Economics

Mrs. B and I are reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

“He’s got all the latest toys … Billy’s in debt up to his eyballs.” George believes he’s managed to survive on the farm by steering clear of debt, nursing along his antique combine and tractor, and avoiding the trap of expansion.

“I’m getting 220 bushels an acre on that seed,” [Billy] boasted. “How’s that compare, George?”

George owned he was getting something just south of two hundred, but he was too polite to say what he knew, which was that he was almost certainly clearing more money per acre growing less corn more cheaply.

Yesterday, Mrs. B and I were visited by the farmer (Mr. Y) who’s going to farm our 28 acres. Mr. Y farmed it for the folks we bought the farm from. And it turns out that the land used to be owned by his great-grandfather, so he’s been involved in farming it since he was 6 years old.

Mr. Y told us much the same thing that George told Michael Pollan in the chapter quoted above — the new toys and new seeds really don’t seem to be worth it.

Reading about the recent history of agricultural economics makes me wonder what our farm’s economics will look like. Neither of us really expects farming to do anything more than be a hobby that pays us back a little bit, in addition to (hopefully) making the world a slightly better place. (“Leave it better than you found it.”) But it’d be nice if we could make a living from farming. Will we be able to, growing for market? I guess we’ll see.

Electrical Modifications

Mrs. B’s parents are here for the holiday, and Mrs. B’s dad likes to help us with projects, and he’s an electrician, and we have an old farmhouse, so we had some obvious projects lined up. The first one on the list was trying to figure out and fix the irregularly-functioning wiring in our kitchen. One outlet (out of three), the light above the sink, and the fume hood sometimes just don’t work.

Mrs. B’s dad observed it not working. So he pulled the outlet out of the wall, and then it all started working. We plugged in a hair dryer and a waffle iron, trying to get something to happen, but no dice. He said, “Well, I’m glad I’m looking at this” or something to that effect, as if to say that there wasn’t a problem.

After lunch, we went up in the attic and looked at this one junction box on the far wall. Mrs. B’s dad opened it up and suggested that we split it up. He counted 8 wires going into the one junction box. I pointed out two more (knob and tube) coming out the bottom. OK.

First, we ran a new circuit up for some outlets that we could plug a light into. Then, Mrs. B’s dad pulled apart one of the wire nuts, and almost all the lights in the house blinked out. One by one, he pulled them apart and split the one circuit into three — our new one, another new one, and the existing one. While the power was out, I went around the house and checked out what was off: all the interior light fixtures downstairs (except in the bonus room), the microwave in the kitchen (I think), and all the light fixtures upstairs. Notably functioning were most of the wall outlets (upstairs and down) and the porch light.

Looking in the electrical box later, I saw that one breaker was labelled “BACK ROOM” and one labelled “FRONT ROOM”. I assume “BACK ROOM” applied to the bonus room (as expected), and “FRONT ROOM” must have been shorthand for “that which is not the BACK ROOM”.

Like Chicken Lady

A few days ago, we traveled to another farm to pick up a pastured Thanksgiving turkey.  We’ve purchased poultry from this lady for a few years.  I’ll call her Chicken Lady.  Anyway, we got to see her operation firsthand, and hear her talk about what she has done to establish her farm.

Lessons Learned from Chicken Lady:

1.  Attention to detail can save you a lot of money.  Chicken Lady supervised the construction of her house on a daily basis.  She kept the costs down by continually sorting all the lumber into piles by size, so that no extras were wasted by being cut into small pieces.  And she saved all the extra pieces, and is still using them.

2.  Don’t be too proud to dumpster dive.  Many of her portable chicken houses were built of largely scavenged material.

3.  Do what you enjoy, but know your limits.  Chicken Lady has grown her farm to 1500 layers and 1500 broilers in the space of four years.  She’s planning to cut back on the broilers next year because that’s a LOT of slaughtering.  But she plans to do at least as many turkeys as before, because she likes turkeys.

4.  Use the skills you had beforehand.  Chicken Lady clearly has some skills in the construction trades, and she has put them to very good use on her farm.

I aspire to be like Chicken Lady in some of these ways over the next few years:

1.  Attention to detail-  My engineering training should help with this.  I am a planner!
2.  Scavenging materials- There are a variety of random construction materials around the farm.  I need to remember to look there first when trying to build something.
3.  Doing what I enjoy, but knowing the limits- I am really excited about farming, but I have a small child to raise.  I have to budget my time and energy accordingly during this stage in my life.
4. Using the skills I had before- I have a background in Quality Systems.  That will come in really useful for dealing with USDA organic certification, since it is just a type of Quality Management System.

Farmers, farmers everywhere

In the last 2 days, 2 farmers have shown up at my doorstep wanting to rent the big chunk-o-land. A third one is interested as well.

Should I engage in a bidding war, or pick the smallest farmer among the three? Or see if any of them grow non-GMO? Those are the three options I am considering. Other suggestions are welcome. I’ll still be keeping plenty of the land un-rented for my use.

We made it!

After a long, crazy weekend, we have arrived on the farm.  We had great helpers and things went as smoothly as I could have hoped for.

I have a long list of winter projects to start outdoors once the house is unpacked.   Hopefully we’ll have a nice vegetable patch ready in the backyard by spring.  There’s a nice little 2.5 acre field that I’d like to start doing something with by then as well, but it may depend on the weather.  If it’s a long, cold winter, I might not get outdoors enough.  I don’t mind working in the cold, but I have to keep the baby warm when I’m out there as well, and that’s a bit more challenging given his current aversion to hats.