From Our Farm to Your Table

Jack of All Trades, Master of None

Sun, 2015-11-22 17:52 -- Carole Soule
Carole and Bruce - photo by Geoff Forester

How can a wedding save the farm? One wedding can't but maybe two or three can. Several couples have asked if they could use our farm for a wedding. I'm told that weddings can be quite profitable for farmers but until now I've hesitated.

My husband and I raise cattle and just started breeding pigs on our forty two acre Loudon, NH farm. Our first cattle arrived as brush cutters to help keep the fields open. Sixty-six cows later we've become one of four thousand working farms in New Hampshire. Feeding, training, breeding, healing cattle is what we want to do. Every month we send cattle to be processed into beef cuts.

None of those activities pay the mortgage or all of the yearly $25,000 hay bill and they certainly don't pay a salary to either my husband, Bruce, or me. My monthly Social Security check and Bruce's occasional computer programming helps pay the mortgage and property taxes. We have been awarded some grant funds which mostly can't be used to pay us, the farm owners, or direct farm expenses. Obamacare provides our health insurance. Look closely and you'll see that we're members of the “working poor."

Farming is not just hard work, it's expensive. Bruce and I have invested all of our life savings in the farm. One advantage we have is the farm. Divided into house lots our hilltop farm could make us millionaires but then where would the cows live?

Growing houses is not what we want to do. Growing cattle is what we want. Unfortunately meat sales don't quite cover our expenses nor does renting an apartment to visitors. We've tried asking for cash donations with little success. Another option is weddings. Not just weddings but farm events, birthday parties, family days on the farm. Anything to attract paying visitors to the farm.

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These events don't always fit with farm operations. We exclude cattle from our best fields to protect city feet from little “surprises” sprinkled around in the grass. We mow fields that would be better left long for grazing. We let soil compacted by cars recover after every event. Events aren't always the best use of land but they certainly help pay the hay bill and our yearly $12,000 farm insurance.

When I started farming I didn't know I would also be an event coordinator. I'm not even sure I want to be an event planner. I do know that I want to keep cattle on the farm. I want to train calves to be working steers and riding cows. I want to provide grass fed beef to customers. I want to eat what I raise and I want to raise the happiest fat cows possible.

If survival of the farm means that I have to host weddings, I will. I'll do anything, anything legal, to keep farming. I'll be a “Jack of all Trades, Master of None” to keep the farm viable. What you call "Agritourism" I call survival. You can help farms survive. Continue buying local food and support our freedom to be a “Jack of All Trades." We do enjoy sharing our land with the public but please remember that raising livestock and crops is our first love.  

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