Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose
Nothin’ ain’t worth nothin’ but it’s free

Roger Miller via Kris Kristofferson

This “freedom” line from Me and Bobby McGee is brilliant because it is challenging to parse, and as the song progresses it becomes clear that the freedom is at least partially ironic.

All our freedoms come with their own asterisks and footnotes.

I am embracing a new freedom of sorts.  As of the end of this December I’ll be leaving the job that has supported our family and funded our farm as we’ve built the farm over the last eight years.  I’ve watched annual layoffs over the past years sweep closer and closer to me, and I decided that this would be a good time to make my exit.  I could have avoided this outcome by applying for a new job within the company, but I realized I’m at the point where I couldn’t do both jobs anymore.  And honestly, I love the farm and it would do better with more attention.  The other job was just a job.

I couldn’t have started the farm without having another job to bankroll it.  I am amazed at how expensive it is to start a farm, even a relatively low-tech one like ours.  But I’m relieved to be able to focus on something I really care about.  It is freedom, and I have everything to lose.

The farm breaks even on its current sales, but it isn’t able to pay us for our labor.  It also isn’t paying for all the infrastructure we keep adding to support our growth.  At the same time, the farm has become so busy and complicated that Rachel and I need to be able to focus on it full time (OK, more than full time) if we are going to push it to the next level where it can fund its own growth and pay us.  I expect that things will be frighteningly tight for the next few years, but we’re at the point where we either need to force the farm to carry its weight or to pack it up and just be “lifestyle farmers” with a small herd of cattle to eat the grass and a few pigs and chickens for the homestead.

To make the farm successful, we’ll need to continue to develop and change our conception of what Wrong Direction Farm is.  We need to make our daily work more efficient so we can accomplish our tasks while still creating enough time to enjoy each other as a family.  We need to study our costs and our sales to understand what is working and what isn’t.  We need to strengthen our partnerships with other farmers.  We need to listen to our customers to find out what they value in our farm, at a time where quasi-pasture raised eggs and kinda-grassfed beef are becoming ubiquitously available in supermarkets and delivery boxes.

The cattle don’t have any comment.  Just looking at how far we’ve come gives me some ground for hope.  There are fifty five cattle out there this winter.  Our first winter we had four dairy steers.

I’ll admit to being scared.  We have a few months of severance to carry us for a bit, but then everything depends on our being able to accomplish this tremendous task.  I’m glad to have had the opportunity to carry the dream this far, and I’m going to give the next challenge my best shot.

4 thoughts on “Freedom?”

  1. Bob Ritz forwarded me your blog info and thought I would be interested. It’s inspirational seeing you skating away on the thin ice of a new day. I’m leaving too. I’m going to school and starting a woodworking business. I’ve seen pictures of your woodwork and thought you might be interested. Anyway, I’m apprehensive too, so it’s good to be in the same boat with such esteemed company. I wish you great success and thanks for all of your excellent work at the company!

    1. Thanks Dave. I’d be interested to see what sorts of projects you take on. Please let me know how to find your woodworking business info once you get it started. I remember talking about some of your projects years ago, so it is great to hear that you are doing something you enjoy. I am finding it fascinating to hear how people are taking this opportunity to leave and to pursue creative, entrepreneurial work. The 9 to 5 job thing tends to make everyone look rather interchangeable and flattened; this person does engineering, this person does budgeting, this person does sales, etc. The experience has been a great reminder that people have so much more depth to them as I learn how different people are branching off to do something they love. I wish you well, and again please share that woodworking project portfolio.

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