We closed on our 5+ acre “farmette,” somewhat disconcertingly noted by our bank’s appraiser as being a “suburban” home (by rural standards), this morning. We’re officially terrified. All our pretty plans on how much we need to spend to get so much revenue from so many square feet of some specific vegetable or chicken species seem suddenly very ethereal when juxtaposed with our actual expenses.
I have been in Madison County, VA for 4+ days now, for the purpose of attending a couple of small-farm related events in these parts, one of them being a conference held at Graves Mountain Lodge on the Local Food Economy, the other an all-day “hands-on” fencing workshop. No, not as in the skills of Medieval knights or some such, but as in building structures to keep livestock in and predators out.
On Tuesday, I hung out with other active and aspiring small farmers and listened attentively as the inspector from the VDACS spelled out the requirements for processed products from non-inspected kitchens as I scratched off a number of potential revenue sources from our list.
We heard from “local food” entrepreneurs on how to find customers and markets. The organic farmer with 9 acres in production based his success on whether he and his family were able to gather ‘round the dinner table by 6pm each night. I wanted to hug him.
Molly, the large-hearted food distributor from Fresh Link who works directly with local farmers to cultivate produce wanted by local chefs of DC restaurants stressed that her company shared the risk with the farmer, by buying produce that they thought would sell. If they couldn’t sell what they bought….ooops. Lesson learned.
Then there was the hipster distributor from Arganica who said he would buy virtually any amount of anything and pick it up to boot… if he had an order. They bought over $10 million in local produce last year. What his cut was we could only imagine.
Then there was the big guy from familyfarmed.org out of Illinois who talked in terms of pallets of produce, and represented Blue Ridge Produce, the big boys distributor opening up in Virginia that would be operational by the end of May.
Pallets of produce aren’t in our horizon, but it was cool to have an arena to hand out business cards and meet my neighbors. The woman seated next to me lived just down the road from our new place! And the man who bought the 14+ acres with the doublewide we had had our eye on was there, too…small world indeed.
Wednesday was a flurry of meetings with insurance companies and emails, phone calls, and faxes to mortgage brokers and lawyers. I spent two hours with my Farm Bureau insurance agent while he explained that Farm Bureau had been heavily trying to engage the local food movement by offering insurance to small producers, until they found out that there was a real demand for insurance for small poultry operations. Game off. No way to get insurance for our on-farm poultry slaughter operation. No one will touch it. The USA is too litigious a society. We want fresh, nutritious, tasty, local chicken. But we want to sue the small producer if we think it might be the chicken that may have made us sick. Even if on our way home to DC we stopped at the county fair to ride the Ferris wheel with our chicken in the trunk on a hot day in August.
Alas. We believe in providing nutritious, humanely-raised food for our community regardless of the litigious tendencies of a small percentage of our potential customers. So we forge on with our plans to convert the shed into a brooder and build modified Salatin chicken tractors for our “back-four” pasture and put a chicken in our logo.
Thursday I raced to our Realtor’s office first thing in the morning to prepare a fax for our bank, then raced back to the Ruritan Club in Brightwood to attend that workshop on building fences. I may be a deliriously happily married woman, but I couldn’t help but pay extra attention to the young man from Gallagher Electric Fencing with his pressed jeans and 2×4 belt buckle who clearly knew more about everything that made land ownership valuable than l’il ol’ me.
“You don’t want your fencing all whomperjawed,” he told us, referring to amateur attempts at running electric fence.
“Whomperjawed,” I diligently wrote down in my notebook. Now that is a word that clearly belongs in the general vernacular.
During lunch, I was courted by the Ruritans after inquiring as to who they were and what they did. (They are a rural service organization and do things like provide scholarships for local kids and clean up roadsides and have pancake breakfasts.) After lunch, we made our way down to a farm for a hands-on demo where about thirty of us stood around and watched fencing professionals drive poles into the ground with, well, pole drivers, twist high tensile wire off, ratchet galvanized wire to insulators, and wire a flood gate over a creek.
The owner of the farm, Carl, who had generously put up his property as a demonstration for laying professional fence, was apparently an open target for derision based upon his frugalness. Rewards were offered for volunteers who could tighten the fence fabric properly. “Yeah, Carl here’ll dig up a hundred dollar bill from his back forty!” offered one of the instructors.
“Guffaw!” went the crowd.
“Um, if the chains hanging down from that fence into the creek are hot (electrified) and I wade across that creek near the floodgate, what will happen to me?” I asked Mr. Electric Fence, hoping I wouldn’t sound too citified.
“Good question. Thanks for paying attention. That water is moving so fast, you won’t notice anything,” he said.
Awesome. Surprises of the electrified kind I can do without. Seen it, done it (don’t climb over electric fences), been there.
I am officially in the market for a fence that can keep out ground-hogs, rabbits, foxes, coyotes, and deer. None of the professional fencers there had a one-stop solution. “Get a dog? And keep him out of your garden beds,” my friendly extension agent, Brad, offered. “Actually,” he continued, “Use a bit of everything. It doesn’t take long for them to figure out something and get used to it.”
Meanwhile, when not hobnobbing with my new colleagues in the farming community, I filled out a wire transfer form which involved transferring six figures out of our bank account to another bank account which was not ours. I pressed “submit” on a three-figure seed catalog order. My completely awesome husband turned down a perfectly decent and lucrative office job in favor of farming for a subsistence income. And around this time next week, I will be responsible for the life and wellbeing and happiness of about 100 fluffy day-old chicks and about 500 seedlings of various vegetables.
My previously placid blood vessels are screaming at me with a pressure unbeknownst. What is this throbbing in my cheekbone?
I’m uploading this from the counter in the kitchen of our new home, with our new cellular mobile network wifi, since DSL and cable internet doesn’t exist in these parts. Welcome to the country. I think I am officially, sanctimoniously, sacrificially, institutionally, thankfully, certifiably, “whomperjawed.”