Updated: Jan 21
The last 7 years have been significantly tough in almost every aspect.
To sum up lightly, we almost went bankrupt twice, couldn't afford health insurance, and for whatever reason, couldn't even qualify for state medicaid even with proof we were significantly beyond negative for income for those years. Not to mention, the fluctuating waist lines!
I lost all interest in running, most of my hobbies, trust in friends and people in general, along with any hope for having a third child. Hope was replaced with bitterness, an emotion I don't wish upon any human. All this in mature realization that others do have it tougher. However, our own struggles should not be ignored or swept under rug just because "someone has it worst". I believe, our story matters. "Our" as in the surviving farm families in today's evolving Ag market. I know I'm not the only person, raised or married into the industry, struggling.
Most people who think they know us from observation, might say we have it all. We farm, we have (old) equipment, land, cattle. Anyone who runs a business, understands that with a business, there's bills, interest, loan payments, taxes, employee wages, repair costs, insurance upon insurance, etc. It's not all fun and games. Even fellow farmers and friends who observe from under their own hats, might think no serious struggle could befall our business...because, if you're in a small community, with fellow farm family "dynasties", you know the stigmas that sometimes trail with a last name. But there's always more than what meets the eye. Not everyone completely understands. Not even family, or even people within the community you live, unless they've experienced something similar themselves, or truly and sincerely ask the right questions, listen, and care.
All this mess considered, it's funny how things reveal themselves as signs of hope, or encouragement, when you least expect them. And, you might not even truly realize the message until years later. Farming is much the same. You can have repeated loss, and be attuned to stress and anxiety...keeping awareness of any signs of hope at bay. Why in the world has there been no rain for 4 years? Why have our crops repeatedly looked like the best we've grown, but keep getting hailed on, flooded out , or froze to death. Why does it seem we can do everything right to grow a crop, only to have it fail. Is it all just to sand us down and grow us back up in spirit? I DON'T KNOW! It's mostly unexplainable. But, we are stubborn enough to admit it, and keep doing what we do.
A slippery slope was on the horizon 7 years ago. If you're a young farmer, it's going to happen (sorry!). There are generations of this industry who've endured many unavoidable slippery slopes. Unless you or your spouse have a great paying 2nd job, or you've been blessed with inheriting not just assets, but support from the older generation, or large "unshared" shares of an oil lease, you might endure the market challenges with more buffer. If you don't have those things, the big dips in the road that make you lose your stomach are inevitable. There's too many checks and balances in place for the farmer to have financial security (eh, that's lingering bitterness talking). And, even with blessings of support and income, you can and will still struggle if you're not extremely careful, and work extremely hard to stay two steps ahead of it.
However, if you're all in, both spouses working on the farm or one spouse with an average income...it's going to be extra testy and pull every ounce of character and faith you have. Do not be discouraged! Take the challenge, if God is leading you to do so. You'll learn so much through failure, and you'll undoubtedly make a successful farm operation. It may not be what you first envisioned, but, most businesses start that way! And, if you repeatedly fail or struggle, and have to give up parts of the business, or all of it...it's ok. There's always a place to contribute your gifts. There are many great individuals who have farmed or ranched, and did their very best, but weren't able to keep going for reasons out of their capacity. They are still contributing in other parts of the industry, and mentoring people like us. Their story matters, and they are still producing a very fruitful life. Farmers are not to be defined by their crops, their faulty equipment, their bank statements, family expectations, etc.
Oh, to know all of this and more 7 years ago (kind of makes me catch my breath, thinking of how much we STILL have to learn)...back when I was homeschooling our daughter. I remember we were talking about the bible lesson for the week. Out of the blue, Ava says "Mom, that cross says Farm-ily on it!". We had a wooden cross above the piano with the word "family". A crack had formed right down the middle of the "m". A new word appeared. Farm-ily. I had never thought of this word, and I loved it! We are very creative oriented gals, so this word has stuck with me since.
How is this significant? Well, I didn't know the next seven years were going to be the toughest we'd ever had as individuals, parents, and as a young farm couple. We were just two regular people trying to do the best for their business and family when things were about to change.
A crack was coming. A big fissure to try and shake our faith, family, and farm.
That crack is the perfect metaphor. It was staring me in the face that day, right by the front door, right in the middle of that cross. At the time, I just thought "how cool! the word FARM-ily!". Five years later, I got the message...and it makes me want to cry in thanks for all the lessons learned.
The crack didn't break us. It didn't break the home, or the farm. It made us into something new, allowed for growth in our young shaky roots. We had to allow some give in places. It created strength in our FARM-ily.
I can't deny, I felt extremely isolated. No other person to talk to about our struggles besides my sister and maybe one or two friends on occasion. It is unspoken for many farm families to talk about business struggles, because of family expectation, or the standard we hold on ourselves in our communities. We aren't suppose to talk about our struggles, especially within the extended family who may farm as well, because 7 generations before didn't so why should we? Or because of the unspoken but very tangible competitive nature. This is baffling! I broke many times in those five years. Cried out in despair and anger many times, dealing with personal struggles alongside the farm financials, stress, and anxiety. It was the worst of the worst shown. How is it healthy to deal with these things when you're away from family, friends, and most of the day away from your husband. It's not! Farm girls NEED to talk and seek support as well. We need support from fellow farm families, anyone willing to check in.
Was it the same for my husband? Well, no. We are two different people...as are anyone who are married. He deals with people differently than I, and he seems to have been born with this highly functional farm frequency that doesn't sleep unless it's 500 miles away from the business. I have been trying to understand and support this force of nature for 18 years! This is the guy who doesn't "break". He doesn't complain, he takes the subtle criticism from someone he admires or tries to befriend. He'll go out of his way to help someone, when he's behind on planting or if there's rain coming and harvest is underway. With a whistle and a bounce in his step.
But, he's had his days. I've seen them, and very very few individuals other than myself have as well. He's human like everyone else.
Marty was there by my side through all the tough...because I wasn't raised with this kind of financial instability. And, I hope, beyond the questions of every purchase and business decision, he felt supported by me as well.
Our kids have seen us in tears, when we've been cranky, a bit lost, and tired too...and they have been troopers. They've been by my side when the groceries couldn't be paid for, or when the vehicles weren't working. Rather than worry if we've messed them up, I'd like to think they'll come out of this too, and with a better sense of how the world works. How struggles are a normal part of life. That it's ok to not be comfortable all the time. Adapting, thinking outside of the box, recognizing our weaknesses and strengths, praying, and asking help when you need help is essential rather than trying to shoulder everything ourselves.
Beyond our core family unit, our "farmily" extended far beyond our front door threshold, and even beyond our county. My husband who works 18+ hours on average, and picks up the slack on the weekends so employees can enjoy family, does need fellowship to keep the healthy spirit going. He's had four fellow farmers to meet with every week to pray and have fellowship to get through everything, to keep anyone from literally breaking into a suicide statistic. They became pillars for each other, rather than trying to stand alone in the 5 year marathon of "storms" trying to knock down the family farm. Many of the businesses we have depended on and worked with to get crops planted, equipment fixed, bills and employees paid, were saving graces by keeping positive communication open. Most of those businesses, some seemingly too large to "see" us little people, showed understanding when times were tough. They continued to believe in us, our work ethic, and supported our goals of getting through the unmentionable market crisis that most farmers are still trying to recover from. Our farm-ily showed up in more ways than one. It means SO very much. I'll repeat...thank you, to those individuals, and businesses, who allowed us to keep working because, otherwise, the family farm wouldn't be in business. Yes, there were a couple of stinkers. There always are. And, it's usually someone with chip on the ole shoulder, who probably needs a good nap or fishing trip with the grandkids. They need time away from farm or work, to be with the family.
We learn who we want to be like when we get old...and who we don't want to emulate.
We also hope to be support for future and up-and-coming "farm-ilies". We've been blessed by people who truly get it, and who know what we are going through, and we want to pass that along.
Your family farm story matters! I know I'm not the only one out here in the middle of nowhere, enduring all the bumps. I don't want any other farm girls, or families, to feel alone! Be part of the farm-ily!
Check on your fellow farmers and his wife and kids. Check on the older generation who are trying to keep the business afloat, with no other promise of retirement. Check on the ladies working a job away from the farm, to keep bills paid regularly. Check on the ones who've taken the leap to help in an industry they don't know much about, when other people their age are coming up on 20+ years in a career full of benefits and experience.
Make sure they have enough chocolate, sugar for the coffee, or more important, and ear that cares.
Much love to our farm-ilies, because the world, and future of ag, couldn't keep going without you!