Ten years ago, my husband, Greg, and I surveyed the rush-hour gridlock of Phoenix in the summer and thought a small farm in the wet, green hills of Oregon sounded pretty good. And it is…for the soul, but not for the pocketbook!
We failed to account for the central economic fact of American farming today - 10% of American farmers produce 90% of the food. That's a ringing endorsement for the efficiency of our large-scale farms. For the remaining 90% of us, it's a call to be creative or go under. Small farmers have to niche.
The first lesson we learned as farmers is that nothing is convenient. Give up pizza, because no one's delivering. If you really want the pizza, make it yourself. Necessity is not just the 'mother of invention', it's also the measure of motivation.
The second lesson: farming is a lot of hard physical work for very little money. The equation of money to labor that we, as city dwellers, carried in our head just did not apply to the farm. For the farmer, work is an act that has value in itself. A farm is a living thing and work sustains it.
That was our transformative moment. It's not about the money, it's about the lifestyle. Small farms have never been about the money, and yet, over the last 200 years, they have been great incubators for much that we admire in the American spirit. Ironic that the last 50 years of improved efficiency now threatens the existence of the small farm!
That's when we realized that sharing the lifestyle is our niche. Many people might like to have a farm experience without buying the farm (literally). Just being on a farm is good for the soul. And each person that stays on a farm helps support a cultural tradition that is under severe economic threat.
Come with me. I have something wondrous to show you!
Leaping Lamb Farm, Alsea OR