Friday, January 25, 2013

A Paradigm Changing Page

Get over it ... farming doesn't pay. More accurately, though, it is our economic system that fails to describe accurately what agriculture is, what is does, and the true value that agriculture has for humanity. Agriculture is what it is and it doesn't fit into the nice, tidy box of economic theory. Living on a farm or ranch and paying the bills with wildly erratic and oftentimes tiny cash flows is a challenge for everybody who is doing it.


My advice is to get over it. Your agricultural enterprise probably will not pay all of your bills. Don't beat yourself up over this. Don't hold yourself up to a standard that the entire agricultural economy is not attaining.

This doesn't mean don't get into farming or ranching. What it does mean is understand that you are playing blackjack against "the house" and the house is using a rigged deck. Rural life is an incredibly rewarding lifestyle and despite the fact that farming doesn't really pay, we can figure out how to stay in the countryside, stay on the farm and live a good life. Going out of business is one of the many forms of unsustainability.

Almost two years ago now, permaculture expert Mark Shepard came to do a private training session on the farm. (He had hoped to make it a more broad workshop, but I was overwhelmed with the details. So it was just Phil and I and my parents for the weekend.)

His book, Restoration Agriculture, came out recently, and I started to read my copy late last night. After admiring the pictures of his farm, I started reading, pretty randomly, near the end. And the above quote stood out to me.

The last year I have been beating myself up, feeling that we have a full-time hobby farm and little to show for it, without a really viable option for actually making a living. That may be realistic, or that may be pessimistic (and it certainly isn't prophetic); whether it ends up being true or not, it isn't hopeful.

And then I remembered that Mark had said something similar: "Stay on the land. Get a job at a gas station, work as a bartender in your off hours, just do what you must to stay on the land."

I don't know if I can express how freeing it was to read that page. That's right—there are rewarding parts of this lifestyle. (I had almost forgotten.) I have a good life. (I had had some doubts.)

Though I realize it is foolish to entirely remove money from the good life equation, to realize that we are making it, month by month, seems a bit more of an accomplishment than it did two days ago. I'm playing against a stacked deck. Okay. I can keep going.


  1. Just about finished reading that book...truly wonderful, not least as he is a Christian so you can learn about permaculture with out the new age agenda. And yes, the above quote is SO true, we can do this as my husband runs a software company from home, not because I'm even close to being economically viable.

  2. Yep. I knew that. I know there are exceptions, but I like how my dad put it. "You can't live off the land anymore because you still have to buy your truck from General Motors." That is putting it simply, but even the Amish don't live off of agriculture. As a community they produce much of what they need, but the unmarried girls work in shops and as housekeepers in hotels, the men take jobs as carpenters [or have their own carpentry business] etc. The women many times sell eggs, butter and honey, but that isn't their "income." From what I have seen, every family has outside income and it takes a community to make it.

    We had friends who had a nice business. They inherited their farm and house [no payments] and some equipment. They raised Angora Goats. He raised the hay and I am not sure what else. They sheared twice a year and were successful. Their flock grew and grew. But, every morning he got into his truck and went to work at GM. That is how they survived.

    I am sure there are exceptions, but they will be few and far between. I think you will enjoy the journey more with your new "vision."