There’s No Business Like Farm Business
By Cathy Finley, Laurica Farm, Langley BC
What happens when a young family gets sick of suburbia and starts to feels disenchanted with the food industry? Well, they start to restructure their lives to be closer to nature, and be a part of that natural environment. We are that family who chose to escape our modern consumerist jail. Our freedom began when we shunned urban sprawl in favour of rural bliss. Our permaculture farm, built in three short years from reclaimed materials and sustainable technologies, is the ultimate expression of our values, dreams, and hopes for the future.
The freedom of farming comes at a cost, though. We quickly learned at the school of hard knocks that when it comes to making a living off a permaculture farm, there are no easy solutions. Farming is an abundant, all-consuming and life-defining vocation. It is the choice of those who dream to design their future and who have idyllic notions of organic lifestyles, skipping through fields of wild flowers clutching a wicker basket filled with fresh produce and eggs.
But make no mistake, the reality is very different and there is not one inch of this farm that hasn’t been touched by our blood, sweat and tears. We have sacrificed our money, time and everything we thought we were to farm. If you listen really carefully, you might hear the occasional and distant echo of our laughter as the pigs strike up a game of soccer with a pumpkin, or a baby goat uses our pet potbelly as a trampoline while she’s trying to nap, but generally we are too entrenched in the reality of farming to enjoy the lifestyle that we wanted to invest ourselves in.
What’s the problem with our farm business and that of other small farms? Let me start by saying that we are in a constant cycle of self-reflection and analysis. We are not the type of people who never ask ourselves questions and get stuck in dead-end or unproductive processes. We are constantly evaluating and adapting both our farming and business practices—part of that process is talking to other farmers, so we know the problem is not exclusive to us. So, when I tell you what is going wrong, it may sound arrogant and even confrontational, but it’s certainly well-considered: It’s not me, it’s you. It’s you on so many levels. It’s you, the consumer. It’s you, the municipalities. It’s you, the policy makers at provincial and federal government level.
I could go into a lengthy, mind-numbing breakdown of the issues. There is infinite discussion about whether small farms are sustainable (whatever that means), whether consumers will ever understand what food actually costs to produce, whether governmental policies will ever favour the small, ethical farmers over destructive Big Ag. Blah, blah, blah. Most of you will have heard it all before and rarely do these discussions affect any positive change, or at least not at a pace that will make our farm financially viable.
Regardless of whose fault it is, only we are responsible for our success; and, right now, we are in a unique position to act.
Just after Thanksgiving, we had a house fire. We lost everything we owned. While I could lament on the loss and devastation, I want to focus on what that means for our farm business.
Firstly, you should know that our house was slap bang in the middle of our farm. Ian and I have considered many ways to keep the farm going next season as we try to rebuild our lives in the middle of it all. Ours is a busy farm. Not only do we have many outlets for our produce and pasture-raised meat, but we also have numerous events, tours, camps for kids, learning opportunities and workshops.
We are part of Langley’s Circle Farm Tour and, despite being the alter-ego of most of the shiny, touristy farms that open to the public, statistics show that more people check in on their social media from our farm than any other in the Fraser Valley. We talked about hiring people, leasing land, starting a cooperative and a myriad of other weird, wonderful and sometime plain bizarre ideas to optimize the business and allow us some respite from the relentlessness of it all. Finally, we agreed to unburden ourselves.
All of the ideas we had included a degree of work and risk that we are not strong enough to handle right now. It’s taken a while for us to get there, but we realize that it’s ok for things to be not ok. We will just grow our own food, work with True Grit Farm to provide a CSA program, and continue with the animal agriculture for the 2017 season. Events and everything else will be on a backburner until the house is rebuilt and the farm is presentable again. But, don’t get me wrong, this is not defeatist. This pause will give us the chance to regroup, plan, get excited and act on the future. We know what we need to do to address the issues we are facing; and now, because of our personal disaster, we are forced to afford ourselves the time to get it right.
We know that pushing the kind of societal change that will see an army of allies and ethical consumers emerge has to be a grassroots movement. It has to be delivered through education and awareness. We are already doing some education as part of our practices, so why not capitalize on it? The future for Laurica Farm looks like an education center: one that farms, has fun, teaches and advocates. We know the conscientious consumers and future farmers are out there, and we know who you are. We know we can reach you, and we know you want to be engaged, informed and enabled. I believe you can and will change things for the better, and we’ll be right there with you, resilient and determined.
Enjoy Cathy’s RECIPE for Scrapple “for using the gross bits.”
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