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How Developing a Farm Vision Got Me Out of an Endless Chore Loop and On To Success

Click here for all articles in our series on goal setting and how it has helped graziers improve their lives and operations. We’ve made many of them free because this is so important to your success.

On Pasture’s New Year’s Resolution is to help you develop a business vision and goals that ensure a happy, healthy life, and a grazing operation that gets you there. Creating a vision and goals, isn’t something that’s natural for most of us. So, to make the process easier, we’ll be providing lots of examples, like this one from Jenn Colby.

Jenn is also offering a free Zoom workshop on January 25, 2022 to get you started on your vision and goals. You can learn more about it and register here.

Enjoy!

Developing My Vision, Layer by Layer

This mission and vision has been serving us well for a couple of years now, but as things in our life have changed and new opportunities come along, we are in the process of reevaluating whether this mission and vision is the right fit any more.

If you’re reading this, you might be wondering what a vision is all about, and why having one even matters. After all, you’ve gotten this far without one, right? Missions and visions are for corporations and businesses, not farms and ranches, right?

Except that without a vision, we don’t have a direction. We go pointlessly in circles, doing the same thing for no particular purpose beyond what we always did. We can be SO busy running in our circles that we fill the whole day, but we still end up basically where we started.

I ran in circles for the first ten years that I was farming.

In fairness, I was just getting going, and I was trying out what I liked to do. I raised chickens, turkeys, pigs. I tried a couple of sheep (major fail!), and the odd beef cow. I was learning about animal husbandry, direct costs, time management. I diversified into pottery, bakery, spice rubs, the occasional garlic braid. I was testing what I liked to do, and what my customers responded to. There’s NOTHING wrong with testing ideas, if we’re being intentional about it.

But my idea testing wasn’t intentional and it took me a long time to understand that.

Around Year 11, my husband and I had come to a place where we finally started to see the treadmill we were on, and we wrote a list that lived on the inside of the kitchen cabinet door. I had met a farmer with a list like this that he kept in the bathroom so that he and his family would look at it every day. We were embarrassed that other people might see our list, so we hid it where only we would see it.

On our list were some simple things like: we didn’t want to work so much that we never saw our kid, and we wanted to pay off our debts. It was maybe a list of ten bullet points. Nothing fancy, but that bulleted list cracked open the door that led to the farm where we live now.

In Year 12, we used that list to start a search for a new farm, something that better fit the life that we (thought) we wanted to live. While we did sell our old place and moved to a rental to continue the search, my husband Chris and I were not on the same page about what we actually wanted. I’ve written an On Pasture series about that journey, but the important point here is that we weren’t together on the visions that each of us had.

Here’s the first in the series Jenn wrote on how she searched for, found, and then financed the farm of her dreams.

Jenn Colby, Progressing Farmer: How to Start Your Own Farm From Scratch

We spun our wheels for over three years, because we didn’t take the time to write down what we wanted in a new farm and new life. After getting really frustrated with me for shooting down another in a long line of farm possibilities, Chris said, “Could you just write down what you want? Then I’ll know what to look for.”

This was Year 15. I wrote my list (enough pasture land to raise livestock in quantity, not so much that I need equipment, enough room for livestock trailers to turn around…very practical livestock farmer stuff).

He wrote his list (high-speed internet, easy access, a house that only needed a coat of paint to move into—not major repairs).

The funny part was we had really different visions, but they blended beautifully together. My husband is not a farmer, but he loves living on a farm. I didn’t think I’d care about high-speed internet, but the truth is, it’s been essential to my business, as has our location near town. About six months after we wrote our lists and combined them, we found the farm that met our collective vision…and better than we even realized at the time.

Year 16 was all about the process of getting to the farm and especially about HOLDING the vision of our ultimate destination in our heads. As I’ve come to realize about the power of having a vision…when times get dark and the things you thought would happen a certain way DON’T, or when you realize you’ve hit a dead-end path, having that vision to fall back on is a little bit like a lighthouse. You don’t know how you’re going to get there (we sure didn’t), but we knew that was the destination.  It took a whole lot of ups and downs, and a few banks (and more than a few sleepless nights), but we got to the destination.

We made it! Which then leads to the question…what happens when you achieve your vision?

For some people, getting there and staying there is just perfect. I was happy (but exhausted) for about 18 months. And then I got itchy. Chris got itchy. We needed a new vision, but we didn’t recognize that yet. We realized we needed SOMETHING ELSE. We’d gotten to the top of our mountain, but now we needed a new mountain to climb.

Year 18 was a whirlwind of a year starting up that next mountain with a one-day Success Training with Jack Canfield and wrapping up with a seven-day Ranching for Profit School. After Canfield, I began to write down different areas what I wanted my life to look like (my home, day job, relationships with friends and family, money, and more). I’m absolutely sure that my writing those things down under my vision helped me even find RFP, where we learned a more formal process to work through a vision for our business.

What do I do now? Spend a few minutes at the end of each year reviewing that vision. Does it still make sense? Has it evolved? Do I/we want a different destination? As we’ve been doing this over the past three years, we find that we are making course corrections on our destination, but the general vision is the same. It may not stay the same forever, but the most important part is that we are asking the question, “Do I want to be in the same place next year?”

So, what are some of my biggest takeaways from my experiences of the last 21 years?

The first step is just deciding to think about doing things differently, and that itself is huge. Maybe that step has been years in coming, and you’ve known you needed something to change but didn’t know what. The sort of uncomfortable feeling, kind of itchy, like you’re supposed to be somewhere? That’s what it felt like for me. Maybe you too.

Think about what you actually want.

Not what your ranch needs, or what your family expects of you, or what you think you’re supposed to say you want. Take the time to think. It could be on a long truck ride. It could be on a hunting trip. It could be on a long weekend away with your spouse (pro tip: ask them to think about what they want too, write separate lists, and compare them).

Recognize this is going to happen in layers, and that’s OK.

Every step forward toward a vision of any kind is a step out of the perfect circle of chore-and-repeat that so many of us are stuck in. Once it becomes a spiral and not a closed circle (see Point 1 above), there’s a whole lot more room for narrowing in on our next destination.

The best time to start is…now.

We can’t go backward, and we can’t get our years back. The best time to start is right now, because that’s how we change tomorrow.

Want help with the process?

If you missed the free, online workshop Jenn presented on January 25, you can still watch it here and download her PDF workbook here.

Check out Jenn’s Choosing to Farm podcast, with new episodes weekly, interviewing first generation farmers and ranchers.

You can also join her Choosing to Farm Farmer/Rancher Success Hub via Patreon.

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Jenn Colby
Jenn Colbyhttp://www.howlingwolffarm.com
Jenn Colby has spent over 25 years helping livestock farmers find success and quality of life through non-profit, academic, Extension, and community roles. She writes, farms, consults, and hosts the Choosing to Farm podcast from her home base of Howling Wolf Farm in Vermont.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks Jenn and Kathy for sharing this. I liked “Every step forward toward a vision of any kind is a step out of the perfect circle of chore-and-repeat that so many of us are stuck in.”

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