Listening to podcasts, reading social media posts, and engaging/networking with other young farmers, I hear a lot of people say "I am a first generation farmer", or "I am a third generation farmer". That got me thinking...what exactly is my label?
I come from a line of dairy farmers, that originated in northern Illinois, and southern Wisconsin. My Grandparents dug roots into the family farm in southeastern Wisconsin that my Father would eventually have the choice to take over full-time. This, however, is where the story gets tricky.
My sister and I were young, spending our days running around the farm and building hay forts, playing with the farm cats, and just being farm kids. My Dad had a tough choice to make; keep running the family farm, or sell everything and go to work for the pipe-lining company. My Dad always jokes with me now and says, "if I would have known you would grow up wanting to farm, I would have kept farming and passed it down to you".
Well, the sad reality is, at the time my Dad was torn with this decision, I was too young to know what I wanted to do with my life. Heck, I was too young to even know I would someday have to figure that out for myself. My Grandparents and my Dad made the hard decision to sell off all of the cows and equipment. The farm still sits in the family's name today, as my Uncle and Aunt live on the original farm, however, it is not a working farm anymore.
So now, let's fast-forward to my adulthood. When trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, I had always gravitated toward the sciences. My high school anatomy and physiology class made me realize that I truly liked dissecting things and understanding the biology behind how a living entity worked. I just couldn't decide if humans or animals were my chosen path. I had an answer to that question shortly after joining a semester-long nursing assistant program at the local community college while still in high school. They offered a college-credit program for high school students that excelled academically and were wanting to get a jump-start on college.
I distinctly remember my exit-interview with my nursing Professor and she asked "so what was the biggest lesson you learned this semester"? With that, I honestly answered that human medicine was not for me, and I was glad to have taken that semester nursing course to figure that out. There were no hard feelings, I think the Professor appreciated my honesty. This became that defining moment for me when I realized that animal agriculture was my passion. I guess deep down I always had farmer's blood running through me, but I needed to feel 100% confident in my mind about that...and I was now.
But, with no longer having a working family farm, I had nothing to build from. I decided to go to a University here in Wisconsin to obtain my degrees, which landed me a good job, which allowed me to afford my first house on 1/2 acre in town, which allowed me to start a large vegetable garden and raise chickens. Although I loved this life, I was wanting more, so I started looking for farms to buy. Unfortunately, if you make just enough money, but not enough money, you find yourself unable to apply for loans and grants that benefit young farmers, and you also then cannot afford to purchase large tracks of land, or capital to start a farm.
The struggle is real, ya'll.
However, after much hard work, Austin and I were able to purchase a 5-acre dairy farm back in March of 2019. We are also grateful that our barnyard connects to almost 100-acres of pasture ground that our neighbors own, and they have been gracious enough to work us into the grazing fold with 2 other farmers that currently run the land. I AM FOREVER GRATEFUL FOR THIS. Now that we have the farm and access to the land, we need to start building our capital.
This is the point where I go back to being a First Generation Farmer. I am starting from the ground and building everything up, just Austin and I, by ourselves. It's hard work you guys. We both have to work full-time jobs in order to afford farming because of the start-up costs. We have come a long way in the last 6-months with expanding our laying-hen flock and adding a flock of ducks. We also now have cows that call our farm home! We just had our first round of Cornish Rock meat chickens processed this fall that our small (but growing) customer-base purchased, and we are already gearing up for taking orders for Spring of 2020.
Everything we have today, was earned through hard work and big dreams. To say I didn't come from an agriculture background wouldn't be a lie, however, our family's legacy of dairy farming ended before I could officially become the Fourth Generation.
Instead of defining myself by a certain label, I'll just call myself the First and Fourth Generation Farmer.