The Realities of Farming and Why We've Chosen This Life

This post probably won't have pictures, but it's a sounding board for some things that have been on my mind. In January we made the decision for me to stay at home and leave my job as a full-time educator in the public school system. Since then, we've had a few people remark that "oh, the farm must be doing really well" or people have commented to our family members that "the farm must be doing great for Katie to be able to quit her job." While I can understand why people might make those assumptions, I wanted to write a post about the realities of our situation and about small scale, all-natural, grass / non-GMO farming...

#1. I didn't quit my job because the farm is doing well. I quit so that we can focus more on the farm and help it grow and be successful. I was pulling 40+ hours at school, trying to stay on top of making jam and soap, helping Kevin feed, doing all the farm accounting and marketing, AND trying to be the kind of mom I want John to have. It just wasn't working... something had to give. This farm is our dream and the life we want for our family... I've never been that tied to an occupation that I would even dream of putting it before my husband, my child, or our dream for our family. It was a great job and one that I put a lot of effort into, but at the end of the day, I needed to be here more than I needed to be there. Staying at home with my kids is something I've always dreamt of and I'm blessed enough to have a husband who agrees with that belief. When we were making the decision to resign I distinctly remember telling Kevin that "I'd rather be poor and happy than have more money and be stressed out." And that 100% remains true. We're bringing home a LOT less money (bus drivers aren't on the path to being rich), but I've never been happier.

#2. Some of you may be thinking "okay but your farm income helped offset your decision to quit, right?" Nope. This may come as a surprise, but we don't make anything from our farm. The farm is, after over 4 years, finally beginning to support itself. We still pay out of our personal money for some things, but overall it's finally starting to hold its own. However, it's taken 4 years, untold amounts of money/time/sweat/tears/prayer to get here. Just holding its own though doesn't leave anything to pay ourselves. We do this because we love it, not because we're going to get rich. Sure, we'd love to get to the point some day where we can pay ourselves something, but our ultimate motivation is this: we feel that God has called us to this life, we want to provide quality products for people, and we want people to know where their food is coming from. Period.

#3. How we make it work: Living on one income (that's not a whole lot) isn't easy, especially when we still need to pick up some of the farm bills on our personal tab. I'm doing some substitute teaching to give us a little flex money but the majority of our income is from Kevin's income. Someday I'd like to do a little seminar/class for interested people on how we pinch pennies, but here's some of the things we do / don't do to help save and make it on less so that we can live the farm life we so love...

  • We don't eat out often (when we do we have an Enjoy coupon book that we use or we splurge and get $25 gift cards when they're 4x the fuel points at Kroger and save them for a "rainy day."). 
  • We don't drink and we don't smoke. 
  • We make and raise most of our own food. 
    • Obviously we have our own meat 
    • We also raise a large garden (this year it's an acre and I'm so excited!) and some of our own fruit
    • We CAN (LOTS of canning... as in like 65 quarts per year each of green beans, tomato juice, various fruits, pickles, applesauce, grape and apple juice, and more) so that we can enjoy these treats all year long. 
    • We buy in bulk and freeze or can things for later 
    • I make our organic bread (this week's batch is baking as I type this) 
  • We don't buy a lot of "extras" at the grocery store... Usually just some organic produce (mainly in the winter), organic canned basics, organic butter, shredded cheese, and organic cereal
  • I buy things in bulk to get better prices... I have food-grade 5 gallon buckets of organic flour and sugar for my baking and jam making. I buy my flour in 25 pound bags and sugar in 50 pound bags from a store near my hometown in PA. 
  • We don't take a "traditional" family vacation each year... We visit my grandma in Lancaster, PA in the summer (and stock up on some farm supplies while there) and we visit again in January when we go to the PA Farm Show each year. We usually try to spend a night in Amish Country, Ohio once or twice a year (usually when there on farm business). Otherwise, that's about it! 
  • We don't have cable - we pay roughly $16 a month for Netflix and Hulu subscriptions and especially in the summer we don't even watch them much.
  • We buy a lot of things from consignment stores (my favorite is online, www.swap.com and I've found lots of great things for John from here) and discount/daily deals websites (www.zulily.com) 
  • We don't use over the counter medicines and (thank the Lord) none of us have prescriptions... I know that's not an option for everyone in regards to prescriptions, but for OTC things - check out essential oils. You can message us on Facebook if interested... while there's more of an investment up front in oils, they last (literally) forever if properly stored and can be used in so many ways to boost and support your body's systems. 
  • We don't own anything "designer" or fancy.... I felt it was a splurge to pay $30.00 for a purse last fall when I needed a new one and found one I liked. 
  • Most of our furniture is hand-me-down and because of that we have some sentimental attachments to it ... this has saved us money because new furniture is expensive!
  • We live a simple life in general... we try to not run around more than we absolutely have to, we love being home, and there's ALWAYS something to do here for our family. 
I'm not saying all of the things mentioned above equal a recipe that will work for every family... this is just what we do and I love our life. 

#4. Harsh realities of farming aren't usually what I try to post on our page. Sure, we share some of the tough moments with you, our customers and our support network, but often we struggle through by ourselves because there's not-so-glamorous parts of farming you may not need or want to be part of. These are the realities that hurt and have made us grow and educate ourselves more. A few moments that come to mind were when we were brand new and bought cattle that were supposedly 800 pounds...We were excited to find some that were raised on grass and we didn't know what a 800 lb steer should look like yet so we bought them, finished raising them... and they hung at 240 pounds - we were devastated and literally lost money on them. Another moment was going out to the field and finding a mama Beltie cow dead for no reason... Yet another was only having 2 chicks hatch out of 70+ EXPENSIVE rare-breed eggs, and maybe one of the hardest was discovering that meat was being skimmed off what we brought home to sell by a butcher we were working with... Then there have been the times when we've literally thought the farm was going to go under, when we didn't know how we could keep pouring money in and not see a significant return for all our work. That's happened more than once. Those are tough nights and not much sleep is had. The hours and hours and hours of research, education, reading, searching and more to find answers for questions, to find butchers who are certified properly, to find non-GMO grain that's within 6 hours of drive-time, to find a truck that will be reliable and affordable for a small farm like us. The reality for Howard Family Farms is that we drive a 1995 GMC truck because that's what we can afford. The reality is that we put over 40,000 miles on that truck last year for farm use to search out and go get supplies that allow us to offer grass-fed, non-GMO products for your family. The reality for Howard Family Farms is that we love our customers and it's our pleasure to do all this. Truly!

SO, this whole post is to show you that small-scale, all-natural farming, while it may appear "idyllic" or "beautiful" is not always that. It has some really hard days (and years). Days that make us wonder if we've chosen the right path... But we know it is. And we're ever so thankful for our customers who allow us to live our dream every day, even if it's not paying us to do it (for now). :) 

Know your farmer; know your food.