What’s in a name? A redux

We received notice from the State of Ohio today that our new registered trade name for the farm has been approved. Henceforth, we will be called Innisfree on the Stillwater, a name that reaches back to the farm’s recent and older history while reflecting the new transitions we anticipate as Keba and I take over operations.

This is more than just a name change for us. In being forced to take on a new name, we’re also being forced to recognize what we’ve been doing since we first moved back to the farm three and a half years ago: we’re taking this place over and making it our own. That means something, and we need to show it.

In keeping with that thought, our full name going forward will be:

Innisfree on the Stillwater
A family-run sustainable farm and nature preserve
“Growing in life by growing our food”

Updated websites, Facebook pages, and email addresses will follow.


Growing together

My journey toward farming began decades ago during the summers I stayed with my aunt and uncle on their farms during the summer. Back then, their way of life seemed foreign, even alien, to me, and I have to admit it was that strangeness that at first pushed me away from the thought of a life on the land.

The thought, however, did not die, and by the grace of God and the strange twists that life delivers, I ended up marrying a farm girl. Even then, being in the middle of a long career in information technology, I could not imagine settling down on a farm and living that kind of life.

The past few years, though, brought the thought of farming firmly back into my mind. We live in unsettled times and the question of how best to provide for our families is always before us. For thousands of years at least, humans have answered that question with acres of ground planted with crops and grazed domesticated animals. Done right, farming is the most elegant solution to providing for our families human beings possess.

I tend to be the kind of person who follows a path with gusto once I’ve settled on it, and I realize that giving up their current life for a farm and all it brings is not for everyone. Yet, I think that in my own extreme journey, there is a path everyone can follow to one degree or another.

My goal with this weblog, now and moving forward, is to share my journey with you. I will be the first to tell you that I often have no idea what I am doing as I tackle the tasks that building a sustainable multiculture farm entails, but I know I can learn, and it is my hope that we can learn together. Whether you have hundreds of acres or a few plastic containers under lights by a window, we can all learn better ways to provide for our families and achieve some independence along the way.

I’m looking forward to it, and I hope you will join me.


Farmers, stereotypes, and intelligence

My post yesterday about my farming goals for 2010 touched off a little firestorm over on Facebook, where it appears that people believed that my stereotype about farmers is that they are not intelligent. I probably should have been more specific, because my stereotype about farming was really about the kind of work I imagined everyday farming was all about rather than how smart anyone was.

It is interesting to me, however, that people seem to think that the stereotype about farmers is that they are not smart. Of course, as with any stereotype, it is unfair to label an entire group any certain way, yet we cannot avoid the fact that there is some reason there is a stereotype to begin with.

So far in my experience, I think the stereotype of the “dumb farmer” exists because of something entirely unrelated to intelligence: too many farmers have no business sense, and it is their lack of business sense that causes them to lose their farms and helps create the impression they are not very smart.

No other industry would continue to tolerated the rather bizarre state of affairs one finds in farming where the government keeps prices for the products of that industry artificially low and fixed through constant subsidy while simultaneously expecting the businesses in that industry to borrow every year to produce products whose prices barely cover paying off the debt at the end of the year. Further, this cycle does not have to exist, but continues to do so because farmers simply keep doing it year after year.

The evidence of the difference lies in the fact that there are all kinds of farmers out there who have rejected this model and are doing quite well for themselves as a result. In every case I can think of, the farmers who have broken the cycle have done so because they treat their farms like businesses and figure out how to remain profitable just like any other business has to.

What causes the stereotype, then, is the force of habit of continuing to do things a way they have been done long after it does not make sense to keep doing them that way. What I have come to realize is that there is no reason to do them that way because there is really no reason to farm in any other way than the one that works for the farmers and generates a profit. Coming into this business from the outside, I am in a unique position to simply not go down the path that seems to dominate so many farmers’ lives and fortunes, and in doing so, I have come to realize that even I had stereotypes about farmers and farming that I did not even realize I had.


Farming goals for 2010

Perhaps my first goal for 2010 is to fully embrace the fact that I am, indeed, a farmer. I think that even I have had a stereotype of what that tag means, and I am discovering that there is truth and fiction to that stereotype. What I have come to realize already is that farming is what you make it and I have to be the one to make it that way.

Beyond adapting to being a farmer, I think this year will be one  a few spent discovering what Keba and I want this farm to be. We will probably get chickens and, maybe, turkeys under way this year, and we will probably change the pasture layout as well. Everything else will probably be keeping what is working continuing to work.

Stay tuned.