As I’ve stated in the past, I’m not that great of a blogger. I always find more and more things to fill my time, even to the point of distraction for what NEEDS to be done. I’ve always wanted to feel like my work, the things I’ve done/doing, have a positive impact on others and I continue to engage every opportunity for fear that willfully declining might do harm. I think we all have a sense that we can do everything and anything but what I’ve come to find is I cannot do either with any sort of focus. Narrowing my focus allows me to direct intense effort and create a well-polished, robust, and sustainable program, hop yard, machine, etc.
So what does this expose have to do with hops and farming? At first I thought it has nothing to do with farming, especially small farming, but I was VERY wrong. I started Gorst Valley Hops to be a mechanism to help small farmers produce a high value crop on small acreage. In that sense the idea is working quite well. While the general idea was correct (helping to make small farms more profitable), the reasoning that profitability could be solved with a new cropping method was a bit naive. It caused me to think long and hard about farming and the small farm mentality. What I discovered was quite interesting and by no means the only observation/opinion on the subject, but extremely impactful in how we as small farmers choose to live and work.
To be very concise, I believe farmers (certainly small farmers) choose narrow profits, scraping by, simply because they are either chasing too many opportunities to make money to improve their profitability or they have chosen the lifestyle over the business aspect of running a farm. I have had the fantastic opportunity to speak at several conferences, workshops, etc on small scale farming and niche farming and I find there to be two groups of farmers; one group (group A) that runs their farm(s) like a business, and another group (group B) that scoffs at those business farmers as “sell-outs” and such and are just scraping by.
Group B has chosen a lifestyle that affords them their own schedule, working outside, being in-charge of their own lives so to speak. Group B also tends to work their farm reactively and lack any long-term goals and true understanding of their costs. They run their farm to support their lifestyle.
Group A sees the farm as primarily a business and run it as such. That means business plans, budgets, short, mid, and long-term goals, and they operate proactively to execute their plan. From the outside, it appears that most things group A does are governed primarily by profit; decisions made and action taken to make money and grow the business.
Of course there is a spectrum of mentalities in between these two groups but I have found most small farmers fit into one group or the other. I’ve also seen this same grouping among people who attempt to turn their hobby into a business. The result is either a business that barely makes any money to support the owner but he/she loves what they do everyday and makes decisions based on that, or they come to an understanding that they may need to make boring cabinets instead of museum furniture pieces to pay the bills.
I like to use a saying in our workshops… “Hobbies cost you money, businesses make you money.”
So, to bring this blog full-circle, I’ve come to accept that I am and always will looking for the next opportunity. I am a problem-solver, systems-thinker, and an entrepreneur. but I have found that I also have to take a longer view of the the revenue issues and apply focus to executing our plans or I cannot and will not serve those farmers we are so dependent upon.