Note from Kathy: I recently tuned into a new podcast that I think On Pasture readers will like. Farmer and On Pasture contributor Jenn Colby is the host of Choosing to Farm: New Generation Stories and it is full of great ideas courtesy of first generation farmers and ranchers. I asked Jenn to tell us a little bit more about the podcast and why she created it, as well as sharing some of the ideas her interviews have uncovered.
I want there to be more farmers and ranchers in the world managing livestock on the land in responsible and regenerative ways. I want there to be more of them who actually make a living, who plan for profit and make time for healthy families. I want there to be livestock people who take vacations and who take breaks so they can be at their best for themselves and their families.
So, I created “Choosing to Farm: New Generation Stories.”
This podcast is about helping farmers and ranchers connect to other people who have success of all kinds, and to resources to help them learn more about managing a successful operation. I spend about an hour each week talking to someone who started a farm or ranch from scratch. We discuss life, business, building relationships, loose animals, equipment fires, social media perceptions, and being profitable while achieving quality of life. Every conversation is as unique as every farm or ranch, and each interview includes lots of great ideas and lessons learned.
With twelve episodes under my belt, here are just a few examples of what I’ve learned. I’ve included links to the episodes these came from, and you can find all of the episodes here. I’m also setting up an ongoing Zoom discussion series where we can talk, ask questions and share ideas. See the details at the end of the article.
What works for Joel Salatin may not work for you.
Marc & Cheryl Cesario, Meetingplace Pastures, Vermont
Episode 1.1 January 1, 2022
When you read a book by one of the household (in our world) farmer names, do you assume that because they’ve done it, the model will work for you? In our recent podcast conversation, Marc Cesario talked about reading Joel Salatin’s “Salad Bar Beef” when he was a student, and setting out to copy the highly diversified Salatin model. Marc liked the diversification of enterprises and markets, which he felt was a big selling point for a first-generation farmer.
But when Marc and Cheryl tried it in Vermont they learned that highly diversified also means splitting themselves up in many directions. What Marc came to realize over time was that Salatin’s set of resources were different than his own:
Marc: When you do that SWOT analysis, you look at your strengths and weaknesses and opportunities and threats, his is inevitably different than ours. And it’s inevitably a bit different than everybody’s. You can’t just pluck that out and think that’s going to work for us in our situation, but I was trying to do that. I was trying to shove it down our business’s throat. I think the other thing to realize; at the time Joel was doing everything to scale, and that he had a manager for each one of those individual enterprises where I was just myself…I can’t do all those things.
Cheryl: The reality is, to do multiple enterprises, you can do one or two really well. When you start splitting it up more than that, you’re just splitting yourself in more ways…I think we started to have that sort of lightbulb moment of wait, what are the things that we’re really good at?
As a result of looking at their own business, markets, opportunities, and goals, Marc & Cheryl let go of grain-fed animals like chickens and pigs. They shifted away from direct marketing and began to emphasize their strengths in grazing management and access to leased land. They reduced the amount of “truck time” moving animals and meat to and from the slaughter facility, freezers, farmers market, and stores. They grew in areas such as custom grazing and hair sheep. By narrowing down the enterprises they manage, they’ve been able to expand their business and simplify their life. Listen here for the full interview.
You don’t have to own land to be a farmer
Austin & Maggie Troyer, Crossroads Land & Livestock, Ohio
Episode 1.6, February 2, 2022
Austin and Maggie Troyer didn’t grow up on a farm, but Austin started working on a beef ranch right out of high school, mainly because he wanted a different path than his family construction business. He liked working with the animals and seeing new generations coming along. He and Maggie knew this was what they wanted to do.
That said, they weren’t in a position to buy a property large enough to graze livestock as a business and purchasing land would tie up the necessary capital for purchasing stock and equipment. In addition, buying land is a long-term investment , one where developing equity takes time or the cash payout only comes when the land is sold—not a great choice for someone getting started with a new business.
So Austin and Maggie took advantage of opportunities to put together several leased properties. They own their home and a few acres, but the balance of their operation is on land they don’t own, which works perfectly for them.
Maggie: I think for us specifically, knowing that we are first generation farmers we are starting from scratch, …you always understand that if you’re leasing or renting there’s always the potential that you might not have it in the future but we’re willing to take on that risk knowing that it takes a lot of the financial costs up front out of the picture because we’re not having to buy the ground. It’s really enabling us to put that money back into growing, and growing our stock and really getting established before we have to take on a huge payment of buying a giant ground.
Communication is the key to making things work
Jenn Colby & Chris Sargent, Howling Wolf Farm, Vermont
Episode 1.3, January 15, 2022
My husband Chris and I are a “blended” marriage – a farmer married to a non-farmer. For more than half of my 22 years farming, that was a huge problem for us. I had a vision of him working outside with me on projects and he wished I’d come inside the house more. He started a hobby and had a vision of us doing them together (which we did, somewhat), but balancing work, family, farm, and hobby meant a constant tension between what he wanted to do and what I did.
One classic example was processing chickens. I processed chickens and Thanksgiving turkeys at the back of the house throughout the fall. It was cold, muddy, exhausting work, and I felt very resentful that he wouldn’t help. He was resentful that I was always busy. As we eventually realized, expectations and communication were at the heart of finding a balance of what we wanted.
Chris: In terms of the couple dynamic as it relates to farming, it’s managing expectations and communicating, because we each have to know what the other expects of us. We have to negotiate. That’s one of the biggest things, what do we really want? What do we each want out of this farm?”
And I mean, it worked out fantastically, but that took communication. And I think that’s part of it. And you and I have become better at communicating with each other about what’s important. And you know, we as a people, we tend to hold on to resentment, we spend more time in resentment than we do taking the time to be vulnerable with our spouses and say this is how this really makes me feel, and doing it in a way that’s not antagonistic…It’s owning the feeling…and saying, ‘Look, this is how I feel when this happens. And I know you’re not trying to do it on purpose, necessarily, but this is how I feel’ and trying to then figure out what, you know, the best way to satisfy both of us in a way that’s holistic and healthy.
Speaking of figuring out how to live together as a farmer/non-farmer couple, a big part of why that’s been successful is because Chris and I have been working on our personal stuff, fixing our “personal fences,” you might say. It’s helped us get to a much stronger and healthier place as a couple and as ourselves. In the first of our series of Choosing to Farm Zoom discussions, I’ll share three simple principles that helped us get started.
Join me on April 5 for this free online event. Just click here for more details and to register.
Here’s to your success!