I have spent the last four years dreaming about becoming a farmer. When I finally quit my job a year and a half ago to pursue that dream, I knew it was the best decision I’ve ever made. I hiked the Pacific Crest Trail the summer of 2015 and told my plans for the farm to everyone I met. Those people shared my excitement and it grew and grew. When I was accepted for my dream internship at Polyface Farm for the summer of 2016, it felt like the universe was aligning.
I spent long, exhausting days working at Polyface, sometimes working up to 90 hours in one week. And I loved it. Coming from an office job where I spent my days in recycled air in a sea of gray cubicles, it felt like freedom. I could see the fruits (meats?) of my labor and I loved spending my time outdoors all day. The more people I told about my plans for my farm at home, the more inspired I felt about it every day. I couldn’t wait to move home and bring life and community back to the farm.
And then I moved home, and reality set in. Farming is hard enough when you have a team of fifteen people working together and hundreds of thousands of dollars of infrastructure to work with. I moved home with a long to-do list and realized that things were going to be different. First, living and working around family for the first time in ten years is straight up hard. There are moments when everyone is excited about moving the farm forward together and moments when everyone has different ideas and tensions run high. Doing things by yourself is hard and inefficient and projects seems incredibly unattainable at times. When I thought about moving home I always pictured myself having help from family with things. But the reality is, that the majority of the time, I’m by myself because everyone else has their own life going on. Projects on my to-do list kept moving to the next week because I didn’t think I could do them by myself. As deadlines approached, like 220 chicks arriving, and I had nowhere to put them, I began to become a hotbed of anxiety.
I then realized I was going to have to do things by myself. Every day I go through moments of feeling discouraged and hopeless that I will be able to complete my projects by myself. Building fences, building homes for my animals, calculating margins and writing business plans. Once the tears or anxiety are gone and I feel ready to move forward, I have to give myself a pep talk. One step at a time Katie. Good enough is good enough. It will not be perfect. This first year will be terrible and hard but it will be worth it. And then I pick myself up from wherever I’m sitting and move forward. I shovel dirt and pound it in around fence posts one at a time, and slowly that whole scary field full of fence posts in holes that my Dad helped me dig becomes fence posts ready for insulators. The wire gates go up one by one and then I focus on insulators. And suddenly this fence is within my reach. Did it come out perfect? Surely not. But is it good enough to serve the purpose of keeping cows in? Yes!
And when I see the cows kicking up their heels as they run onto the fresh pasture, my day is made. This past month has been a month of adjustments. Adjusting to family. Adjusting to working by myself. Adjusting to moving back to a small town after ten years of being absent. The romantic visions I had of farming here have been moved to the back burner. But there are things, like the older farmer who wants to reduce his herd size and sells me some of his beloved cows for a song, and the countless friends, family, and strangers who have offered to volunteer their time to help me build the farm. The owner of the local hardware store who encourages me every time I go in there for anything, and the support and community of a small town who still remembers you after ten years being gone. This whole family farming thing is going to be much different than I thought. But with a little bit of grit and tenacity and some luck and patience thrown in, anything is possible.