Thursday, September 21, 2006

Making "Cents" Of It All

When I was a boy my Grandma Jessie and I used to spend long hours talking about the old days. I loved to hear about how life was before all the modern trappings of life. She grew up on a subsistence farm in the hills near Red Boiling Springs, Tennessee. Seeing my interest she would ask me if I thought I’d be a farmer some day. My reaction was, “absolutely not“.

At that time the only farming model I was aware of (besides the more primitive living off the land survival type stuff) was that of the modern industrial type. Though I tended to romanticize the old time subsistence farming in my grandma’s time, I never considered that to be a financial option during the “modern’ times of the early 1970’s. “Farming” to me at that time in my life was defined by the examples I saw around us in the rural area’s of Illinois of seeing men perched high inside large green machines driving up and down vast fields doing incomprehensible things. I really had no idea what they were doing exactly. It seemed to me that it was something that was completely beyond me. It was a club I’d never portend to join.

So it really never entered my mind that a person could “farm” and actually make money. After all everyone knows farmers only get by with government subsidies. And there has been for many years now the ever growing trend of farms going under. All I ever pictured was lots of debt and having to have some kind of PHD or something. Not even in my wildest dreams did I ever want that kind of life. And still don’t for that matter.

When we moved to this place I never seriously considered a plan which would include making much money from the land. My idea was to live as cheaply as possible by living simply and growing as much of our own food as possible. Every time I would sit down with figures and try to see a way to cash in on livestock or crops the bottom line always seemed too dismal to ever take it seriously. Making money and homesteading seemed almost two separate things entirely. If you could live cheap then you didn’t need much cash.

Well that all seemed well enough that first year or so but, soon we started getting to know folks, making friends, attending 4-H meetings and going to church. All that coming and going cost money. But, we’d just swallow hard and go, figuring we’d just do it in faith and somehow the Lord would provide. Plus with three growing children there were lots of excuses to have to spend money. And to add to the growing list of reasons to go to town Kelli and the kids got involved with a nice home school group which always had something going, yet more reasons to spend that hard earned cash. During that time I worked for a short while at an auto parts store making just over $5 an hour. At that pay even a .50 cent soda is a lot of money. Makes a guy think twice about popping those quarters into the machine.

Everyone with a family knows all the pressures that there are to spend. A person could probably come up with a thousand and one reason’s to have to go to town and to go do stuff. It’s a cultural thing I guess. That whole soccer mom mentality that says kids and families have to be out doing all kinds of activities. Honestly I don’t know how we ever did it. Now, there are many things that we’ve abstained from over the years. Considering all of it we have lived very cheap. We probably will never know this side of eternity all the times that the Lord has intervened and has kept us going financially.

I always liked the idea of living off the land but, how a person could actually do that and support a family was beyond me. Right from the start however we figured that we’d provide lodging for folks who wanted to get away to a quiet retreat. At the time we never even heard of “agri-tourism”, but, basically that was the idea. We’d homestead, just providing for ourselves and maybe having a little left over to sell and that would be the agricultural part of the “farm vacation”.

While we were building our rental cabin we were running pretty short of money so that is when we thought of having the petting farm. Since we were buying most of the food for our animals that would be one way to have them pay their way besides just feeding us. Yet all the while I had to admit that what we were doing was little more than hobby farming. That being another way of farming that I just didn’t care for. Next to modern industrial agriculture I would guess hobby farming would be the second most common way that folks in this Country keep a foot in the soil. Not my idea of a good time. A full time job away from home plus full time work at home. Sounds like an early grave to me.

The petting farm could have been good for us here but, we’ve always had this tendency to give everything away. We only charged $1.50 admission. We did sell a few other things like lemonade and soda’s and corn filled ice cream cones to feed to the animals. Basically we were just getting by, but at least it paid for the animal feed.

Putting too low of a value on the things we are doing has been one of our down falls since living here. For example when we see eggs in the grocery store for .60 cents a dozen or less we feel like we’re robbing people at $1.25. Yet we could easily get twice that if we just admitted to ourselves how much more valuable they really are. But we feel guilty if we charge what we could and probably should get. It has been the same with the trash business. In fact over the past couple months Kelli and I have been agonizing over whether or not to raise our rates. Tonight we did it though. We swallowed hard and raised the rate for this next quarterly billing. As long as we don’t lose too many customers it will help tremendously. I’m trying to keep that in mind as I head off to bed here real soon. Hopefully I won’t toss and turn in my sleep with my conscience giving me fits.

I haven’t had a chance to blog much recently because I’ve been busy chewing on those Joel Salatin books I got a couple weeks ago. I wish I would have read his stuff years ago. I really like how he thinks. Yet even as comprehensive as he makes it sound I think there is always the temptation to get over committed. Salatin seems to focus in on the relationships that the farmer forms with the customers and I whole heartily agree with that. After all, when it’s all said and done, it’s the relationships that really matter anyway. Even living as wholesome as you can get we have to keep the eternal things in perspective.

But, it’s nice to learn finally that it is possible to earn a half decent living from the land by living an agrarian life. I’ve been catching on to that this past year by reading some of the other blogs, the full time farmers, like Northern Farmer, Homesteader Life and Sugar Mountain Farm. And to see that there are many good folks out there who have the calling as well. They’re not there yet but they’re on their way. With discipline, determination and above all faith in the Lord they’ll soon get there.

Until Next Time

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Honey Bee Update

Back in April I made a post about when we got bees. I’d like to make a correction about how many bees came in a box. I had said there was 10,000 to 12,000 that where shipped in a box. I later found out I was mistaken. There where a lot of bees but, not near that total. One of these days I’ll ask the bee guy how many we had gotten. But, until then just suffice it to say those numbers where inaccurate.

If you recall, me and my buddy Dan had set up some bees here. Actually Dan got the ball rolling by surprising me with an order of bees and since he was in the process of moving we set his bees up here also. Part way into the summer Dan came and got one of his hives. I had tried using some old frames in mine which had very old honey comb already attached. Turned out the bees didn’t take to it well and one of my hives swarmed never to be seen again. So I quickly put together some brand new frames and redid the remaining hive. Those bees took to that and are now doing well but, since I’m going to try wintering them over, we won’t be taking any honey this year. I still have Dan’s other hive. It however is doing exceptionally well and he’ll have a bumper crop of honey from that one.

One day last month while I was away Dan stopped by to check on the bees. Well, it was during that hot spell and those bees were a little on the testy side. They didn’t take too kindly to Dan’s interference and sent him high tailing it back to the house. A few even got in his hood with him and he got a number of good stings about his head and face. One of them got him smack on the end his nose.

Kelli and I were at her sisters new place and the kids called me on my cell phone asking if we had anything at home to doctor Dan with. All we had was some Caladryl lotion so I they doused him down good with that. By the time we got home Dan had already left. We probably missed him by 15 or 20 minutes. I arrived to see his bee suit laying on the ground so I thought I’d go out and see if the hives were still all standing. I peaked around the red shed keeping a respectable distance and saw that Dan had enough wits about him to put everything back to order even while being chastised by those cantankerous little varmints. Well, I wasn’t there but just a moment when a couple of those little buggers spotted me there peaking around the shed and they started doing that dive bombing thing and in nothing flat they called some more of their buddies and I was soon re-enacting Dan’s race back to the house. I new they where right on my heals and Kelli happened to see them in the low angle rays of light from the setting sun and yelled out through the window, “their right behind you“. Well I kicked er in to high gear, surprising myself that I still had in me to do a sprint, imagining the whole hive being in hot pursuit. Turned out it wasn’t that many bees but, it was well enough I didn’t loaf since they were still plenty mad after Dan got em all stirred up. I later called him to ask what got into them. Apparently it was just too hot and they just didn’t have any patience for someone poking around where they didn’t belong. The next day they let me peak at them without putting up a fuss. But I gained some healthy respect for what they can do when they get all riled up.

Today my order arrived from Cumberland Books. Thanks Rick for the quick service! I ordered all 5 of Joel Salatin's books that Cumberland Books carries. I’ve been meaning on checking out his writings ever since I stumbled onto this Christian Agrarian web log community. I began noticing links to his farm on a number of the other blogs. I had heard Salatin’s name before through Countryside magazine. I new he had contributed some influences over the homesteading movement in general but, until recently didn’t realize to what extent. It seems to me Joel Salatin has influenced homesteading and small scale farming considerably with his idea’s and writings. For those of you who know him this is no news at all but, it is an aha moment for me.

Last week I had down loaded some links and printed out some articles that Cumberland Books had of his and I devoured every bit of it. Now that the books are here I have a lot of reading ahead of me. I’m looking at the 5 books as they sit on the table and they must be a good 5 inches in height all stacked together. I was surprised at how thick the books were when I pulled them out of the box. Anyway, enough said about that.

This Joel Salatin fellow has a lot of good idea’s. I like how he interjects a lot of his philosophy into the topics. I wish I had been armed with all this information years ago. Between all the good publications and all the good web loggers out there, a person who is just getting into agrarianism or is thinking about it, has a real fighting chance of making a go of it, if they’ll take the time to glean all that accumulated wisdom.

Until Next Time