How the Superbowl made me a farmer

02/03/2019

Feb 3, 2013 I’m sitting on the couch watching the Super Bowl.  At a time of my life that I found myself feeling sort of lost: working a comfortable job, but not feeling challenged nor feeling any real purpose.

Suddenly a commercial catches my attention: The Ram Trucks Paul Harvey commercial.

Hearing Paul Harvey’s voice brought back a flood of memories of farming with my grandpa when I was a kid. It awoke this weird feeling. I watched it over and over for months.

Did I want to be a farmer? Was that what I had been missing? Course, it didn’t come to me quite like that…

I left the farm when I was 18. I couldn’t get away fast enough. I loved growing up around it and my grandpa but I was anxious to see the world. I never looked back. In 2013 I was 33 yrs old and hadn’t given farming a moments thought up to that point. I was living 16 hours away from the family farm. No one in the family was farming anymore. I had no connection to farming whatsoever.

So why all of a sudden did I feel this yearning to farm? I still don’t know. Nostalgia?

It was just at about that same time my wife and I were on a diet kick and I stumbled upon the movie Food inc. I see this farmer in the movie. He doesn’t look or talk like any farmer I ever knew. It’s Joel Salatin.

I google him immediately to learn more. Keep in mind the way I knew farming: you take your wheat to the elevator and sugar beets to the factory (I grew up in E. Montana) and then they send you a check or whatever and then you go to Arizona for the winter. Again, pretty clueless.

Joel was talking about direct marketing pigs, chicken, beef. You can do that?? All on pasture and no big equipment needed? You can do it on rented land??

Ok, so NOW I’m super excited about all this. Summer of 2013 I want to do it!! Big problem…I have no land. At the time I was renting this small house and, how does someone just start farming? I didn’t know any farmers around me. I didn’t have the kind of money one would assume you need to start a farm. I had really no idea what to do. How do you start a farm with no land? How do you become Joel Salatin with no land??

Think Think Think- I don’t know a farmer to rent land from. Have ZERO money to buy land. I beg my in-laws to allow me to use a little corner of their acreage. With a raised eyebrow they said I could use a strip of grass behind the barn. Ok, not ideal but it’s something!

Spring of 2014- I cobble together a little pen and I put 100 broiler chickens into it and pull it across that strip of grass for 7 weeks. I’m FARMING!!!! I have no idea how to sell these things. We don’t have any customers. But through the power of Facebook we sold 94!!!

So fast forward through the next 3 or so years – Found some awesome friends who rented us a little pasture near our house. That allowed me to keep adding and selling more chickens.  Every year from April to Oct running out every morning for chores before work.

By now I have BIG aspirations to farm full time some day. It seems a million miles away. Chickens alone weren’t going to take me there. Think Think Think- what could I do on such a small piece of land to make enough to earn a full-time living?

Enter a guy named Curtis Stone. A market gardener from British Columbia. I saw Curtis’ stuff on Youtube and holy cow!! My mind was blown on what you could do on such a small piece of land growing vegetables.  

So 2017 I add a market garden and micro-greens to the chicken portfolio. It was a crazy busy year. It was the 1st time I felt like I was actually running a legit business. The garden and micro-greens opened A LOT of market channels. All of a sudden we’re in restaurants and a local grocery store and farmers markets.

That set the stage for 2018 – I was going to farm full time. It wasn’t that easy, though. We had to find a bigger property and figure out a pretty solid marketing plan. We had been quietly shopping for land for a few years at that point.

We needed a property that could house chickens and the garden. But after the many conversations about marketing and financials with my wife, we decided that shedding the chickens and focusing on the garden was the prudent path for the business.

Once we decided on selling off the chicken biz that changed our property search dramatically. We ended up finding an urban property in a very rural town about a half hour from our main market centers. We bought the property and 2 months later I quit my job and now I farm full-time.

And now  you know, as Paul Harvey would say, The…..rest of the story. Good Day. 

-S-

Here’s that commercial, in case you want to become a farmer, too.

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