I keep getting asked the same question over and over, so I thought I would blog about it. Every one that I run into has to ask me if I am happier farming than I was teaching. Or they want to know if I miss teaching. I know everyone either thinks I am crazy or lucky. Either way, it isn’t easy for me to give anyone a quick answer. I mean the short answer is yes I am happier farming and I do miss teaching a little. But in order for you to understand, I need to back up a little. All the way back to when I picked my college and declared my major. I was always torn between working on the farm or going to work for someone else, an “in town” job. I mean I was practically raised in between the milk parlor and the tractor. I honestly don’t know what it is like to not have to work 7 days a week. Seriously once you have black and white cows in your blood that stuff is in there. Although I chose to go to a college that did not offer an agriculture major and I decided on a different career path, the farm was never far away. So much so I milked cows on the weekends and during the summers. I would farm all summer long to help pay my way through college. I can tell you I had some thoughts about what it would be like to get a 9 to 5 job and a house in the suburbs. At some point I thought maybe teaching would be less stressful than all the stress I had watched my Dad go through. And then I was teaching and raising my family and let me tell you, I was so incredibly stressed out. Teaching has two types of stress, long term and short term. The long term stress in a low performing school is terrible. I would end up with students two grade levels below and be expected to push them above grade level, all while dealing with the behavior. I could handle the long term stress, because I love to nurture. I love watching something grow and boy did I have kids that would grow every year. I am most proud of all the growth I always saw, but it was never good enough. Now the short term stress is what really started getting to me. The short term stress was the twenty little voices that always needed me for something. Eventually the constant stress that drained me every day is finally what made me decide to try something different. So farming, how is it different? I still have plenty of stress. We have lots of long term stress on the farm. Milk prices are supposed to drop pretty low this year. We are always behind and something is constantly breaking. I really enjoy how every day is different and I love being outside so much. I never did well chained to a schedule and now I get to keep my day as flexible as I want it. I still get to nurture things. I’m really still trying to figure this all out. I really hate that I haven’t had time to blog about all the stuff I have been up to, but I have been really busy.
This isn’t a blog post to update on things. I don’t really have time for that and all I can really say is we are as busy as crap. I have been finding that I pretty much fall asleep as soon as I sit down at night. No this is something that has been on my mind for awhile. Basically what I want to say is that my Dad is my hero. He always has been and always will be, but now more than ever, he is my hero. Farming is tough. Farming is tough in ways that other people can’t even imagine. Its a get up in the morning and go till dark kind of tough. Its hours in a field kind of tough. Its pulling an already dead calf kind of tough. Its having to put down one of your favorite pets, because she broke her leg kind of tough. Its a you don’t sleep all night, because you don’t know how you can pay all the bills kind of tough. I grew up with it and I never fully realized it. My Dad has done it and lived it. I remember so much from growing up. One of the things that I remember well was how he often came home when I was headed to bed. He always made time to see me and hug me, but he spent many hours working. I also remember how on holidays, we had to work around his schedule. We would open presents after the cows were milked. I would have to wait till then to see what Santa brought me.
My Daddy and his brothers, built our dairy into what it is today. And it is something to be proud of. Things aren’t perfect, but the biggest thing is the dairy is here. He weathered so many storms and it amazes me when I think about it. As I sit back and take it all in, he’s my hero. I just hope that I can work hard enough that I can make him proud of me.
It is so hard to believe that Summer is coming to an end. I can not believe how fast the time has went, since I have been working on the farm. Over the last two weeks I have been reflecting on the summer and I have to say I have enjoyed myself. Working on the farm is overwhelming and we never seem to get it all finished, but it is rewarding. My kids have been right beside me the whole way. It has been good and bad. I have to hope they are learning the value of hard work, but they slow me down even on a good day. They are constantly asking for drink or food and I have to worry that some kind of accident could happen. They have been a big help at times, by opening gates or cleaning things up for me. I will miss them once school starts, but I am looking forward to getting some things done.
I have also been reflecting on how it feels to be doing a different job. It didn’t feel real until a week ago, when I would have been going back to school. I kept waiting on myself to start feeling sad, to miss something, and I haven’t yet. I feel guilty that I haven’t missed any part of it yet. I saw on facebook where my teacher friends had fixed up their classrooms and I felt nothing. I went to open house with my own kids and I felt nothing. So after much thought, going back to a classroom is not in my plans. I don’t know what the future holds, but I know I love farming. I didn’t really realize how much I missed it until this summer started. I can tell you that I am still pretty stressed out at times, which does remind me of teaching. Just this past week we were chopping corn silage, which leaves little ole me to do a lot of stuff. It wouldn’t have been so bad if we weren’t having a baby boom. In just 2 days we had 13 calves born. It is great to have that many cows coming in, but its stressful when you aren’t used to it. If I get a chance maybe I will blog about what we have been up to.
I have been waiting for the right moment to put this out there to the world and today seems like as good as any. I have some big news that I have been excited to share.
I graduated from high school 15 years ago last week. I remember it all pretty well. I remember the trying to decide where to go to college and what my major would be. I chose education, because it just made sense. I knew I wanted a family and something that would always be there, so it just fit.
Over the years, as I have got more and more frustrated with my education career, my roots started calling me. I started reading dairy farming blogs and following farmers on facebook. At some point I started reading the dairy magazines that had always filled my Dad’s coffee tables. My husband was row crop farming at that point. (Believe it or not I begged him not to do it) I helped him when and where I could. I would actually volunteer instead of complaining. Trust me I still complained, but it stopped being the please do this complaints. I day dreamed about a day that we could both farm together. And then some things just started to work out. One was an idea that hit me when I was showing my oldest my wedding album. The book is filled with pictures of all these people who are and were so important to me. All the family and friends that came to support my husband and I are in those pictures. They are forever a part of the history of the two of us. Even though some of them are no longer with us, they are remembered in that album. A thought hit me, there is something else that is etched into the history of me. There is something else that will forever be a part of me. There is a reason why my first sentence to describe me is, “I grew up on a Dairy farm” It is who I am. I love cows just about as much as I love my family. In fact they might as well be family. Around the time I decided that I just couldn’t stand not helping on the farm and that I needed to be around the cows more, some things just sort of fell in place. So I took the plunge and switched careers. It was a big decision, but it’s really just me coming home.
I absolutely can not believe it has been this long since my last blog post. Time has gotten away from me, because we have been so busy. I guess it all got started about the middle of April. My husband started trying to get the corn planted and we have had one problem after another. The planters broke so many times that I have lost count. We were also slowed down by rain. Rain isn’t a bad problem to have, especially when we have had two really dry years. I am excited to see some rain happening, it gives me so much hope. I think that my husband has forgotten what it is like to have to rush to get something finished before the rain. We just haven’t had to deal with wet weather in so long.
It seems like every day since April, we have been so busy that I haven’t been able to catch my breath. Some of that had to do with my boys playing baseball and t-ball. I wouldn’t trade it for anything else, but geez sports are exhausting. I don’t even mean they are exhausting for the kids, they are roughest on the parents. We had weeks were we had 4 games and a practice in one week. That makes for some very busy evenings. But hey we got through it and I already miss it. Well I miss it a little.
And last but not least, potatoes. (I know everyone just lives for my sweet potato updates) Well I like to pretend everyone just lives for them. Believe it or not are entering into our fourth year of potatoes. I mean wow, really? How has it been four years, since we started all this craziness. This year, we weren’t sure if we should even plant the potatoes. So much has changed since last year. My hubby is back at work full time and last year was just tough. We lost so much of our crop and we had to replant. The thing is, I think we both really like doing the potatoes. We have some very reliable customers and we have all this equipment. We are doing a few things differently this year. We are only planting 5 acres, that is about half of what we grew last year. We also decided to not plant our own slips. We just didn’t have the time to try to grow our own. I feel so far behind, but we started getting the field ready. It takes a lot of work, but I will keep you guys updated!
Wow 2016 really flew by. I had all these good intentions of keeping my blog up and then it didn’t happen. I can tell you that we had an extremely busy year. It was filled with lots of farming and family time. My kids grew so much and so did our crops. All in all the year was a pretty good one. The weather could have definitely been better, we are still in the middle of a drought. Many farmers in our area struggled to make much of a crop and we were in the same boat. We had one field of corn that only grew as tall as our knees. It is so hard to watch something that you have worked so hard on, only grow as tall as your kids. Luckily the majority of our corn did just slightly below average. It wasn’t enough to brag about, but we had a good solid corn harvest. Our soy beans were about the same, we had a few fields that just didn’t do anything and some others that were good solid yields. It wasn’t the harvest that I had hoped for, but it was so much better than last year. The biggest disappointment was the sweet potatoes. We worked a lot during the spring growing our slips and then we spent a few days preparing and planting the field. Only once they were planted, they did not get any rain for an entire month. We lost about 90% of our crop at that point and we had to decide what to do. Most people would have plowed them up and just started over. We would have too if it hadn’t been for the fact that we had no way to get the slips that we needed to replant the entire field. After a lot of debate, we decided to plant over about half of the field. Plus we had to hope that we would start getting some rain. The whole process was very frustrating and a learning experience. We did end up harvesting some sweet potatoes and we had enough to supply our local customers. We didn’t send any potatoes to Asheville this year since the timing wasn’t right. The biggest thing that happened last year was the grant that we got that helped us to improve our operation. We added some more crates, another trailer, and a heat/air conditioning unit. It has helped us out so much to have more room and better heating and air. In the past we have ran drop cords from the house to the trailers and it just wasn’t efficient. We now have power out at the trailers so no more drop cords to the house. My awesome husband also put power and lights in two of the trailers, so we can do so much in the trailers. In the cold months we like to pack the boxes inside the trailers. The additional trailer has been helpful, because we have needed the extra storage. Once we sold all the potatoes out of the third trailer, we can use it to keep our boxes, scales, and tables out of the cold. I hate that I totally stopped blogging the last part of this year, but I honestly feel like this is the first moment I have had to sit down. Happy New Year to all!
We have been trying to prepare for the fall crop on top of everything else that has to be done around here. We didn’t get as much of a break as we normally do in the summer, because of the way everything worked out this time around. We had to replant sweet potatoes, so that wasn’t finished until early July. We also waited on rain to plant our soybeans so they were about two weeks later than normal. We got to sneak away for a couple of days to go on a camping trip and then it was right back to business. Because of the lack of rain some of the Dairy’s corn has ripened earlier than expected. That means everyone is working on cutting silage. This past Saturday, we did get to start on our improvement project. My husband worked on smoothing out the pad that the trailers sit on and making room for the third trailer. We also will be pushing them back some, so that we have more room to park and unpack trailers. It will also be graveled so that it will be easier to maintain. I am all for anything that makes my yard look better. The next step is to put the trailers back and bring home the third trailer. Each year we have been trying to improve the sweet potato operation. Last year we added a HVAC unit to our insulated trailer, power/ water to the trailers, and a packing shed. This year, we have a lot of plans, so hopefully we can accomplish them all. We are adding a third storage trailer and lights to two trailers. We actually pack potatoes in the trailers, so lights are going to be a great addition. The third trailer is going to help us be able to store more potatoes. Last year, we struggled with storage and we actually had less potatoes than we should have had. If we have an awesome crop this year then two trailers are just not going to hold them all. We have to have a place to cure our potatoes so that they will last much longer. The hope is that this year is going to go even more smoothly than last year. Our first year was a huge learning experience and our second year just went so much better. The goal would be for this year to get even better. Sweet potatoes are still a few weeks off, but the time will be here before we know it. The first thing that will be ready will be our corn. We always bag some corn in bags for deer hunters. We have started getting calls for corn, so we will be harvesting it as early as we possibly can. I do plan to update soon, because we have tons of things happening right now.
This post was really meant to just be another boring update of my not so boring life, but things have been depressing as of late. Ask anyone who is trying to farm or even garden here in our part of the state. It is just plain depressing. I have found out over the last few years, that I am very connected to my environment. It has a lot to do with me being raised by a farmer, but it has a lot to do with my personality. I love the outdoors and nature. It goes beyond the occasional hike and sitting outside at night listening to crickets. I just feel so connected to the land that I often dream of a day I can just go live in a secluded cabin. As a kid I used to sneak out and go find a field of clover and just lay in it. I loved the feeling of the grass cradling my body and even now I hate wearing shoes, when I stick my toes in grass. I sound crazy, I know, but I think its important to explain why I am so melancholy right now. See we are again experiencing another drought, just like last year. The media isn’t saying it yet, but I feel it. I look out at the fields of corn around my house and I feel it. The thousands of corn plants that stand tall next to me are a part of me and they are in pain. I can feel them trying to breathe and survive, but they are struggling. Worse I know the cure, I know what will help them, but I am powerless. I can’t make it rain. Even writing this I feel so silly. Most people just drive by and say “oh there is a field” I can say things aren’t as bad as they were last year, yet. I went out walking this morning, before it got so hot, and things looked pretty hopeful. So we shall see, if it rains I think things will feel fresher. So if you are the type of person to pray, pray for us. If you do rain dances, do a rain dance. We need it.
The other morning, I was buckling in my youngest son so that I could take him to Mawmaw’s. I just couldn’t help but think about how much my life has changed in the last six years. There was a time when I used to have to buckle three into car seats and then head to drop to Mawmaw’s and then to work! It would add an extra hour onto my short fifteen minute commute. I often got asked, “How do you do it?” and I never really could answer that question. I found the other morning that I asked myself, “How on earth did I ever do three?” I guess the answer to both is that I just did it. I just put one foot in front of the next and did it. It definitely wasn’t easy and I’m not sure I would do it again, but I made it. The only answer I can give is I took one day at a time and just made it through each day. I feel so accomplished some days, I can’t believe I have made it this far. I remember telling someone that surely it would get easier (I mean it has to get easier right?) Well this particular person told me no it never gets any easier. At any rate I can say now that my children are growing up and changing. At one time I had two toddlers and a newborn. Now I have one in kindergarten, one in pre-k and one more that is very ready for school. Well it has gotten somewhat easier on me. I have moments when I miss the baby stage, but having kids who can help, is such a relief. I really think I blocked out all the struggles of getting 3 ready to go and leaving my house by 7:00. I honestly remember labor more than I can think of those days. I do know I threatened to have an emotional breakdown weekly. I know it got rough enough that we had to sit down and seriously crunch all the budget numbers. We knew one of us was going to have to quit work or I was going to loose it. It was in those moments that we first decided my husband would try to farm full time. For us it just made sense. I know I really wanted to stay home with the kids and that had been the plan originally, but we just couldn’t afford it. There was no way we would make it on my husband’s salary alone. We knew my husband would be able to work and earn some money to replace his salary. I could work and carry our insurance. Looking back on that decision it was one of the best we have probably made. My husband has stayed pretty busy, but has been able to set his own hours. He has been more available to take kids to doctor appointments and to attend school functions this year. Most importantly, he was able to take the kids to Mawmaw’s. This has allowed me to save my sanity. It also helped mawmaw, because she has been able to take some days off when needed. I know watching 3 kids who were 3 and under wasn’t easy. This year everything changed, when the boys started school. My husband no longer has to worry about the oldest two. I get them up and put them on the bus. That means all he has left is our youngest. The baby loves to farm with his Daddy, although he says he is only Mommy’s boy. Tractor was one of his very first words and he never turns down tractor rides. I still get overwhelmed at times, with so much on my plate, it would be a miracle if I didn’t. It hasn’t been an easy road, but I have loved so much of our journey so far. Being able to raise my children as close to farming as we are, has been a blessing. One day someone will say to me, “How did you do it?” and all I will be able to do is smile and say, “I don’t know, but I did it.”
Well 2016 is here and we get a fresh start with a brand new year. I am both excited and scared for this year. We have struggled a lot over the last two years and there is a lot riding on this next year.When my husband came home 3 years ago from the southern vegetable conference and started telling me about sweet potatoes, I laughed at first. Then I listened and we decided to give it a go and we said all along we would give it 3 years. It takes more than one year to see if a business will make money and we wanted to give it a fair shot. So this is the third year and there is a part of me that is scared that by the end of the year we may have to wave a white flag. But then again, things may go perfectly this year, so only time will tell. We have definitely learned a lot about sweet potatoes over the last two years. My husband has all our equipment set up so that it plants just right and we have added some things that are very helpful. We have also made some good connections for selling our product and have options for more next year. In our first year we lost a lot of profit, because we made stupid mistakes. In our second year we lost profit, because of things beyond our control. I do have to say that on a year when we had a devastating drought having sweet potatoes was great. Sweet potatoes are more drought tolerant than field crops and although they were affected, they still did well. We were still able to fill up both our storage trailers and ship sweet potatoes all over the country.
With so much riding on this year, I guess I need to make my exciting announcement. Late last Fall, we decided to apply for WNC ag options grant that would help us to add some things to our operation. We just received our letter that we got the grant! My little family is so excited that we are going to be able to keep making ourselves grow. This could be a make or break us year. And I’m hoping the grant will definitely make us for the year. My prayers are for a great growing season, so that we can see what that looks like with sweet potatoes. Then maybe we will know where to go from here. Oh 2016 I am happy to see you!