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As Jamie and I were headed to the Applejack Festival (this past, rainy Sunday) we were reflecting on just how far we have come in the past year. It was early September 2010 and we were thinking about making a change. Doing something more with our lives than earning a paycheck and buying things, just so we could go back to work and do it all again the next week.

I had come across the Southeast Nebraska Diversified Ag Tour, the day of the deadline to register and I wanted to check it out. As luck would have it, Jamie was able to switch days off and we were able to go on such short notice. So, on September 10th, 2010 we got up really early and made our way down to Hickman for the 6am pickup. Long story short, we ended up riding all over southeast Nebraska, touring four very unique farms who raised local, sustainable food. It was amazing! We were so excited that we immediately started fantasizing and planning how we could transition to such a fulfilling way of life. 

I believe it was October when I came across an ad in Land Link, through the Center for Rural Affairs.  I answered the ad from a gentlemen who was wanting someone to farm his land in a sustainable, organic fashion. After learning that he wasn't interested in selling, we were disheartened but I went out anyway to look the place over. As we walked and talked, it became apparent that this could be the perfect opportunity for us to make a go at the lifestyle we desired. So, I brought Jamie back out that day and by the next morning, we had a handshake deal in place for us to move out in March 2011.

We then set out to learn as much as we could about sustainable farming. The first thing we did was sign up for the Farm Beginnings Class through the  Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society. And it was one of the best decisions we've ever made. We learned, we were inspired, we made contacts, we made friends!
It's now been just over a year since we had our first real exposure to local, sustainable farming. Over the course of that year we: decided we liked the idea of sustainable farming, looked for land, found land, took a farm class, bought cattle, moved to the farm, rented our house out, became pregnant, bought poultry, bought pigs, butchered ducks, continued fixing up the farm and continued fixing up the house. Which brings us here: we now are living in a 99 year-old farm house on 160 acres with our own cattle, pigs, chickens, ducks, turkeys, cats and a dog! Oh yeah, and we're off the grid.

We are still learning and immersing ourselves in this lifestyle.  One big question we have - can we make a living at this?  We love this lifestyle, but it's not truly sustainable if we can't pay our bills.  And as we look to ramp up production for next year including the garden, fruit trees and bushes, sheep and more poultry, we certainly hope so! We have had countless moments of discouragement, despair and even utter failure. We have also had moments of pure happiness, pride and peace. I wish I could say that we encountered the latter as much as the former but that hasn't been the case yet. But everyday we're getting closer...

The Aesthetic Elevator  – (September 21, 2011 at 9:09 AM)  

Thanks for this recap for a new reader, though I think both my wife and I have gone through most of the old posts. We were just wondering yesterday how someone goes about actually diving into this kind of thing, agriculture or a hobby farm, in this day and age as we drove north through the Sandhills . . .

Farmer Jon  – (September 21, 2011 at 10:44 PM)  

That's exactly what we did too, we dove in head first. I don't know how others do it. I feel that we are pretty fortunate and it's still going to be tough to get things to pencil out. Unless it's given to you, it takes a lot of planning, work and luck. And even then the odds aren't that great. Farms just cost so much money to buy and maintain. And hobby farms are just as bad. I think the key is to start small and start smart. Don't take on more than you can handle and/or afford.
It's tough though, because I feel that we took on a little too much this first year. But I felt that with our situation, it was best to ramp up efforts quickly so that we could be profitable sooner. It's now looking like 2013 will be our first good year, where we should be making a good bit more than we're spending.

Oh the Sandhills! I didn't realize how much I loved the Sandhills until this year. We (I) have been mulling over the idea of moving to western Nebraska someday. I really feel that we could add more value to lower priced/lower fertility land. Plus, it's so peaceful and beautiful. But that would be quite the change and we would be farther away from our primary markets.
Time will tell...
Thanks for the comment!

The Aesthetic Elevator  – (September 22, 2011 at 10:41 AM)  

I haven't really been thinking about farming as a career up to this point. I'm looking at rural properties to get a sense of how we can make an artist retreat work. The idea of making some money off of the same acreage has skirted the edges of the idea, but when I saw a property with an established orchard (grapes, nuts, peaches, 9 varieties of apples!) I started thinking about that a little more.

Trouble is, as probably with most every other person thinking along these lines, we have no capital. And working a day job while farming at night — which IIRC is what you guys are doing — doesn't sound like much fun off hand . . .

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