I woke up this morning a little uneasy. I think I had a restless night of sleep. There are many things that run through a farmer’s mind in spring, and I suspect that I was working through the entire list in my sleep. With only six weeks before the summer markets start and ten weeks before the first CSA delivery, there are many pieces that must fall into place for the season.
As I have mentioned before and most people who are engaged in the food system suspect, farming is not a lucrative business. With the average age of farmers in the US increasing to 58.5 years old, and the number of new farmers decreasing each year, it’s clear that farming is a risky financial endeavor at best, and probably a very poor economic choice at worst. I share the financial hopes and worries of family farmers across the US and world, but I am also thankful for our supporters who understand the struggles of the family farm and without whom we could not survive. Family farms, after all, are community farms.
Finances are not the only worry on a farm in spring. The entire season is cast in the next four weeks. Most crops will be planted during this window, and it is the time when the most can go wrong. Most of what can go wrong is out of our control, leaving farmers with a sense of powerlessness. With our main crops filling all of our greenhouses during that period, our crops are concentrated in a small area, creating risk. Rodents can eat an entire crop in a greenhouse overnight. A heater that breaks on a cold night, a power failure from the utility company, or a late season storm that destroys a greenhouse can kill an entire season in one night. We mitigate these risks to the best of our abilities with sensors, backup power, etc., but that does not stop us from worrying.
Equipment needs to be repaired, and that also takes liquidity. Tractor engines break, equipment wears out and needs replacing, and routine maintenance must be performed. Employees need to be hired and trained and field preparation needs to be started. Seeds need to be ordered, and sometimes replacement varieties must be found. There is no room for error because any missed step or catastrophe results in having to wait a full year, under most cases, to rectify. If a watermelon takes 85 days to grow, assuming it is growing through the solstice, there is no window to regrow another crop in the event of a failure, even three or four weeks into the season. It’s a wonder that farmers ever get restful sleep.
And yet, as I approach the average age of a US farmer, I know why I farm. Most farmers do. Even as our numbers dwindle, we know that farming is as necessary as it ever was. While producing, to the best of our abilities, the food that feeds us all , we know that food is the foundation of societies, and that farmers and communities need each other. We attempt to inspire future generations of farmers to join us in our mission while trying to ensure their future is secure. We work with allies in our communities to achieve these goals, and in return, we feed our communities while trying to feed ourselves.
So today, after all of this settles in after a restless night of sleep, I started my morning farm chores. While walking from the chicken barn to the greenhouse, I run into Matt headed to market today in Racine. He leaves with a vehicle packed with fresh produce harvested this past week. I look up and see the moon in its last quarter high in the morning sky, realizing that the very same moon is visible to everyone this morning. We are connected on one planet under one sky. I let go of the worries and head down to the greenhouse to fulfill my purpose as a farmer in my community.