These problems happen every year. I was crazy and foolish to think that the problems would ever change and that our situation would improve. Our well and water are so laden with iron that the well company had to pull the pipes and replace them after only 9 years. Our whole system is incredibly convoluted after multiple companies have offered different solutions. It constantly clogs and our crops receive an irregular water supply during the sweltering summer months. The well company recommended that we drill a backup well just in case our well fails during the summer again. Ummm yeah no? This would cost us at least $10,000 and we don't even know if the water quality would improve with a new well. It's a huge gamble. I was tired of spending so much money on crops that make us so little money. I knew one thing: we needed to be growing crops which aren't so dependent on irrigation in the hot summer sun.
Another fact I've been facing over the past few years is that my dad is getting older. He is a disabled vet, but a workaholic. He has never let his heart problems (his heart functions at about 30%), or random flareups of gout-like growths (unidentifiable by doctors) to stop him from trying to do his work. Nevertheless last year, it was simply evident that he is no longer able to keep up with the demands of running a 12 acre produce farm during the Summer. He doesn't believe me when I say he should take a smaller role on the farm, and I doubt he ever will accept it, but I can't continue to run our farm with him being a central figure. He will deny his limitations every step of the way, but he is my dad. I love him and I respect him enough to 1) tell the customers what's going on and 2) adapt our farm to our changing family.
Finally, every Summer, we need extra help. The tomatoes need staking, the vineyard needs weed eating, the beans need weeding, the produce needs picking daily, and the bugs need squishing. These might sound like simple tasks, easily taught to interns or high schoolers, but let me assure you, they are not. Just looking at the books, the extra labor we take on during the summer never justifies the extra money we make during that time. Farm labor does not equal "unskilled labor." Farm labor is INCREDIBLY skilled. It takes about 10 years of experience to become a farm manager, and I've just reached that point this past year myself. Learning all the intricacies of the environment, the weather, and the crops takes time and frankly, America is not producing that many of these sorts of workers anymore. AND if we are producing these sorts of workers, they can easily go work anywhere else and make much more money with their dedication, hard work, and attention to detail. It's hard to run a farm if you don't have a large family to help you out with the work, and well, I'm an only child who happens to be single and childless. Yes, this matters. I simply cannot hire the people I need who will stick with me year after year to run a successful operation during the summer.
The solution? You ask? YES. There is one. It came to me one day last year as I was sitting on the porch of the farm stand. I was elated, jumped up and down, and might have even bought myself a celebratory beer. But, I was scared to tell anyone because I didn't know if I could pull it off. Right now, we have executed the first two steps, so I am confident I can share with you the rest of the plan and that it will happen.
We are going to transition to a "Pick-Your-Own" operation which specializes in strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, and grapes. People LOVE Berries! (so do breweries). We are going to continue to plant things which are not so dependent on the irrigation (greens, Jerusalem artichokes, butternut squash/seminole pumpkins, okra, onions, garlic, beans and blackeyed peas). It will take two- three years to get all of these perennial crops producing and to get our income stream to match our expenditures, but I know that this is the MOST SUSTAINABLE way to proceed. We are going to focus on growing plants which are suited to fluctuations in the weather and purchase the other vegetables from farmers who are doing a much better job of growing these crops than we ever could.
Some people will say that we aren't running a truly diversified farm anymore. I'm ok with that. I'm so ecstatic about the possibility of having my summers back and having a better relationship with my father that I could honestly care less. We will still be providing delicious food to Cabarrus and Mecklenburg County, but it will be both ours and a more diversified offering from other local farms. We maintain our commitment to supporting the local farming and food communities. Not everyone does everything well. Find what you do well and do it. Let everything else go. Quit struggling and see where the Good Lord/ Universe is leading you.
Peace, y'all and I'll see you when we open up the farm stand with STRAWBERRY SEASON!!