But fear has held us back in other ways, too. Even signing up to sell at a farmer’s market was intimidating. It took us years of vacillation before finally mustering enough courage (and produce) to set up shop at the Saturday Farmer’s Market. When we got home after our first day (it had rained the whole time), we were so exhausted from the ordeal that we passed out without putting away any of the leftover produce.
After we roused ourselves, we laughed at the supposed fears that had held us back before. They’d been unfounded. Of course, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing. Our sales dip during the hottest months of market when we run out of steam, but we somehow manage to pull them back up in the end. We even signed up for two markets this year, which was very exciting. And we’ve met more people within the community than would ever have been possible any other way.
Starting this website and blog was also a little scary—I’m not going to lie—I have been pretending to be a writer for the past five years, without ever really committing myself to anything, always blaming it on one thing or another. Everything and everyone except myself (which Spencer is always quick to point out). But I have learned that if I want to make something of my farm, I need to actually do it. I hope to be able to write at least twice a month, mostly with updates on the farm, sometimes with tidbits about what is going on with us, and sometimes with off the wall stories—if you’re lucky.
Spencer and I are part owners (with his parents) of a thirteen-acre farm. We started off with chickens (all roosters because they were cheapest), and we now have over two dozen pigs, around 40 milk goats, numerous chickens, four dogs, a lazy horse, and a lonely duck who lost his companion a few nights ago. At one point we even had a Jersey cow that wouldn’t give milk and over a dozen Angora rabbits that we sheared every 3 months to collect their fiber. Over the course of our time farming, we’ve entertained the idea of producing quail, pheasants, earthworms, meat goats, trout, and even musk oxen. But either because of lack of funds or time, we decided less was best, and we set our professional sights on greens and dairy goats (and maybe mushrooms, and truffles, or blueberries, and maybe some escargot, and…well, you get the idea).
We dream big, if you can’t tell. We research online, search and collect random books, and even find other farmers who are doing similar things. Then we mercilessly interrogate them in order to obtain the information we need. Afterwards, we evaluate our personal goals to see if a project is something we can manage—and more importantly, if it is something we want to do long-term. Like our goat dairy.
Last year, our market manager was driving more than two hours each way just to get goat cheese to sell at market. There was no other cheese available at a closer location. We’d been raising dairy goats for a few years for home consumption, and the manager asked me why I didn’t go ahead and start my own dairy. Well, because it was scary to start my own business. Selling extra produce was one thing, but having that many animals that require daily attention was another. But when I saw the benefits, like what it would do for the community (and my bank account, in the long run), I realized: how could I not give it a go?
Then came all the phone calls to the various government agencies to find out what exactly it would take to make a goat dairy: the visits from the inspectors, the building permits, the fees, the business plan and loan with Farm Credit, and so on. I found goats on Craigslist from all over the state and brought them home. Only 15 months later, and tens of thousands of dollars in debt, we had done it. Though we were a few months behind schedule, we opened up the beginning of August 2013 as the first and only goat dairy in Rockbridge County (and only the eleventh in the state).
It is wonderful to have such an overwhelmingly positive response from the community, both individuals and businesses. Next season, as I raise more does (female goats) into my milking herd, I hope to be able to have a larger variety of cheeses—some semi-aged and others that will be on the shelf for quite a while before they see the mouths of consumers. So be on the lookout for local artisan cheeses from yours truly, early next year.
We still have fears that we'll fail miserably at any moment and be forced to pick up our former occupations. But if we give in to those fears, that is exactly what will happen. Instead we plough ahead and do the best we can, and at the end of the day, having given our all, we can at least look back and be proud of the path we've forged despite.