If you’re 32, and are thinking about moving to the farm, this column will change your life. Well, no, perhaps not, but it will give you some meat to chew on.
Or, if you’re a farmer and a parent of someone who’s in his or her 30s, this column may offer you hope.
I’m plagued by the nagging thought that I should know more. I should know more about farming by now. What do you think? Some of you have been loyal readers. You must have some idea of what’s lacking in my farming knowledge. Or, is this something all farmers face? Does this thought/worry resemble that familiar place in any discipline when you realize how much you don’t know? The thought has forced me inward, reflecting on the things that have happened and changed since August 2012, when we moved to the farm. In short, a lot has changed.
The first year
Year one: by the time we arrived on the farm, at first living in my parents’ basement — we were waiting for our mobile home to arrive and we needed to do some work prepping the yard — the wheat harvest was already done. The farm had seeded early, as there was little snow and warmer than average temperatures in spring.
I had buckets of energy at the time, and was brimming with confidence, having just left a fairly involved job in Toronto.
Changing cultivator shovels was one of the first things I did on the farm. It was good, honest work. I was having the time of my life. I was learning the mechanics of farming. If you’re moving back after being off the farm for as long as I was, this was a necessary first step.
I got this whole farming thing, I thought. My online paper was doing well, and I had this column and a few other writing gigs keeping me busy, our trailer arrived, our yard was seeded with grass — life was great. This new life was happening. Social media was hungry for my/our pictures of cultivating, driving truck, you name it, and I met that need, enjoying the celebrity. The first year was the perfect farming honeymoon.
It had a gloss to it, our first year did (August to August). Perhaps our second, as well, but for sure our first. We were leaders, doing something radical — moving from the big city to small-town Manitoba determined to show the world we could make this transition a lossless one. We were on the leading edge of a trend. I knew it. My confidence as a beginning farmer hinged on it. Yours will, too. That’s okay. Own it.
The second year
Year two still had the euphoria of year one, but with an introductory taste of reality. I did more fieldwork than the year before, and was trusted to troubleshoot, discern, and choose things related to the farm.
“I don’t know. What do you think? became a question I had to answer. I began chatting with the farmers close to us about what factors they identify when deciding on things like seeding dates, seeding depths, or crop choices. I was searching for context. Farming seems more like muscle memory without it.
Transition planning conversations began at the end of year two. These were hard at first. I had trouble understanding the minutia of what went into one. I still do, though I can appreciate the complexities a little more now. This would be an ideal place to reveal our airtight plan, but, a) such a plan doesn’t exist for anybody; and b) I’ve become okay with that.
If you’ve just moved to the farm, you’ll probably be reading a few ag publications. If not, you should be. You’ll find profiles of young go-getters who did something interesting to streamline their transition plans, or something to diversify and grow their farms. Let them inspire you. Don’t let them intimidate you.
I rode the fence on year two. My city life was behind me, and the rural life was starting to take hold. I was ambivalent, bifurcated, torn. You’ll deal with this, as well.
I was starting to get a glimpse of what exactly I would be leaving behind if we stuck with our lives on the farm.
The third year
Year three: the scales started to tip. I don’t write about the same things I wrote about in 2012. My interests have changed. In some ways I’m not the same person. I’m sure we can all say that of our selves three years ago, but this seems different, and there are a couple reasons for that:
- I know a thing or two now about farming, and I know a thing or two about what it’s like to be a farmer, living in the country and doing country things. So, the change is more evolutionary than circumstantial — a blending of past and present, if you will.
- It feels different because I’ve passed my two-year career change deadline. Farming feels real, permanent.
I did more on the farm during the last growing season than ever before. I was in it. I acquired more land, and may be acquiring even more before this year is over. I now spend waking moments pondering things like bin storage, commodity prices, and crop trends, and if you’d put me back in our Palmerston, Toronto apartment, I would not lead the same life we lead when we lived there. It’s all different now.
I’m no longer on the fence with teetering allegiances to the city and the country. Parts of that sentence scare me. What did I leave behind? Is it gone for good? The questions are interesting, kind of, but the past matters less than the future, and that’s looking pretty good.
Into the future
If you’re reading this, and about to make the move, year three is a good one. The best one, so far. Life on the farm is great, with plans in place for it go get better. My wife’s 10 chickens are healthy, and laying a steady supply of eggs for us, our friends, and our families. My seed is bought for the spring, and the warm weather can’t come soon enough.
Year four will be about soil science, specialty crop options, getting involved in the agriculture community, and dealing with all the things that pop up in a growing season. It’s full immersion now. No more wrestling with 2012.
The farm life is infectious and incredible. I’ve said this to you before. I’m saying it again now, and will again in a column months from now, at which time by the sounds of things our chickens will share the yard with a few goats, some ducks, a couple of pigs, and perhaps a donkey. Yikes.