the dirt for eight hours and pulled tiny weeds out of a hole in the ground sounds like anything?’

Not everyone learns to, as Friend puts it, “stop worrying and love the barn” but it seems surprisingly common.  Every time I go out among agrarians, I find that most couples or families are made up of people who are truly dedicated to farming, and their other relatives, lovers, partners, etc… who, well, weren’t.  Maybe your spouse was raised on a farm, and the parasites lay dormant for a while.  Maybe you just married a farmgirl or farmboy, and knew going into this meant “love me, love my muck-covered bottomland.”  Maybe the parasites somehow infected your otherwise perfectly normal spouse or partner, Mom or roommate, and you keep thinking “I didn’t sign up for this.”

My Mom is the perfect example of someone who got caught in someone else’s farm dream.  First there was mine, but hey, she could be supportive, since she no longer had to live with me.  What she didn’t realize was that the parasites were indeed contagious, and would infect her partner of nearly 30 years.  Soon, there was the garden plot, the chickens, and the talk, after they retire, of “the baby farm.”  My mother didn’t like bugs or worms.  She liked her food properly encased in plastic.  She thought chickens were weird, and didn’t really want to get to know her neighbors better, particularly around the subject of poultry.  Fast forward a couple of years – my Mom has a community garden plot, three hens in the backyard, two chicks living in her kitchen and worms in the basement.  She helps run open houses for future chicken owners.  So far, she’s holding the line against goats on their 1/8 acre city lot, but even she admits that she no longer says “never” about much of anything.  The funny thing is, she likes most of it, and everyone is happier now.

So can’t blame you for trying to get out of it, or complaining, but it is important to know that real people do adapt all the time.  Moreover, the brain parasites are contagious – it is surprisingly common for reluctant farmers to wake up one morning, go out into the dirt and think “Wait, I this doesn’t seem quite so insane.”  The good food, the fresh air, the physical activity, the sense accomplishment – whether you’ve made your farm on your old lot or moved – these things suck people in, and soon, you can’t understand why your Mom thinks goat manure is so gross, and you are laughing at your Brother in Law, who swears he’d never actually eat eggs that came straight from a chicken’s butt.

The thing is, farming, on any scale, really isn’t just a job – it is a way of life.  Even if you keep your job as a mechanic, waiter, college professor or lawyer, there’s something oddly real about the time you spend in the woods securing your winter’s heat, or about the brush of feathers, or the taste of warm tomato – more real, many times, than the other work you do.  And the realness is addictive – even to people who thought it couldn’t possibly be.

If you can’t find a compromise position, if the tractor is coming straight at you, the best way is to climb on up and enjoy the ride.  Here are some suggestions for doing so, while also maintaining what’s left of your sanity:

1. Do not believe anything your agriculturally besotted partner claims will “pay for itself” until you see actual numbers, and have actually done it.  Assume upfront that everything will cost more than you think.  Also, when your partner makes to-do lists, cut them in half, then in half again.  Halve one more time if you have young children or a full time job.  Then, you have a real shot at getting the stuff on your list accomplished…mostly.

2. Your definition of “gross” will change pretty rapidly.  If it started out as “poop of any kind” it will now be “five acre chem-lawn lots that grow only grass that nothing eats.”  If it started out as “Getting filthy and sweaty anywhere but the gym” it will now be “wearing your barn clothes more than two consecutive weeks or after they get sheep placenta on them.”  If it started out as “the idea of eating some animal you once met” it will now be “the idea of eating factory farmed meat delivered on a styrofoam tray.” 

3. You will do things you would have been willing to swear not that long ago, that you would never do.  Absolutely, positive sure you’d never kill an animal?  Wait until you have either a sick one that desperately needs to be put down, or some animal so obnoxious and unpleasant that the thought of eating them is actually kind of appealing (my three year old still announces, with some satisfaction “We ate Corey” – the mean rooster who kept attacking him.)  Absolutely, positively sure you’ll never get a cow/pig/horse/tractor/business plan/worm bin/bees/truckload of manure/post hole digger/adze/quilting frame/orchard/llama/butter churn/chicken plucker/milking machine?  Don’t speak quite so soon.  The amazing thing is that you’ll end up feeling pretty good about it in a lot of ways – the funny thing is that when you finally fix that tractor, or when you actually do barn the hay or raise the turkeys – not only do you get the sense of accomplishment, but there’s an underlying “hey, I’m pretty cool to be able to do this.”

That said, however, expect a steep learning curve, and plenty of screw ups.  Try very hard to be good at laughing at yourself.  Try very hard to remember that it is not always wise to laugh at your spouse, no matter how funny he looks with the raw egg dripping out of his pants pocket or covered in mud and G-d knows what else.

4. You may both find (assuming your relationship is a romantic one) agriculture strangely sexy.  You wouldn’t think your partner would look especially handsome covered with little bits of hay, or holding a scythe, death style, but oddly, he seems to.  Your wife, it turns out, looks really, really good with a sledgehammer, or perhaps less strangely, while holding a basket of ripe eggplants or a baby lamb.  Country folk are, well, earthy, and there’s a good bit of sex in that.  Admittedly, chicken sex is repulsive.  But all those bees and flowers and rich fertility have their influence too – make sure you make time for love. 

5. Your job is to say no.  Even if you’ve been infected by the parasites, yours is probably still the voice of reason (scary thought, eh?).  So no matter how much it makes perfect sense, you couldn’t have planned it better, and is such a great deal, it may not be the time to add 40 more sheep to your flock, to expand the CSA to 70 members (up from 12), to begin breeding Great Pyrenees dogs or to take down that old barn and rebuild it.  Someone has to have a sense of perspective, and you are designated.  At the very least, you should offer some resistance, a downpayment on the next crazy idea.

6. One of you should keep your job.  I’m all for farming, however, if you are a beginner, the odds are very good that you are not going to fully support your family in the first year.  Some of you will simply be looking to grow a little food and have a garden, some to make a little money on the side – to get the chickens to pay for their feed, make enough money from the produce sales to take a vacation, or offset the vet bills with your handspun yarn.  But some of you will be looking to be FARMERS – the serious version of this.  This is great.  Farming is great.  But it doesn’t come with health insurance, and it is not a reliable income stream at first for most people.  Yeah, have a business plan and get started.  But one of you keep the day job – you can always quit later when you are making money hand over fist. Ha!

7. The first step is probably not the last one.  That is, just because you’ve let go and said “ok, we can have vegetables in the back yard, where none of the neighbors can see them, and maybe two chickens” do not think you are done.  At a minimum, your pride and joy front yard perennial plantings are probably going to be replaced by hazelnuts and blueberries, and I’ll lay you good odds that there are a few more chickens, and maybe some bunnies in your future.

8. Once you eat the food, you are stuck for life.  We all rhapsodize about the food – I mean, this is food money literally cannot buy.  Unless you are rich enough to have your own private gardener rushing the asparagus from the ground, and bringing the heirloom tomatoes in warm from the garden, you will never quite get the perfection of taste.  You can get close at the farmer’s market, but the best stuff comes straight off the plant, and is eaten within seconds of harvest.  But now you are spoiled for life – your kids will never eat store jam again, after they’ve eaten Dad’s raspberry-blackberry.  You will never be able to eat a grocery store tomato, or a salad of iceberg lettuce again.  Even the lowly potato will be dead to you, if it comes from far away. 

9. Your crazy loved-one will start out wanting to do everything – but will probably begin eventually to specialize.  This is a process – expect it to take a while to shake out what your things are.  That is, most of us come to this wanting to do it all – we’re going to have the chickens for eggs, the cows for milk, the huge garden, the… you get it. 

 After a while, we find that there are some projects we do better than others and some we like better than others.  I know some people who do it all – who produce nearly everything they eat or use.  But most of us eventually settle down a little, and find that we’re happiest focusing on the things we like – the issue, of course, is that we don’t always know what we like until we try it, how much it costs, how much time it takes.  That is, they find out whether they are a sheep person or a goat person by having sheep and goats.  They find out whether they really want to cut hay or log with horses by working with horses.  They find out if you like to sew their own clothing or build their own barn by trying these things out. 

Sometimes, they (or you) find out they are losing money, failing miserably or that they really don’t like coppicing trees nearly as much as you thought - they forgot they are afraid of heights.  Ok, that’s fine, no need to make yourself crazy - they do like growing watermelons and making pickles.  So just remember, if it sounds like you are being dragged every which way, you are, but it probably won’t last forever – sooner or later, you’ll only be dragged six or seven ways, and you’ll have time to get good at most of them. 

10. There are a couple of ways you can come to share a dream.  First, you can find a part of the farm that you love, too.  Maybe you’ll never really be crazy about all those plants, but the chickens, now, those you do like.  Or maybe you’ve always loved building and fixing things, or cooking and preserving – and that part is enough to make up for the parts you don’t always love. 

Or maybe you can find a way to integrate your dreams with one another, or simply to be happy that she’s happy, or he’s happy.  That is, you love your daughter, and even if, left to yourself, you’d prefer to winter in Florida, not Ohio, and spend your retirement playing golf, rather than growing pecans, well, maybe it doesn’t matter – assuming that she too wants you to be happy, and is willing to give way on the things that really do matter most to you – say, making sure you have your shed to putter in or your books to read.

Or maybe, just maybe, the little brain parasites will work their way up your bloodstream, until you no longer remember what it was like to live without a farm.  Gradually the process of forgetting becomes so acute that you think a life without manure on your boots and the crow of a rooster, or the swoop of the barn swallows wouldn’t be worth living.  You start looking forward to haying, or to going out the barn in winter to check on the rabbits.  You start dreaming of the day you’ll retire, and can spend all day farming, or the day you can pick up your first beehives.  I know that sounds crazy now, but sometimes you look up, and your dreams have changed, and that’s ok, even good.  Sometimes there’s nothing more to dream of than being yoked together in the same harness, on the same land and doing the same good work for all the days of your life.

54 Responses to “So You (Don’t Particularly) Want to be a Farmer: A Guide for the Perplexed, Bothered, Bewildered and Outright Resentful Folks Hitched to a Wanna-Be Farmer”

  1. risa bon 04 Jun 2009 at 11:31 am

    What a siren song! I hear ship timbers splintering left and right!

    A friend has inherited over seventy acres of prime Valley land here. We take walks on break from work. She tells me what she’s been thinking, about her upcoming retirement.

    “It’s rented to a grass seed farmer; but I want to get away from that. Too many chemicals and the market for it has tanked anyway; everybody’s walking away from commercial real estate and new construction. I wanna do food.”

    “It’s a little big to truck farm, though.”

    “Yeah, so, methane aside, I thought start with pasture-fed beef.”

    “That’s relatively easy; seed it all to clover-fescue, cross fence, and run them into four lots in rotation.”

    “Exactly. I kinda wanta do it myself, though, so I’m looking at a Massey Ferguson with a good price, but I dunno about all those implements.”

    “Bush-hog, plow, disk, harrow, seeder? And drag around dollies loaded with irrigation pipe?”

    “Yah, it’s a commitment.”

    We walked awhile in the shade of the big Douglas firs in the cemetery, past the sleeping Union soldiers.

    “Well, truth is, that’s not really what’s on my mind.”

    “What, then? If I may ask.”

    “Well, my husband said, ‘What in hell do you want a TRACTOR for?”


    … show her this post, ya think maybe it will help?

  2. Melissa Norrison 04 Jun 2009 at 11:40 am

    Awesome Sharon, one of the best pieces I have read here and so true!

  3. Susan in NJon 04 Jun 2009 at 11:40 am

    As the “farmer” half of a couple, I love this post, Sharon. My partner will probably never read it though (he thinks you’re wordy Sharon), considering his profession, that’s a hoot. What are lawyers if not wordy?
    Anyway, I’ve had this parasite a longtime. Although shortly after I graduated from college, a friend gave me a children’s picture book titled “Sue the Farmer”, the disease didn’t activate fully until decades later when I bought a house. Somehow my mother knew this about me, because she jokingly asked my partner if I’d tilled up the front lawn yet.
    He’s catching on to the depths of my depravity. Since he likes (me) to grow pumpkins, and I reminded him that it was time to dig (turn up the lawn) for a new patch since I planted peas in last year’s patch, he said I tricked him, and while I was claiming a three year rotation now, next year it would be a five year rotation, and so on until the whole yard was dug up. (Great idea but not really my plan).
    But the parasites are cunningly contagious. Signs of contagion — my partner who said after last year that potatoes were a waste of time, just said that the last of the storage potatoes were only good for cutting up and planting. When he goes down to the big box store, he looks over the cheap distressed plants and calls me up to find out which ones are edible. I’ve actually heard him volunteering food growing informaiton to friends! And just the other day he asked me if I knew about worm bins and should we (I) get one.
    Now if only he’d go dig that pumpkin patch.

  4. Safiraon 04 Jun 2009 at 11:48 am

    Just forwarded this to my husband.

    Poor dear, he thought it was bad being married to a fiction writer. A fiction writer/obsessive gardener/mini-farmer wanna-be has to be scary. But he’s discovered he kind of likes vegetables…

  5. Moon 04 Jun 2009 at 12:15 pm

    Oh my, this post is PERFECT for me and my DH, who I feel I am constantly dragging kicking and screaming into the world of the urban farm. He difinitely didn’t see this coming when he asked for my hand in marriage, after a whirlwind courtship, during which time neither of us learned quite enough about the other.

    However, I have to give him much credit for not moaning and whining, (much), even when I know he feels like he wants to, and for generally letting me do my thing even when he thinks it is crazy.

    He really does seem to be on board with the whole chicken thing too which may be progress. His Grandma used to keep chickens in her bedroon when he was a child growing up in Taiwan, and I think he has some fond memories of happy times with chooks.

    Thanks for this post, it made me smile, and LOL. I will certainly be sharing it with my dear other.

  6. Sharonon 04 Jun 2009 at 12:36 pm

    Hey Melissa – How wonderful to see your name up there!


  7. deweyon 04 Jun 2009 at 12:50 pm

    Delightful. Just one correction, in the last paragraph I think you mean to say “you think a life withOUT manure on your boots and the crow of a rooster, or the swoop of the barn swallows wouldn’t be worth living.”

    My DH is still not willing to see a chicken in our dinky backyard, but he’s starting to consider it for the future. Must have gotten one of the parasites into him somehow.

  8. Melissa Norrison 04 Jun 2009 at 1:08 pm

    I read every post Sharon, just never have time to comment much. Miss you at Homesteading Today!

  9. Anisaon 04 Jun 2009 at 1:47 pm

    This post = Love!

    Now I KNOW it’s the hormones (I’m 35 weeks pregnant) but your very last line made me cry.

    My poor husband… he got dragged into this kicking and screaming and shaking his head at how crazy his wife went. What happened to the girl he married?!?!

    Our very first egg from our very first chicken had to be (ever so gently) pryed from the vent of that hen… she was egg bound. And who did it? Not me… HIM! I was afraid of hurting her. He saved the day. And I’m sure he resentfully thought me a madwoman!

    I can’t wait for him to read this post. You had me laughing out loud.

    Thank you again!

  10. Kation 04 Jun 2009 at 2:04 pm

    Now see…. I’ve got friends who are firmly “farm-crazy”. (A few of them got hooked through Mary Jane Butter’s Cook-book, Idea-book, Life book, and consider themselves well & truly “farm girls”. One actually is.) Me…. Just wanna do some veggie & flower gardening in my yard, live as close to the “center” (what there is of it) of my little town as I do, maybe get a couple of rabbits for summer-breeding for winter-eatting purposes someday, and work as the town librarian. My hubby at first thought THIS was crazy. That I didn’t want a bigger, grander house, further away from town. That I want to grow veggies in our front yard. (So far, all I’ve persuaded him as to is strawberries, the veggies are in the side & back yards.)

    Now, he can see my vision, and has made it his own as well. And we have a much larger garden over at HIS dad’s house every year. I don’t desire to grow my own grain and chickens. I desire to grow my own squash and carrots and tomatoes, and preserve them, and BUY my grain & chickens from one who truly DOES desire to be a farm girl. I wanna be the small-town librarian who supports her local farmers. It doesn’t HAVE to be “all or nothing” farmer or urban sophisticate. If we’re going to support the locally grown & small-farm system, we’ll need the small town folks out there doing the jobs the farmers don’t want to, or have time to, do. I can garden part-time and run a library part time. That allows a farmer to do what THEY do full-time, and visit the library in the evening after the cows have been milked, bringing me by my weekly order of milk & eggs. Now if only I could GET the job here at my local library, where I live, instead of driving 17 miles to town to the big library, every day.

    This is a great article, Sharon. But you forgot to mention that as with other things you’ve talked about, it’s NOT an “all or nothing” proposition. Some of us have the “growing green & edible things” bug, but not to the scale of full-on farming. And, I don’t feel guilty about that. One or two friends who think I SHOULD be trying full-on farming on my tiny yard, I feel resentful toward them. It’s their dream, and that’s ok. It’s ok (well, maybe NOT) to have a dream of being a complete Urban Sophisticate and never touch a green growing thing in your life. And it’s CERTAINLY ok to have a dream of being a small-town girl supporting the farming life-style of her friends & neighbours, but having no interest in chickens and goats and growing grains herself, so long as I AM willing to do a bit of gardening in my “off” hours, putting up cans of pickles and tomato sauce (should we ever get sufficient number of ripe tomatoes) and beans, and maybe even raising a couple of rabbits who are part-pet, part food-source. As always, there IS a happy medium that can be met, if you’re willing to look for it.

  11. karynon 04 Jun 2009 at 2:11 pm

    This describes our situation perfectly. Luckily my husband has gone with me for the adventure (and still maintains the voice of reason). Thanks for explaining what has happened to me – I never quite understood how I got to this point!

  12. Elizabethon 04 Jun 2009 at 2:31 pm

    Anisa, I’m NOT pregnant and it made me tear up. :)

  13. dogear6on 04 Jun 2009 at 3:00 pm

    I loved the post and comments! My hubby has actually been supportive and has helped to be the voice of reason. When we had a great farmers market, we bought our food from them. We do not have that in our new town. He built me raised beds, encouraged me to take over the flower beds and to plant the vining cucurbits around the bushes. We cannot have chickens, but I really do not have time. When he said “you know, this won’t save money”, he was encouraged that I knew that and acknowledged that. We wanted to control the quality of what we are eating.

    And there are so many things to do besides having a farm. We need more bees in the yard. I cannot have bee hives either but I can plant more flowers. We can preserve more of our own local food. There is still rain barrels, solar energy (no, I cannot have a windmill), composting, worms, and seed saving to try. He doesn’t mind as long as I do not spend too much of his time on it.

    It’s a good hobby for me also as my job is very sedentary. I do not need a farm to have a nice little homestead on my suburban lot with an HOA and close by neighbors.

  14. Wendyon 04 Jun 2009 at 3:25 pm

    Ironically, back when we were dating, but it was pretty clear we’d make it more permanent at some point, we talked about a self-sufficient lifestyle. In essence, we always wanted a small subsistence farm.

    But after we bought our house in the suburbs and it seemed pretty clear that moving to “the country” wasn’t an option for us, and I decided to start “farming” our quarter-acre suburban lot, he not only thought I was a little crazy, but he fought me tooth and nail – not about a garden, because we’ve always had that, and not even about breeding meat rabbits, because we’ve always had those, too, but he was livid when I brought home chickens.

    Three years later, he feeds them every day :) .

    So, I’d send this post to him, because you could, just about, be talking about us when you share the story of how you and your Eric came to the place you are … but I don’t want him to think I noticed how much of a 180° he’s done in his feelings about our nanofarm ;) .

  15. historyon 04 Jun 2009 at 4:12 pm

    ah babysteps…my dh thought I had gone off the deep end last fall with all the doom and gloom talk. He was getting more than annoyed with me over talk of food security and climate change, sustainable living.

    Well things change. One example, dh is talking about career options with our 13yr old son, and dare I say the word “FARMER” is being used a a viable, acceptable career choice. Our son has always thought that going to school beyond the required 13 years was not something he wanted to do. To our 13yr old ADHD, working at a desk for someone else is the same as torture. That is his opinon…..not that I disagree ;)

    We now buy our meat from local farmers, and at every dinner the source of the meat is questioned. DH is now asking me when are certain fruits and veg coming into season, and will I be canning any of it??! This from a man who cursed my canning jar collection less than a year ago…..

    The parasite is spreading……


  16. J shepardon 04 Jun 2009 at 4:35 pm

    Great post Sharon. Thanks. Several years ago on a shilly Easter Eve night my very, very understanding wife helped one of our goats through a tough delivery. Ever since I know she has been hooked, even if she won’t admit it.


  17. Cassandraon 04 Jun 2009 at 4:42 pm

    To my husband, JFH, whom I have just emailed this link:

    If you get this far in reading, dear, I love you. And thank you for humoring me.


  18. homebrewlibrarianon 04 Jun 2009 at 5:30 pm

    “We need more bees in the yard. I cannot have bee hives either but I can plant more flowers. “

    One word: borage

    Just one borage plant will become the local neighborhood bee magnet. Depending on the size of your land, you might want to have several strategically placed near the things you want pollenated. Be forewarned that the plants can become quite large and will quite cheerfully self-seed all over the place. We’ve been pulling up volunteers from last year for days now.

    This blog page has some great photos of and information about borage:

    I haven’t used it for anything except to attract bees yet but I’d be up for finding out more!

    Kerri in AK

  19. Nom_de_Guerreon 04 Jun 2009 at 6:27 pm

    She suspects (who am I kidding?- she knows) and I still haven’t got the courage for that talk.
    Learning beekeeping out of nowhere was kind of a strong hint (we live in a small apartment).

    Damn you John Seymour and your “Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency: The Classic Guide for Realists and Dreamers”!

  20. Carmenon 04 Jun 2009 at 7:36 pm

    A friend and I both had the farm bug years ago – bought a property, built sheds, fences, planted heaps, lived there for a while. Then I got restless to move back to the city and he has stayed there and built a house and will no doubt be there for the long-term.

    Now the city life is starting to lose its appeal and I’m getting restless to go back to farming – or to at least have a mix of farm and city life. It’s true that having lived the agrarian life, the city life seems less “real”. There’s nothing like being connected to the earth and the cycles of nature as an integral part of daily life.

    Thanks for a great piece Sharon – I think I’ll show it to my partner next time I start raving on about the joys of rural life…

  21. AnneTon 04 Jun 2009 at 8:14 pm

    I can’t grow carrots in my garden soil. Don’t know why; don’t really care — I buy them from one farmer at the farmer’s market and they never taste like gasoline (I’ve run into too many supermarket carrots that do). I can grow tomatoes though and rhubarb and raspberries. So those are my big crops for fresh food and canning. Winter squash does well and I can store those.

    Every year I try a few more things, install a few more raised beds. I tell my husband I’m cutting down on the amount of lawn he has to mow. :)

    I love the just-ground organic whole wheat flour I get from a farm just outside of town. I see no reason to grow my own wheat — but I am willing to try amaranth (new this year). So I very much agree with the librarian’s posting.

  22. knutty knitteron 04 Jun 2009 at 9:11 pm

    Love the post. I’m the one resisting the move as I know it wouldn’t work at present. However I have my eye on a glass house of some sort for next year and I did say that if our section was good I will consider a small block of land somewhere. Not farmland though. My love is given to orchards.

    viv in nz

  23. seasonon 04 Jun 2009 at 9:34 pm

    best. post. yet. you hit it on the head *exactly*.

    **sends link to everyone i know as an explanation for the recent turn of events in my life**


  24. Tim Huckabeeon 04 Jun 2009 at 9:46 pm

    A fine piece of work madam….

  25. Apple Jack Creekon 04 Jun 2009 at 10:04 pm

    Ah, the farm bug. I have it, it’s a chronic condition, I’ve discovered. We need some kind of ‘information pamphlet’ to give out to friends and family who think we’ve gone completely off our rockers, something that explains how to help your loved one live a happy and satisfying life even though they’re afflicted with a chronic illness. :)

    I went insane with this farm bug just a few years ago, and have clearly confused many of the people who knew me in my former high-heels-nylon-stockings-and-business-suit days. I now wear rubber boots with sheepskin liners for much of the year, talk enthusiastically to anyone who will listen about my sheep, the dairy Dexter, the chickens’ antics, and what’s going on in the garden.

    On my blog, my husband is reffered to as “The Reluctant Farmer” because he is precisely as you describe: he likes the whole country life thing, but could do without the headaches of the larger animals. He caught the chicken bug really badly though (*he* is the one who bought 30 purebred barred rocks!), and he’s very good natured about doing all the big strong guy stuff that needs doing. He has Eric’s attitude – complain enough that she’ll appreciate your efforts, but just go along with the inevitable with as much good grace as you can muster.

    He has very good grace about it all, actually. I’m a lucky girl. :)

  26. EJon 04 Jun 2009 at 11:45 pm

    “if you are a beginner, the odds are very good that you are not going to fully support your family in the first year. ”

    I’d say several years, even if you get lucky and find 1. a product you are good at growing 2. a market for that product.

    Don’t kid yourself – farming is a profession, not an oversized hobby. Depending on what you grow you need to understand soils, irrigation, machines (and repairs), markets, economics, animal husbandry, building, “your product”, etc. And to succeed you need to do this better than the other folks who are already doing it. You have to smart and skillful to farm.

  27. Paula from OZon 05 Jun 2009 at 6:27 am

    I am one of those hitched to a wanna-be-farmer. We have been in ‘limbo’ for at least six years – it took me until the last 12 months to get the ‘peak oil’ / ‘limits to growth’ moment. I’ve decided to move with my husband to a small farm in south east Victoria. It is a huge step for an academic (with 2 young children) who will still have a 2 hour (train) commute to the door step of her work. I am actually feeling a bit afraid – we have no family or friends there. But your blog and book has given me hope!

  28. Sharonon 05 Jun 2009 at 6:33 am

    EJ, I agree, the odds are against making a profit the first few years – on the other hand, we did and so have other people I know, and of course, there’s a trade off – if both partners farm full time, the farm is more productive. It is an eternally difficult balancing act.

    Kati, not every post will apply equally to every person ;-) .


  29. Pine Ridgeon 05 Jun 2009 at 8:43 am

    Sharon, I didbn’t even know I had the farm bug back when it started. I just wanted to live in the “country” so the kids could have room to run around. Then it started with planting flowers, which quickly added vegetables. Then the animals started. Then the realization that I needed a lot more land.

    All through this was dh, mumbling to himslef about his crazy wife while he always seemed to be digging holes for me, lol.

    Now he is the one who this year helped fence in several acres of hilly ground, build a paddock and buy goats- all his idea, not that I tried to stop him! He is the one who was upset that I only put in 5 fruit trees this year, and that our neighbor is not selling weaner pigs anymore.

    It is funny how that farm disease spreads. Even the kids, errr, human kids are getting it. And when eldest dd had a friend stay over the first place they went was to the goats, before the creek. ;)

    I have found that the only thing that is “making money” is heating with firewood, and wouldn’t that figure it is mostly dh’s venture. Surely all the labor I add is accounted towards something.

  30. [...] 5, 2009 by jinman28 Yesterday, I was visiting one of my favorite sites, Casaubon’s Book.  Sharon went into deep detail how farming gets underneath some of our skin, leaving many of our [...]

  31. dogear6on 05 Jun 2009 at 10:28 am

    Kerri – thanks for the info and the link! I put in lavender as I had heard that was bee friendly plus trumpet vines and honeysuckle vines to grow on top of our fences. I will definitely look into the borage.

  32. Heatheron 05 Jun 2009 at 11:24 am

    What a great post! I have the parasite and am happily passing it along to anyone I meet!

  33. Christy Oon 05 Jun 2009 at 12:25 pm

    I’m getting my husband to read this when he gets home from work. He’s the unfortunate one that doesn’t share the dream and thinks I’m crazy. Maybe this will help.

  34. EJon 05 Jun 2009 at 2:00 pm

    Big difference between “making a profit the first few years” and “fully support your family in the first year”. A profit can lead to supporting one person and then more people. But to “fully support a family” you would need a turn over of well over $50,000.

    Sharon, if I recall correctly your husband teaches (income) and you write books. So perhaps that puts you in the making a profit category. But certainly not the farming to fully support a family category.

    Nothing wrong with multiple income streams, in fact its really smart when farming and/or living rurally.

  35. LBon 05 Jun 2009 at 2:01 pm

    Sharon, I first started reading your posts on Homesteading Today and have enjoyed reading your blog too.

    I must say it – I think all Paul Heiney’s books are fantastic! I just love re-reading _Country Life: A Handbook for Realists and Dreamers_. It was great to see someone else name that book as an inspiration.

  36. Elizabethon 05 Jun 2009 at 2:34 pm


    Maybe YOU would need a turnover of “well over $50,000.” Not everybody is in that position. If you own your land/home outright and have no debt, you can subsist on FAR less than that.

  37. Sharonon 05 Jun 2009 at 3:03 pm

    EJ, I write books now – but only since 2007, and 2008 was the first year I broke 5K in writing income. In fact, I don’t farm as a full time profession anymore, since I can’t write books and farm full time. But we started out relying on our farm income – we always did something besides farm, as almost all farmers do, both in the US and worldwide – my husband taught part time (very part time), I taught Hebrew school and English, again, very part time and mostly outside the growing season, but we lived primarily on farming income, and didn’t keep a full time day job. And I don’t think we’ve ever yet made 50K in a year. If that’s a requirement for being a professional, I’m not a professional writer or farmer, and my husband isn’t a professional astronomer, either.


  38. Greenpaon 05 Jun 2009 at 7:09 pm

    Sharon, this really is an exceptionally good piece. Even for you.

    now, when are you gonna get your keister over to my blog and comment on the post I made after reading your bit on the “informal” (ew, ick, shudder) economy? :-)

  39. Apple Jack Creekon 06 Jun 2009 at 7:45 am

    I just had to share my mom’s reaction to this posting …

    I put a link to Sharon’s article on my blog, and my mom replied with this:

    I can only deal with so much insanity – so I am glad to have read this article which has the potential to convince me that my kid has not lost the very last of her senses. (Common sense never was her thing!) We are not even related to any farmers – this really is a parasite!

    She really does think I’ve lost it … so Sharon, thanks for helping restore at least a bit of my mom’s faith in me. :)

  40. EJon 06 Jun 2009 at 12:46 pm

    I don’t mean to hog the comments but I think a lot of people are naive when it comes to expenses and farming.

    Please consider that your time is worth money – do your business plan as if you were paying yourself a decent wage. Don’t think you can keep it up forever because it’s “fun”. So many people have fallen in love with farming only to end up poorer.

    Even if you own the property there will be expenses.
    Remember to include utilities, vehicles, insurance, taxes (property and personal), saving for school, improvements and repairs to home and farm infrastructure. The cost of most of these will go up. Over at in Signs of the Times Sasha Cedar mentions property taxes rising 30%. Can you manage that on your farm?
    A fund for emergencies – crop failure, unemployment, sickness is useful.

    Put your numbers in all of the categories above and then include “cost of farming” seed, manure, equipment, fencing.

    I would be thrilled if anyone could present a working farm concept that turns over less than $50,000 a year. Please add it to the comments if you can. Remove your name and don’t mention which crops you specifically grow if you don’t want to share too much.

    $50k is not a “requirement to be a professional” but a number that might cover costs of living without depleting assets.

  41. Kathyon 06 Jun 2009 at 7:57 pm

    I think Kati has nailed it for my vision of what I’m trying to achieve long-term. I also don’t want to be a fulltime farmer on a medium to large farm. It’s not that I’m bothered by the muckiness associated with large-animal farming (with a large-animal vet as a father, I assisted at too many drenchings, surgeries and difficult cow and horse deliveries as a child to care about that, and thanks to my grandparents’ farm, I am a dab hand at hand-milking too, although I must admit I’ve never milked a goat as yet). It’s just that, I don’t really feel any pull in that direction.

    What I want (and husband is coming on board with, slowly) is to live as simply and sustainably as we can, with the lowest reliance on the grid and on the formal economy that is practicable in the suburbs. We already grow several vegetables and lots of herbs successfully, and my sister-in-law and I plan our plantings together (she lives with my mother-in-law and has a bigger yard than we do) so that we share crops rather than overlap. Between us, we produce all the fresh herbs we need, and about 25-40% of both households’ vegetable intake. Next year I hope to make this 60-70% at least. She grows things like corn, carrots, pumpkin, squash, and so on that need a bigger space. I’m the producer of tomatoes, strawberries, potatoes, spinach, lettuce, onions, and (not very successfully so far, but trying) broccoli. We won’t keep chickens, because we don’t need to at present – my mother-in-law keeps 25 birds at her place and we never buy eggs. I buy locally produced meat and chicken when I can, and my husband fishes (a favoured hobby, so that fits in nicely!)

    I am a policy adviser in an Australian state government and I both enjoy my work and think it is valuable, especially when I am part of initiatives that can change things positively for people in my state. I work part-time at home, around my three children, which allows me to be a part-time food gardener as well. We draw minimal water from mains thanks to our two large tanks, and shortly we’ll have solar panels on the roof and hope to draw little power from the grid. I don’t aspire to live the farming life, but I do aspire to providing as much food as I can for my family from our own surburban soil. My husband is at the very least tolerant of this vision, although he doesn’t quite share it. But he’s gone with me on the tanks, the panels, the one-car commitment, the vegetables replacing flower beds, so I cannot complain!

  42. Cassandraon 06 Jun 2009 at 9:31 pm

    EJ, I’m not sure exactly what you are asking. But my family has a small farm and we live on much less than $50,000 year. We raise some animals for eggs and food and grow vegetables… or rather *I* do. The farm, so far, hasn’t made me ANY money. (OK, $4. I’m serious.) And our annual household income is quite a bit less than $50,000.

    And personally, I don’t think our standard of living is so bad. We have a mortgage, a car payment, cell phone bills, utilities, food and repairs. Insurance, taxes. Plus animals’ feed, seeds, tools, shelter… all the stuff you mentioned.

    We sacrifice some. We almost never go out to eat. We don’t go to the theater or take vacations. Getting out and about is really not our thing anyway. We have never done much of that in all the 11 years we’ve married.

    I think it depends a lot more on what scale you want to deal with and what standard of living you are prepared to accept. We do fine, though. I consider my standard of living to be far, far superior to someone slaving away behind a desk all day… doesn’t matter how much money she has! We are much more content since I quit my job. Especially me! :)


  43. Gon 07 Jun 2009 at 2:48 pm

    Both of us love the idea of farming but I don’t think I want to live away from the city – suburbia is tough enough – so I’m content with urban farming. I grew up with vegetable and fruit gardening all of my life and I’m very happy with that, but my wife who didn’t do any gardening until we got married, is fascinated with farming with animals, which is a sheep-placenta, kill-to-put-out-of-misery, loving-Corby-the-now-dying-llama fueled nightmare.

    Anyhow, I loved reading your post and my wife and I will both enjoy letting the parasite wriggle in our heads for a while as I wait for my suburban tomatoes to bear fruit. :)

  44. Christineon 08 Jun 2009 at 6:34 am

    I was the farmer. He was the construction worker. I talked him into the farm. 100 acres, paid with cash. I wanted to be self sustainable, no more, no less. He decides he needs another 135 acres and wants to go big time, buying tractors and equipment and burying us in debt.

    Not fun.

    I do not want to put up 8000 bales of hay when I only need 1000. I don’t want the expense of these junk tractors when I have the horses. I don’t want a 400 ft. sq. garden that he thinks I need and once is planted he washes his hands of. If I had a market for it then yes but we live over an hour from any city and 1000s of others are for that market too. All I want is to take care of us and a little extra cash.

    So yah, sometimes a small dream can turn a man into a monster…

  45. Brookeon 08 Jun 2009 at 7:48 am

    Just told my husband that I am going to email him a link to this post from one of the “crazy” blogs I read. Told him it’s long, but I want him to read it because it will help him understand me. His response? “Wow. How long IS it?” Nice.

  46. Sharonon 08 Jun 2009 at 7:54 am

    Cassandra, I think EJ has a point, now that she/he has made it a little clearer – 50K the first year is pretty unlikely. But the truth is that farming for a living doesn’t come with health insurance, farmers do burn out because of the chronic poverty, etc… Small scale polyculture farming can reduce one’s income needs, but not all the way – you don’t need 50K (although in some states, you can get food stamps on that) everywhere, but until we have some kind of extant health system, you do need something – otherwise, you have aging farmers selling their land to land speculators, since there’s no pension…


  47. Cassandraon 08 Jun 2009 at 8:59 am

    Granted, Sharon. But if we had no mortgage and no car payment (which many farmers do not–especially the self sufficient types) and actually made $49,000 a year, that would be tens of thousands of dollars a year more that we would have to spend on health insurance/health care, pensions, IRA’s, mutual funds, etc, while our standard of living remained exactly the same.

    Maybe it’s our location. I don’t know what the cost of living is where y’all live. But around here, a family can live like kings on $50,000. Well… my opinion of kingly living. I know some wouldn’t agree with it. I’d be content living in a mud hut if it had A/C in the summer time. LOL

    I don’t envision myself ever wanting a farm the size where I’m going to need $100k tractors and tons of feed a month. Maybe I don’t fit EJ’s qualifications of having a farm. But I do fit the dictionary definition! :)


  48. Sharonon 08 Jun 2009 at 9:11 am

    Cassandra – I agree with you – it doesn’t take 50K to live here, because if it did, we’d be in trouble. That said, however, while many farmers who inherited their land have no mortgage, most wanna-be farmers probably will have one – there are ways to farm without owning land, and some people are lucky enough to have family land, but it is worth noting that the mortgage-free option isn’t available to everyone. While I generally share your take on things, I do see EJ’s point – one of the reasons I emphasize very small scale farming is that I think most farmers will need an off-farm job – because they do now. I’m particularly concerned about the destruction of state programs that provide insurance to working families and children – one major injury or illness could bankrupt a farming family and cost their land without those – and California, Arizona and Alabama are already looking likely to cut theirs. I suspect more states will follow.


  49. Kateon 08 Jun 2009 at 9:56 am

    Hi Sharon,
    I’ve read your book and have been downloading your articles for a while. My husband is the farmer but I am now happily following along. We have been hit pretty hard – he had 30 yrs. in the auto industry. So we are revamping our lives. We have four children still at home and two out in the world trying to find their way.
    We started down this path about 8 years ago. We were pretty intense about it three years ago but we couldn’t make it profitable. We are no longer concerned with making profitable. I was not on board last time. This time around we (the kids and I both) are willing participants and we find somethings quite fun. It is a great way to get the family working together.
    Come check out my blog if you have time some day.
    Thanks for all the information you post.

  50. EJon 08 Jun 2009 at 11:05 am

    I have been speaking about turning over 50k not 50k as income. It is a common mistake that new business owners make to consider all the money your business brings in as income. Its not. You have to subtract expenses.

  51. Jeffon 08 Jun 2009 at 4:13 pm

    I grew up on a farm and hated it. As I got older I found myself buying homes with larger and larger yards, so that I could have a bigger garden.

    Now I am in one of those developments where everybody’s mailbox has to be the same color and you have to get permission just to plant a tree.

    My Dad still has his farm and loves every day of it. I am sure I will get back to a farm someday Can’t seem to get it out of my bloodstream.

  52. Claireon 08 Jun 2009 at 9:55 pm

    I loved this post as it sounds similar to what happened between me and my DH, on a much smaller scale.

    So we were living on a 1/8 acre inner-suburb lot. At first it was heaven for me – I got to have a garden! Not food at that point, just flowers. But I’d always wanted flowers and up to that point hadn’t had any land of my own. You can grow a lot of flowers on 1/8 acre. And I did.

    In 1993, my DH spoke the fatal words. “You don’t grow any food. How about growing something I can eat?” He readily admits it was his fault. Just to shut him up, I grew a couple of tomato plants and a few herbs, in pots. It was a very rainy year. The plants did well. I discovered I liked harvesting and drying herbs. I even liked home-grown tomatoes … I’d never liked tomatoes from the grocery store.

    The next year I started a 40 square foot veggie garden. It didn’t do all that well, but I was hooked. I found I liked the challenge of growing food. And of course the taste of that food.

    Over the years it went on … I tripled the veggie garden size, got a couple of apple and pawpaw trees, put in a row of raspberries. There was no more room. The DH and I started talking about finding a little more land. I looked at the classifieds, learned that we’d have to move way out to get acreage, knew the DH didn’t want that. I didn’t want to get us into debt. We were already living simply and I wanted him to be able to retire before age 50. It didn’t seem possible to satisfy all our needs and desires.

    Then my DH stumbled across the place where we now live. He was reading water meters, his job at the time, and read this house. It’s on an acre of land, excellent land, in another inner suburb that is undervalued. The house is too small to be of interest to most people. The owner said she knew she’d have to move in a few years, so my DH gave her his phone number and said to call, he’d be interested in buying the house. She did, we did, and since 2002 I’ve had an acre to grow on. It’s plenty enough since my DH has his own interests, and gardening isn’t among them. He’s tried, but he found it wasn’t for him. But he’s very enthusiastic about what I’m doing, contributes his carpentry skills to the project and does other things when I ask, and cooks what I grow. As for me, I have enough other interests that an acre is enough (almost more than enough) for me to manage. I don’t have any real interest in raising animals – maybe a chicken or two someday, but plants are what I love. It’s working for us.

  53. [...] Sharon Astyk wrote another post to this affect.  Rick and I could relate to her guide, ”So You (Don’t Particularly) Want to be a Farmer” on more than one account.  It’s a guide for the spouse/partner/family member of a [...]

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