Why Farmers Need Each Other

Reader Contribution by Tim Rohrer
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Everyone has heard quotes, analogies, poems and songs about “chapters of life.” They begin and they end, sometimes starting and ending with clear beginnings and clear endings and sometimes they just drift in and out and we find ourselves unaware that they have begun or have ended. I have always preferred the clear versions, but I try to take the chapters in stride.

Mid-august found me packed up and driving away from Polyface Farms. I was done with the apprenticeship, my little red ‘94 Toyota Camry was packed to the roof (and riding lower than a snakes belly button), and I had roughly three thousand miles between me and my home in Northern California. This was a clear ending of one chapter and a beginning of a new one.

My time at Polyface was unforgettable and through it I have completed my goal of equipping myself with the experience and knowledge to start my own farm. As my wheels kicked up the dust on the gravel drive that leads out the driveway and over the bridge towards civilization, I found myself itching and excited — the next chapter that I was working 14 months towards was about to begin.

Before I continue, it is important to note that I hold the ideas of collaboration and community as important parts of farming. We farmers work and live in an industry where our rights and ideals have to be fought for. We are playing against the “Big Boys” and they don’t like us on the playground. We have to work together if we plan on making a difference, not just in our immediate community, but across the nation.

Farmer Heroes

People like Joel Salatin have worked out a system that works for them and then invites others to test it out and see if it benefits them or not. I use Joel as an example because that’s who I have the most experience with, but we all have our farmer heroes who we follow and ascribe to. Who is yours?

So we latch onto someone that we admire. Perhaps it is a person who writes a book or hosts a podcast or something of the like. We then tell our friends and they look into him or her and see what they think. Along the way, information is being transferred. Ideas have been gifted. Methods have been offered.

See what’s happening? It is community. It is bonding. It is going to a farm and saying “I’ve been having trouble with this…what do you do?” and then getting an answer that you can try and see if it works for you and your problem.

So, I start making my way home across the country with this idea of community ringing in my head. My journey  through this beautiful country was long but enjoyable, and I visited many family and friends along the way. I also stopped at a few farms that are currently operating and a few that have since been renovated for new purposes.

One delightful farm that I had the opportunity to help break ground on was Brinkwood Farm (Instagram: @BRINKWOOD_FARM), and this was one of the highlights of my trip. My buddy Shane (who interned at Polyface this summer, but unfortunately had to leave halfway through due to a complicated situation back home) was on the brink of getting his own operation up and running. He still has a job off the farm, and knew that I would be driving through Indiana on my way home, so he asked me to come get the ball rolling for him.

Using Experience to Plan a Future Farm

After spending some time becoming familiar with the layout of the property, I worked with Shane to create a battle plan. Learning his goals and aspirations both short term and long term, I spearheaded construction on six new broiler pens, two shade structures (one for turkeys and one for pigs), the layout of a pig pasture with multiple paddocks, and a simple water system.

The days were long and hot, but the work was fulfilling and the company was good. Shane’s wife, Jenny, provided delicious food and hospitality, and his two little boys, Sam and Ben, would often join us as we plugged along. There was a real sense of fulfillment as the kids worked at handing me screws or holding a board for their dad. This was the beginning of a family farm, no mistake about it.

This was another perfect example to me that community is so important. I had experience to offer and Shane needed a hand and knew my capabilities. After five days of work, I had to continue on my journey home, but I left behind good friends and a piece of land that I knew I had helped to fundamentally change. The farm still has a ways to go (what farm doesn’t?) but I have high hopes for Brinkwood, and I think it is off to a great start. I helped them and they helped me. Collaboration.

So what can you do to help another farmer? What ideas or experience can you share? There are many venues in which to do so. I mean, just the amount of Facebook groups devoted to connecting farmers is encouraging.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help and, more importantly, don’t be afraid to offer help if someone needs it.

Who knows, maybe asking for advice on one aspect of your farming could lead to developments in a totally unrelated portion of the business. If you start the wheels turning, who knows what sort of neat and exciting chapters of life might begin for you.

Interested in seeing more of what Tim does? Follow along through the lens of his camera on Instagram, usernameMyPolyfacePerspective.

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