Thoughts from Innisfree on the Stillwater: Ten years in the trenches

It’s been a while since I’ve written here, though the story has been going on. It’s also been ten years since I took on running this farm as my primary occupation, an event that deserves at least some remark.

To be honest, I’m not sure where I stand right now. As with most things, my views on farming have evolved with experience and are less likely than ever to fit in with most people’s preconceived notions about an undertaking they know, at best, by proxy.

At its simplest, I still believe passionately in what we are trying to do, but I am less convinced than ever that it can actually be done, mostly because a decade has taught me that our expectations as a society no longer match with what it takes to engage in small-scale agriculture.

Nearly every practitioner of that kind of agriculture I know, including my wife and myself, have had to seek out other forms of employment to cover the financial gaps farming won’t pay. This isn’t just a function of wanting more than we can afford either. Subtracting the cost of operating the farm itself, we literally live below the federal poverty rate, which fact is buttressed only by the fact we grow some portion of our own food.

I don’t say this as a troll for sympathy. Rather, it’s an observation of sheer fact. Despite the fact that every person living needs a farmer to survive, farming itself is a financially losing proposition in America in 2018. Already less that one percent of us do it. Already the average age of a farmer is 58. Already the average farming couple works 2.5 jobs.

I know this all sounds terrible, but I believe somebody has to tell the truth. What sits on your plate any given day has a cost you’re not paying. Those of us stubborn enough to keep doing it pay the difference because we believe in what we do, but sooner or later, passion alone won’t pay the bills. And then what?

In the meantime, we’ll keep trying until the mountain gets too tall to climb and land prices get to the point where the only logical thing to do is sell. The funny part is we’ll probably just buy a smaller place and try again. It’s in our blood that way.

DLH

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Worldview: The Rambling Road: Discontentedness

It’s no secret to those who know me that I am a discontented person. As far back as I can remember, I never recall a time where I was satisfied with anything I’ve done, known, or been involved in. That discontent is what has driven me to pursue education, experiences, and even entire careers.

Knowing that, it then surprises me that my otherwise discontent never seemed to apply to my physical state. For most of my adult life, I’ve accepted weight gain and the creeping malaise of health that goes along with it for what it seemed to me to be: an inevitable sign of aging and poor luck. I’ve even gone so far as to argue against fitness in some absurd justification of being less than what I could be.

Yet, now that I have been laid low by illness, my discontentedness has come into full effect. I am not satisfied with anything. I want to fix it and fix it the best way possible. The issue now is that I’m not quite in a position to act. Ironic, isn’t it?

Nevertheless, I believe my discontentedness will be the thing that drives me forward. As hard as it is proving to be, I will not be satisfied until I master this thing.

DLH

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Worldview: Random thoughts from a wandering mind: The scale of talent to skill

Most of us find ourselves in awe of those videos of a little kid, maybe just five years old, who can sit down at a piano and pound out a Mozart sonata like he was born with the instrument in his hands. We marvel at such raw talent, and some of us might even feel a little jealous we don’t have it.

And sure, while most of us weren’t playing Mozart when we were five, the fact remains that most of us, given enough desire, determination, and practice, could learn to play that sonata at some point. While we may not have the talent, we do have the capacity to learn the skill.

I pick the musical example on purpose because it represents a category of endeavor where so many of us marvel at the notion of natural talent while ignoring the possibility of finely crafted skill. We tend to see undertakings like music and art and many skilled crafts as the purview of talented artisans even when we are otherwise interested in them.

While talent can give someone a head start in such endeavors, I posit that it is the development of skill that gives anyone, talented or otherwise, the tools to succeed. To me, talent is a starting point on a line defined by skill. Talented people start with natural skill.

Why is that important? Because, I believe, anything can be learned by anyone, as I mentioned earlier, given enough desire, determination, and practice. Yes, those three things may be lacking, and as a result, a skill may not be successfully honed, but that does not mean it cannot be.

So, the next time you marvel and someone else’s talent and wonder if you could ever do that, try. Find out. If you really want to, you might surprise yourself.

DLH

Read more at my Random thoughts from a wandering mind weblog...

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