Downsizing: Back to Farm Basics, by SaraSue

Things can change overnight, and recently, they have.  In my opinion, we have entered WWIII.  We don’t know yet how bad it’s going to be. But what we do know is that things are heading south, fast. There is no way to rationalize that we Americans are “going to be okay” with what is happening on the world stage. Not to mention, how quickly goods and services have degraded here at home.  You’d have to have your head stuck so deeply in a sand dune that you can’t get it out.  It is better to stand up and face reality than it is to pretend, even if you lose sleep, and even if it makes you stressed out.  Take a deep breath.

You can, at the same time, believe in the Lord’s protection, and ready yourself for war times.  Those are not mutually exclusive beliefs.

I was in process of expanding my farm, and had a business plan ready to go for selling more products to the public.  My raw milk business was going very well and people were asking me if I was going to also sell pastured meats (beef, chicken, pork).  I had spoken with my accountant and tax person.  Even though I was exhausted, I had a good plan.  Or, so I thought.  Recently, feed and hay costs had gone up again (a consistent thing), and it was pushing my budget to the limit.  That also played into my decision-making.  It is possible, as inflation continues, that my nice, tidy, plan will fall apart very quickly.  To add to that, I had exhausted myself with the addition of new animals even though I had hired a part-time farm hand.  I prayed for Wisdom.

Looking ahead, I decided that my timeline to secure the family retreat as a self-sufficient farm was quickly ending.  I also considered that opening up one’s farm to the public had significant risks.  I considered the fact that to be a “going concern” one is required to register with the local and federal authorities for tax purposes.  That brings another level of risk considering the government is not particularly friendly –hostile, actually — to farming and ranching concerns due to their “green” policies.  They really do want you to eat bugs rather than a good steak.  Without the blessings of the government, you have no way of writing off farm expenses to lower your tax burden.  I noticed that homeowner’s insurance went up quite a bit, health insurance costs too, and I’m just waiting for the property insurance blow to my budget.  Inflation is a cruel master.

I have to move quickly before things completely fall apart.  And yes, I did consider that in hard times, having good food to offer to people who were in search of it, could also be a “business opportunity”.  The problem is that those same people are also suffering under inflation and they can’t afford to pay enough to cover my costs to produce food for them.  I heard from one family member who said to me, “I don’t know what to do.  I’ve started buying the cheapest food available but the ingredients are horrible!”  This is nearly everyone’s dilemma right now.  The cheap stuff is the worst stuff.  And that applies to everything from food to appliances to clothing to tools, etc.  This is what inflation looks like, and also what outsourcing your manufacturing looks like when things fall apart.

I love providing fresh, nutritious, whole, raw milk to my family and neighbors.  It’s a wonderful experience to provide such a high-quality product to people who absolutely appreciate it.  However, my first duty is to myself and my family.

With all the foregoing in mind, I decided to downsize the farm rather than upsize it.  It was kind of sad to put the business plan in a drawer.  But I’m older now and I have run several successful businesses and one that failed horribly.  I pray for wisdom, but I also rely somewhat on my own hard-earned experiences.  I know that if I don’t move fast to downsize this year, to eliminate debt, and to solve a few of the remaining self-sufficiency goals, that the window of opportunity may close on me.  I will tell you that I’ve been exceedingly cranky, in  trying to make decisions.  I went from feeling on top of the world, to being slightly depressed, wrestling with the realities.  I talked with a good friend, and to my family members.  Everyone is very supportive and that helps a lot.

My goals have changed and I’ve reversed course, so what does that look like?  I invested in “top of the line”, if you can call it that, dairy animals, pigs, and chickens.  They are still valuable and in most cases, I can get more money for them than what I paid.  I care more about what their new homes will be like than I do the dollar figures.  So far, I’ve sold a couple of dairy cows and a bunch of chickens.  The pigs are next.  But, we’ll see how that goes as one sow will have piglets soon.  I’m emotionally attached to my animals, but my head has to rule.

I have spent time figuring out exactly what animals I need to keep here to maintain continuity.  How many cows?  How many pigs?  How many chickens?  What are the associated costs?  How much can the land support without outside inputs?  There’s a lot to figure out, and you can easily be overrun with animals or lose animals to predators, or wipe out the land resources you have by overstocking/overgrazing.  The balance has to be just right.

On a personal note, as I changed my trajectory, a sense of relief came over me.  Because, as many of you who have read my ramblings know, I manage this farm by myself.  I prayed for wisdom and it came to me.  My mind can dream and plan, but my body can’t keep up with the workload.  I cannot wish that into existence.  Oh, I’ve tried!!  As one of my family members exclaimed, “You are getting buff!”  LOL.  Yes, I didn’t think I could push myself to this level of physical fitness at this age, and especially not after recovering from cancer.  All it takes is working 12-14 hour days, ignoring the pain, and pushing myself to build stamina and strength.  It’s been like a few years of Boot Camp… Farm Boot Camp.

Now, as I have let my faithful raw milk customers know that I am downsizing and why, they are anxious to figure out how to help and/or partner with me.  You know how many of us here discuss bartering for a SHTF event?  Well, it may be naturally occurring right here and right now.  There are only a handful of people that I fully trust.  They are Believers who are raising their young families in the best ways they know how.  They homeschool their children.  They are a tight-knit community who are already working together to learn self-sufficiency.  They guard over their children as parents should.  They love coming to the farm to see the animals and pick up milk.  Their children get to see where their food comes from.  They want to learn everything they can about how to do what I’m doing.

So far, there are only one or two families outside my family that I trust enough to embrace.  I’m going slow with this for obvious reasons.  One family has asked me if I can mentor them, so pretty soon I’ll be teaching them how to milk cows, how to raise meat birds, how to raise pasture pigs, etc.  I’m very honest about the fact that I am no expert in any regard, and I’m very open about sharing the mistakes I’ve made and what I’ve learned.  I’m frank about what I can and cannot do.  They are much younger than I am.  I think that’s inspiring to them because they think “Well, if that old lady can do it, then we can too!”  That is true.

I’m coming around to liking this idea of downsizing, and now that I’ve made the decision to close ranks and focus more narrowly, I can see the blessings in that.  My garden has failed for a couple of years in a row.  So, I’d like to pay more attention to gardening  The inside of my home desperately needs attention.  I’ve been so tied to the farm that I haven’t been able to leave it overnight.  Even though I am downsizing, I still have bred cows that I’m keeping with calves coming in the Spring.  The cycle will begin anew.  It will be a constant job to keep the number of animals under a certain level.  And that will require me to make some immediate decisions: Sell it or grow it out for freezer camp.

Maybe this isn’t new news or anything earth-shattering to seasoned farmers and ranchers out there.  But it is all new to me.  I am thankful to be learning these lessons as we head into harder times.  I have some very specific problems to solve outside the need to downsize.  I need to pay attention to how I can provide alternate power to the farm without spending a boatload of money.  I noticed in a news story that the first thing that happened to the people in the Gaza Strip war zone is that their power, water, and food supplies were cut off.  I’m good on the food and water aspect, but not on the alternative power aspect other than a gasoline-powered portable generator.  I have some work to do to close that gap.  In the meantime, I have no regrets about starting a farm as the family retreat, working out the details, refining the processes, and keeping a diary about all of it.

My only remaining “fear” if you want to call it that, is that family farms have been targeted, throughout millennia, during every war.  My goal is to keep this little farm under the radar, but I pray for the Lord’s protection over it.  We’ll see how it goes.

Stay safe everyone and stay busy.