Thursday, June 9, 2011

Priorities and a Plan

One of the things I've learned about the farm in the last few months is that it's easy to lose sight of the plan.  At small farm college, we were encouraged to come up with a mission statement.  That mission statement would help us determine what things we should and shouldn't do with the farm.  If it doesn't fit the mission statement, we don't do it.  Unfortunately, we haven't gotten a mission statement with enough focus to aid in decision making.  There are too many choices and acres in front of us and not enough education or experience.

Rob has been working at brush hogging the pasture in preparation to build fences.  The kind of fence we build will need to depend in part on the animals that we intend to keep in or out.  We are clear about what we want to keep out but not so clear on what will be kept in.  Yesterday, as we walked the pasture and talked about fencing options and locations, we realized a couple things.

First, we live in an area where there are generation farmers.  The families have farmed for years with the current generation learning from and building on the efforts of the last.  They own the same land, use the same barn and tractors, raise the same livestock and live in the same houses.  As newcomers it's not fair to us or them to expect that we will catch up in a year or two or ten.  We are homesteaders, starting from scratch with about as much experience as the first settlers had when Ohio was just a territory.  We start out with the advantage of a comfortable home and the ability to build a farm for pleasure not out of the necessity of survival.  As new farmers, we can't expect to have or do what our neighbors can.  Who would have thought that "keeping up with the Joneses" would extend to cows and tractors?!

Second, despite the myriad of options, we need to stick to our plan. Impulsively changing our plan will not help us feel more competent or joyful about our farm.  When we bought the property we were interested in owning some horses, building a vineyard, having bees, chickens and a dairy cow or goat.  Even though we have experienced cattle and meat goat farmers around us who have offered to help us, we aren't really excited about beef or meat goats.  The losses we've experienced with animals have let us see that raising meat animals probably isn't for us except on a small scale.

Third, there's no need to rush.  The farm isn't going anywhere.  The work isn't going anywhere.  We can research, learn, ask questions, plan, implement and move forward slowly.  A few months ago we decided that this first year was our learning year.  Reminding ourselves that learning takes time isn't always easy.  We both have a vision of this farm complete.  The truth is that we may never get there.  The bigger truth is that it will take years and years to get close.  For the farm, patience doesn't mean waiting.  Patience means moving forward, deliberately and with lots and lots of hard work.

After realizing these three big lessons, we have returned to our original plan.  We are preparing for two horses and a cow with her calf.  We'll be spending the next few months designing and fencing pastures with an eye on the future keeping in mind gates and expanding somewhere down the line.  We plan to use five or six acres for the pastures right now and keep our options as open as possible for the rest of the pasture land.  By September, we plan to have our horses and a cow for milking.

We are going to increase our chicken population and build two chicken tractors.  In October, we plan to harvest 80 of our chickens and keep the other two dozen for layers.  We are learning more about growing grapes and starting a vineyard.  We've picked out the area of the farm that we think is most likely for the purpose and will be working for the next nine months to get it ready for planting.  There's a huge learning curve for that project and we are slowly working our way up it.

It's good to have a plan and to keep it in focus.  We may not have a clearly defined mission but I'm sure that will come with time and hard work.  Everything here seems to depend on those two ingredients.

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