As the weather begins to cool down, well except for today as it will be 18 degrees Celsius, our harvest has come to an end and we are planning and preparing for next spring. So finally, I have some time to write.
This year I learned A LOT. I thought I knew a bit about growing pumpkins, direct marketing to the local food market, and a bit of agronomy, but I was very wrong. I knew some things, but in the past on our other farm in eastern Ontario I always had my grandpa Curtis or Dad directing me in some way. This year, I was pretty much on my own with moral support from Nanny and Grandpa Banks and my dad. I mean, they helped me when they could, but they basically said, “We will help where we can, but if you really want to do this you need to see for yourself if this is what you want.” So, I put on my big girl boots, stood up straight and said, “I can do it.” But here are 5 things I learned in my first year of farming:
There is a reason your family did something in the past, so you might want to at least listen.
Being in a new-to-me area of Ontario to farm proved to be interesting right from the beginning. From day 1 of me handing my Grandpa Banks a cheque for land rent my grandparents and my dad tried to tell me things like, “Don’t put the tractor in the shed that way” or “Make sure you tell the custom sprayer to not go into the north east corner” and being stubborn, I ignored them. BUT, as they like to point out, I learned my lesson a few times and then I started to listen. I started to actually take 5 minutes to sit down with them and ask why I should or shouldn’t do something. Lesson here is listen to those giving you advice. It doesn’t mean you have to take the advice, but sometimes they actually know what they are talking about (says Miss Stubborn, so it’s good advice).
Work with those that want to work with you
Farming is not an easy venture. It can be stressful and you can get exhausted, but then you see how far you have come and you realize how much you enjoy it and why you do it. You also realize very quickly who is out to help you, who is watching you, and who is out to take you down. The people that offer a lending hand of genuine support, work with those people. Those are the people that will help you and want to see you succeed. Those people can be consultants, your neighbours, or even other people from around the world. Cheers to the power of social media!
Prepare to make a lot of decisions, and THINK before you DO
It sounds naive, but I honestly always thought my family had our farm decisions all thought out and I was just told to go, “Clean that up” or “Plant that field” and that was all there is to it. What I learned is there are a lot of discussions and thought behind those decisions and things I had never thought of. For example, this year I didn’t have a weed control plan for our farm market and realized very quickly that was a big discussion and decision I did not think of before. My lesson was learned as I had to hand hoe over 3 acres of pumpkins 3 – 4 times a week all summer.
It sounds obvious, but I learned to think before I do. I made a lot of quick decisions thinking, “Why not!” and then realizing, “Oh no…” shortly after. I did some market research on the local food market in Dufferin County before planting the farm market produce, but went online to buy seed and saw so many beautiful varieties of pumpkins. So being drawn to those I purchased a few packs of seeds of different varieties and sold all of the pumpkins, but not easily. Apparently I am one of the few people who think pink pumpkins are cute!
Make do with what you have access to
Last fall I met up with our farm accountant so she could basically give me a lesson in managing the farm business side of things and how to properly keep track of spending and earning. I clearly remember leaving that meeting with one resounding thought in my head, “Whatever you do, only purchase what you absolutely need.” So I went for this past year, and for another few years ahead, with a custom operator for the cash crops and using our older loader tractors for anything I possibly could. Side Note: Kubota loader tractors can haul a lot more than you think! Until they break.
There is one thing I did end up buying and that is a truck. I learned early on that farming with an SUV would be difficult, but I didn’t realize just how difficult until I got stuck in a field 5 kilometers from the home farm and had to walk back in the cold wind and a week later tried to haul a hay wagon and couldn’t even move. So, I purchased what I needed, because I absolutely needed it.
Mother Nature truly is your boss
Between working a full time job and trying to successfully run a farm business I learned that Mother Nature truly is my boss. She will continue to be my boss as she decides when it is time to plant and harvest and when I should spray. This year I missed being at the farm while the custom operator planted and harvested our cash crops as I was away for work, but I knew it needed to be done when Mother Nature allowed it. I love my agribusiness job so sometimes getting photos from the custom work being done is a good compromise too!
Overall this year has taught me a lot. I know understand where I want the farm to go and just how badly I want to fulfill this dream of mine to successfully farm and feed the world. I know that it will continue to be hard work and that there will be good years and bad years. If there is one thing I learned this year though, is to follow your passion. Regardless of what anyone ever says to you, your passionate about something for a reason. Maybe in 10 years we won’t be growing pumpkins and into something different, but who knows. All I know is that I love farming, no matter how tough it can be at times!