The Things We Think And Know But Dare Not Say

Challenges Faced By Farmers.jpg

Sometimes it takes saying the hard things, admitting the truth, to help be the change. And sometimes it just needs to be said so others know they’re not alone. 

A couple weeks ago I received a text message from Farmer Ashlee telling me to pop over and check out the latest Instagram post from some farmers she knows I’m friends with and respect because she knew I’d want to reach out to them.

In the post they were sharing what they deemed their ‘failure’ — Their words not mine. 

In an attempt to grow their organic produce business they hit some significant road blocks in the prior weeks and that led to the realization they could no longer continue at the scale they were at because of financial limitations. 

I must admit regardless of how much I know about this industry this one came as a surprise because I know the quality of their products, their skill-set, and the planning they put into things but it reminded me of one very important lesson I’ve learned in these last four years in agriculture. 

When I starting this journey I didn’t know the first damn thing about farming but the one area I was comfortable with was the business and marketing part of the equation. Now I’m by no means a seasoned farmer. And I definitely have a ton to still learn, but what my experience has taught me is that there are very few farmers who’s heads aren’t bobbing under the water more times than they’re willing to admit… Could I dare say I don’t personally know a single one? At least none who own a small-scale farming business and are farming as their full time career. 

This industry is so freaking hard you guys that I struggle to put it into words for people to understand who aren’t living it. 

There are days when my social media inboxes are flooded with encouraging messages telling me what a ‘blessed life’ I live and how lucky I am to get to snuggle and cuddle cute animals all day long.

And, while I try to show the tough and the challenging parts of this job, the marketing and business part of my brain also knows people don’t want to support the sad little farm girl who complains a lot. I know I sure as hell didn’t want to before I got into this line of work. I didn’t want the constant guilt trip to support ethical or local or sustainable. I wanted to feel good because it was fun and the food tasted great. 

The downfall to this is that us farmers are doing a disservice to ourselves by not speaking our truth, a disservice to our customers because they don’t truly get a good look at the struggles we face in helping feed their families, but I think most importantly we do a disservice to each other.

When we only share the highlight reel on social media of those prefect straight rows of lush little gem lettuce but shy away from from lifting the row cover to show the dying leaves riddled with pest problems we aren’t helping our fellow farmers. It makes us truly believe we’re failing instead of being reminded that we’re human and working hours often beyond what we should be and carrying financial burdens most would refuse to work through. 

Truth be told this career choice has dropped me to my knees so many times I’ve lost count and I don’t mean that figuratively. 

A couple months ago one of my pregnant cows disappeared on me, when morning feeding came and she was no where to be found I trudged through brush to find her laying in visible discomfort under a tree. As soon as she saw me she struggled to get up and started walking, turning to let out soft moos at me. She wanted me to follow her. 

In the end she led me to her miscarried calf. It was the second year in a row for her. No matter what I or my vet have done, she simply cannot carry her calf to term. 

I share a lot but not everything because at the end of the day things like this drop me in tears. First off because as a female farmer I feel deeply for her loss and secondly, and this might upset people, because as a farmer I know the financial ramifications of a loss like this. This means two years of having fed and cared for this mom without a viable calf. At this level of farming, the financial blow coupled with the emotional toll can mean the end of business. 

So here I am, saying the hard thing so other new farmers know they’re not alone. Here’s my truth, I’ve felt like the end of Central Park Farms was here on more than one occasion and that has always come with tears. Tears of relief that I can go back to working a stable job with a salary, benefits, and paid vacation days (heck a day off in general seems like a luxury these days). And tears that I cannot imagine what I would do if I could no longer farm. Farming has become ingrained in the very fabric of me. It has become how I identify as a person. 

When I got to the end of their Instagram post I paused before messaging them. 

What did I come up with? It started with… 

This is not a failure. This IS farming.

Kendall ~ Boss Chick at Central Park Farms

This post was written prior to my announcement regarding my health and needing to downsize some areas of our farm, but that doesn’t change anything I’ve written. Farmer friends, I hope you’ll join me in supporting your fellow farmers and start sharing more of the struggles so we can remind one another that we’re all facing challenges… and because Farmer Ashlee deserves the credit for this, we’re going to start using the hashtag #farmtruthfriday,we’d love if you’d join us! Let’s occasionally ditch the highlight reel, because mental health issues are becoming prevalent in farming and we need to do what we can to support each other!

Kendall Ballantine