At What Cost?

Dec 2, 2015 by

At What Cost?

It’s time for one of those posts where I’m squirmingly honest again. Sometimes you need to put these up to keep everything in perspective. I write this now as I stand at a crossroads again in my life. I stand wondering whether this whole venture into rural life has been worth it. What have I gained? What have I lost? Am I a better man or worse man for having spent five years in close connection to the raw earth. So many questions, so few answers.

Where do I go from here? For a while (more than a year now) our family has been discerning our next steps. There has never been a clear path ahead of us since our discernment began. Now, we live in a home that is not our own, and want so desperately to be on our own again. Yet, our journey into farming left us very poor, and barely scraping by. We’ve learned that growing vegetables in St. Leo, KS was a very unwise decision. Everything I now read about vegetables, climate, water, wind, pests all points to the reality that we were in a terrible location to try what we tried. It wasn’t the fault of our economic model (CSA or Community- Supported Agriculture). It wasn’t the result of inexperience, since no organic farmer could have dealt well with the grasshoppers and sixty mph winds made worse by our surroundings of endless monoculture fields left bare during the heat of the summer. It was the wrong place and it was a hard place to do what we were trying. We were in a droughty, windy, isolated area… Lesson learned.

Now we are wondering how we start again. We have limited resources and not much direction. I looked into a job in West Virginia that would have been great, if it hadn’t been so terribly rural and far from a good liturgy. We did that in St. Leo and don’t want to repeat it. Now we are considering whether I should just go back to work somewhere, but options there are limited because my degree is in Theology. We are open to moving if God would open a door, but we also need to wait for the entrance of baby #4 in January. We have decided after a year of pigs that they are quite hard on the land even with intensive rotation. They also have a low profit margin due to their extensive eating abilities. They really eat like pigs! We still love the idea of an intensive vegetable farm of about an acre and are learning from the ideas used on the farm: Le Jardins de la Grelinette in Quebec. Yet, we have no way forward. A job might provide us with a cushion while we adjusted into this, but we just aren’t certain, and we don’t have any job options at the moment.

Sometimes it feels like I lost so much by becoming a farmer. I can be more pessimistic and depressed than I have ever been. My faith feels weaker than its ever been, and it feels like I’ve been in the crucible for too long. Yet, there is one thing I know I have gained from my time home as a farmer. I have gained the love of my children. I have not been a father who was absent for most of the day. I was a father present to my family at all times. I was never farther than my farthest field. Farming became a family affair, and one that our children truly want to see continue.  It is something that doesn’t have a worth in earthly measures, but will only be seen in the light of eternity. So, though in many ways I failed at farming and am still floundering, I did have success in one thing. I originally set out to be a farmer because I wanted to be home with my family. I was enamored by the idea of the land being a fertile seedbed for the life of the family. I now know for certain the truth of this.

Yet, the land is a trial ground for man. Here I was tested to limits of my endurance. I sat at times in the dust ready to give in. I never gave up, even if in the end our business failed and we had to move on. I’ve hoped and prayed that our time before was a chance for us to grow and learn and become what God wanted us to be. My ideas of what life on the land would be like have been purged of all idealism. I now experience the land only in the realm of reality. It is a reality that yet, I still love.

Thus, we sit here wondering and at times feel very disheartened.  Do I throw in the towel and go back to teaching or work in a parish. I want to farm, but have found it very difficult to get started again. Land costs here are prohibitive, and we aren’t certain we even want to stay in this area. We don’t have a farm to get started again, and borrowing land is a temporary solution. So I guess this is me throwing out a line to all of you. Any recommendations, jobs, locations, farms, that you might recommend? We have come to a road block in our own discernment, and are waiting for the right opportunity to come our way. I can be reached at my personal email below.

Kevin

fordkevint@gmail.com

Photo Credit: Alzbeta Volk Photography.

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26 Comments

  1. Melanie biltz

    Kevin, have you ever considered being a theology tutor with one of the home school parent schools such as Mother of Divine Grace? Have no idea if it pays anywhere near a living wage, but maybe some supplemental money and you’d be home. One thing I learned from our young days of trying to discern God’s will in our family was that if you really in your heart are trying to follow Him you may go down wrong paths but He will close and open doors to keep you safe. Life is a journey. The time in St. Leo was part. The business may have failed, but you didn’t fail. Your time here is part. Whatever you do next is part. There is no real failure if you and yours get to heaven. And no matter how ‘successful’ someone seems if they miss their opportunity for heaven they have failed. Keep praying. Keep listening. Keep trying. Sometimes God closes all doors so tightly that you feel like you are in a box flinging yourself against the walls. I think He does that so that when He opens one you will rush through it even if it is something you never thought of.

  2. Carl

    Have you considered learning a trade? I recently quit my intellectual job to apprentice as a plumber. We still live in the city, but hopefully will move to a small town in about a year, or when I can find a plumbing company willing to take me on. But it’s a time commitment, 4 years to become a full journeyman plumber in Canada, and that’s full time work.

    • I have to ask, Carl, what you mean by “but hopefully will move to a small town.”

      The reason I ask is two fold. For one thing, some people’s concept of a small town is radically different from others. I blogged about this some time ago on my blog here:

      http://lexanteinternet.blogspot.com/2015/09/big-town-small-town.html

      Anyhow, the reason that I note that is that I think a lot of people, when they say small town, mean small city. That’s probably realistic in terms of what you are noting.

      Others, however, think of a village. And in our modern economy, villages are dying. Unless we have a quite a change in our economic model, how viable is relocating to a true, “small town”?

  3. Pam Zeller

    I can relate to what your going through. I have felt for the longest time our land is not our own, for it belongs to God. I believe God has a plan for our land and more than what we expect. So I have been waiting for about 21 years on plans. I sence some kind of community because of the times we are in. Every day we pray for protection and give the land to God. I wonder what he wants and a leading , some kind of direction. I have had dreams of people being on the land and praying . So I will pray for you that God will show you the way of his plan. May God bless you, Pam zeller

    • On this blog and others of its type, there’s a lot of yearning for something on what’s sometimes called the “Benedictine Model”, or perhaps for Catholic agrarian communities.

      Being an agrarian at heart, I understand that. But frankly, I don’t think that, outside of something like Trappist communities, it’s very realistic. One of the real challenges for Catholics today is simply to retain and restore a Catholic Culture that we started to lose once we left the Catholic Ghetto. Perhaps with recent changes in our culture, sincere Catholics are basically returning to the ghetto intellectually, but I can’t see rural Catholic communities, outside of those consisting of religious, really coming into existence. That is, I don’t see the Amish being our model.

      Indeed, on the layman side, I wonder if we have to be a model in the world, and by that perhaps being Distributist, sometimes Agrarian, but still part of the larger world.

  4. Matt

    Kevin, I too really like Jean Martin Fortier’s book. I’ve also been looking at a channel on YouTube by Curtis Stone who farms mostly on small urban lots. You may find his approach interesting. https://youtu.be/TnCIlq0KPw0

  5. eclare

    Thanks for the update! Lots to commiserate with and celebrate in your post.

    We, too, have just hit the 5-year mark in our Forward to the Land experiment. We, too, are now exhausted and penniless, but more unified than ever in our vision for our family and our culture. Our discernment also is at a standstill, as we await an avenue to move to the new Maronite monastery rural community in WA State (look into it! http://www.maronitemonastery.org), and also expect a January baby (#5!). I have no words of wisdom or consolation, but just know you’re not alone! We are “living the dream” right along with you.

    God bless all your endeavors!

    • How would that work? A monastery is by definition a community of religious, which I take it you are not (i.e., you are not a monk or a member of a religious order).

      From the website, that community will have only 65 acres. Do you envision a role for laymen?

  6. Jackie

    Just wondering if you are over thinking things.. You said the WV job would have been perfect except for the liturgy.. Since that is one of your strong points, maybe you are being called there to improve things. Always remember that a job or place is not forever… Nothing is forever on this earth. However, taking steps can be so important.. there may be other connections there to get you to where you need to be. Over thinking things can make life so complicated. It reminds me of the man on the roof during the flooding. kwim? God bless you all..

    • Kevin Ford

      Hi Jackie,
      No, I don’t think we are overthinking things. Liturgy was one of the reasons we left our home in St. Leo. That, combined with climate and lack of community. We would have still been dealing with two of those aspects if we went to WV. We are looking into areas where we will have community, good climate, and good liturgy. If we can find that, then that is where we will go. We prayed about the WV job for a long time, and ultimately felt it was not where God wanted us. That was hard, because we felt at first that it was finally a window opening after so many closed doors.

      • Do you have a shortlist of potential locations?

        If you do, I wonder if you might want to start contacting those diocese, not to express interest in obtaining a job, but simply to inquire as to the nature of the locality and rural life within it.

        Tragically, and I do mean that, you live in the post agrarian age, which is very hard on the many, many, people who have agrarian inclinations. Not all that long ago, even in North America, there were regions that were heavily agrarian. And there were a few of these that were heavily Catholic. A good example would have been Quebec, which was both until after World War Two, and having lost its agrarian and distributist nature, has come to lose much of its faith and much of its culture.

        Not that these areas don’t exist to some extent, but cracking into them is hard. Where they do exist, relocating to them may not be easy for a variety of reasons.

        I’ve suggested you contact Bishop Etienne of the Diocese of Cheyenne for his thought, which is not to say that I’m recommending you relocate to the Diocese of Cheyenne (land is prohibitively high, the weather is harsh, etc). But I do think that perhaps you may wish to consider in general the nature of an area, and then start contacting that diocese just for input from them.

        Just a suggestion.

  7. Dan Esker

    Kevin, I live in Effingham County Illinois and we have several small thriving rural parishes here. It is a great place to raise a family. Land cost are a bit prohibitive but there are several trade jobs available in Effingham and the neighboring town of Teutopolis most of these jobs will are available in the spring since new construction slows down in the winter months. If you would like more information let me know I would be happy to help anyway I can.

  8. A series of comments. Hope you do not mind.

    “It was the wrong place and it was a hard place to do what we were trying.”

    One of the reasons I suspect it was a hard place is that it’s very difficult, in my view, to have the direct marketing model that you were using in a remote rural area.

    Advocates of this approach, and there are a lot of them, seem to fail to appreciate that merely having land, and producing a product, doesn’t produce a market for that production. I have cattle, for instance, and I have enough of them that I’m at that number where direct marketing folks imagine that a person should be able to make a living. But that’s not the case where I am. There isn’t that much of a market.

    Indeed, the more rural the area, the less the market. If understand where you were the nearest market would have been Wichita, but even at that, I doubt that there would have been that much of a market.

    People often cite, I’d note, Joel Salatin for the concept of a direct marketing farm. But Salatin lives in the crowded east. So he likely always has a market.

    Not that this is helpful, merely noting it.

  9. “Sometimes it feels like I lost so much by becoming a farmer.”

    No matter what, you gained knowledge. And that’s valuable. And had you not tried, you would have always been haunted by the “what if”. No matter how it works out, and you and your family are still very young, you’ve profited in that fashion. Living with the “what if” is hard to do.

  10. “Thus, we sit here wondering and at times feel very disheartened. Do I throw in the towel and go back to teaching or work in a parish. I want to farm, but have found it very difficult to get started again.”

    While I generally don’t advocate the “you can do both” approach to vocations, can you do both?

    FWIW, our Bishop, Bishop Etienne, co-owns a family farm with his brother, who is also a Priest. He’s not actively on the land now, although he retains a connection to the land, so I don’t know how much of a model that is, but you may ponder it. Indeed, perhaps you should email him and seek his input. He’s the Bishop of the Diocese of Cheyenne.

  11. Frank

    Kevin,
    I was hoping you would expand on what you mean by good liturgy. I was just curious on what you feel is lacking and could be improved upon.

  12. Carl

    We’re looking at moving to a hamlet or rural property 20 mins or less from a “rural service centre” or town of 5k – 20k, and less than 1.5 hours from a major urban centre. We’d love to transition to full time farming, but we have to do so slowly as we have a growing family to support. I plan on finishing my apprenticeship for plumbing in said town of 5k-20k while we buy land. Plus, later I’ll always have plumbing to fall back on if we have a bad year, etc.

  13. Cassidy

    Ah – where to start when I feel I have so much to say and I don’t know whether some of it will be welcome. Rip the band-aid off perhaps. I may get ramble-y. Hang in there with me, ok?

    My husband has his hand in a lot of honey pots and we barely make it. Sometimes bills are late. That was the price we paid to return to the land. My husband has a computer company he’s trying to get off the ground, we co-own a feed store, and he has a fairly successful Etsy shop in which we sell hand turned wooden items (bowls, plates, knitting needles, jewelry boxes, etc). We sometimes barely have enough to cover necessities. We have 30 acres in rural Middle TN. We farm for subsistence at the moment. We make a few extra dollars here and there with excess vegetables and eggs. Sometimes we sell meat chickens and butchered hogs. Our hogs haven’t been tough on the land. Could be the environment they are raised or the breed of the pigs. I don’t know, my husband would be better able to answer you if you have questions on them. I digress though…

    I think my point is – if you truly want to return to the land you have your work cut out for you no matter where you go. It is hard everywhere. Eden does not exist. You will have to fight no matter where you go. We drive an hour and twenty minutes to hear a TLM every week. We make that drive with three young children in tow and most of the time I end up standing outside with the toddler who just can’t remain quiet or still. Again – the price we pay to move back to the land. The only thing I know right now is that I would not go back to the way we were living for any amount of money. My husband and I decided that his very lucrative job was not worth the stress and strain it put on our family. We decided to walk away. We decided to take the road once frequently traveled, but now nearly abandoned. My husband works hard, but is happy again. He is not stressed. He doesn’t hate his jobs. You appear to truly be at a crossroads. You cannot stand on both sides forever. You need to make a decision on what is truly worth it for you and your family. This fight we go through every month is the right one for us. It produces less stress for us than when we had money to ‘throw out the window’. This one makes us work. Makes us pray. This one has brought us much closer to God. How much do we honestly trust God? Do we really believe He will provide us our needs? He hasn’t failed us yet and He won’t. You just have to alter your definitions a bit once you move away from a city. What really is a need? The questions can be tougher than they look at times.

    Why do people throughout history routinely move toward a harder life? Early American settlers…Pioneers…They left all they knew, all the comfort and ease they were familiar with – for what? Work. Working the land. Getting away from it all. Some made it and some didn’t. It isn’t nearly as hard as what they faced – but it is a different kind of hard. We are a pampered people. We have everything and more at our disposal. Cars. Internet. Technology that boggles the mind. Television and movies. Places to hang out on every corner. Easy access to higher education. We are “smarter” so now we have all these new fangled views of how things should be done. My goodness, we have pizza delivery (well – we don’t have that out here. Rural. You know doubt understand my point). I told you I would get ramble-y. *sigh* Best wrap this up.

    I have is the wisdom to know that I am not the first to want to walk away. I won’t be the last. I have my grandma’s voice in my head urging me forward from her Appalachian kitchen alive with the smells of home canned vegetables and home processed meats. I have our lessons learned from failures and successes. Why do people continue to walk away from the “comfort and pampered” city life? Because we were made for the agrarian life. It’s what we are supposed to do. I feel that in my bones.

    Forgive me my rambles. I hope this helped and didn’t hurt. I just felt it all needed said…

  14. James

    +JMJ+

    A few “random thoughts”;

    Being patient and waiting for an opportunity w/access to a reverent liturgy is most important. Anything “otherwise” will impact your family far more than the hot dry days in St. Leo. Especially the children. But I’m certain you know this. Others visiting the site may not “get” this. Please “get” this… FSSP/Institute Christ the King/Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter – former orthodox/Anglicans who came into the Roman Catholic Church 6 years ago (http://ordinariate.net/parishfinder) are all good options. Quincy, Illinois is under one of the best bishops in the USA. And then there’s Clear Creek and vicinity. All worthy of consideration.

    The farm in Quebec is an excellent goal. I have the same inspirations for my family. Sundog Organic Farm in my province (Alberta) is another inspiration. I believe organic farming is a way to teach the pagan culture about the traditional Catholic culture, for there is some common ground in what both groups are rejecting culturally. Hope that makes sense!

    You are a teacher…

    We have our children in a homeschool co-op through one of the Ordinariate Parishes. A tremendous concept, a tremendous blessing. If you could get some parents to start a similar homeschool co-op in a diocese that leans “traditional” (or Ordinariate), it may be a way to put some things like career/farming/family/et al in some order that keeps you in the areas you are most fond of, but also more qualified, in terms of the Mystical Body. Many FSSP parishes are mulling this concept. Minneapolis is doing it. Maple Hill, you know of. Nothing’s perfect, but these are examples of “the concept”. Again, hope that made sense!! (Too bad your not Canadian, for the area around Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Academy in Barry’s Bay, Ontario is also a place where a family like your could root. See also the Madonna House. Very “nearby”. Rural Alberta and Saskatchewan are also now affordable, due to our nation’s economy collapsing! [$36/barrel oil will do that to a commodity driven economy])

    Our world is falling apart. We need to protect ourselves. We need to be radically realistic. Faith, and food, are two essentials. So keep the Faith, and forever keep growing food. But maybe as a homesteader, not as a CSA, not as a “farmer”. Perhaps looking into a homeschool cooperative in a state that’s not going to make homeschooling illegal, in a diocese that’s ‘friendly” to traditional, orthodox liturgical and theological values (Lincoln, NE and Tulsa diocese come to mind)… Again, random thoughts, rantings, ideas…

    About West Virginia – did you see these sites?
    https://www.facebook.com/latin.mass.southwestern.wv/
    https://www.facebook.com/Latin-Mass-Community-of-North-Central-West-Virginia-552983298108295/
    http://www.canonsregular.com

    I think of your journey often. As a KU alum who spent years in the Free State, your family’s adventure is one I keep in my prayers.

    Pax Christi. AMDG.

    James

  15. Kevin, at some point, when you have time, you might ponder turning your experiences into a book.

  16. Ted Reznowski

    Everything seems to conspire against the small farmer and rural life in general, especially the economic-banking system.

    This Quebec couple are willing to help train farmers in growing saffron: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/canada-s-first-saffron-farm-expecting-excellent-crop-1.2776626

    Their website: http://www.pursafran.com/index.php?cartId=20090901155133LaHXTd1ajnfENBX26167

    Some of the Catholic Workers Farms, seem a good place to explore farming as a volunteer, and learn about farming in the region,the good and bad: http://www.catholicworker.org/communities/websites.html#

    St. Francis Farm, NY State, seems to be a good place, with some variety between forestry, animal husbandry and gardening: http://www.stfrancisfarm.org/Home.html

  17. Hunter

    Hey Kevin,
    I recommend you look into the northwest Arkansas area. Take care.

  18. Jennifer

    I’m sorry you’re facing such a dilemma. While your blog entry is more than a month old, hopefully you’ll still see my comment and take it as food for thought. We live in the Cincinnati area, specifically in Northern Kentucky. I would like to throw the general area out for your consideration. We are an epicenter of Traditional Catholicism, with a broad spectrum of religious groups represented in the area. There’s Assumption SSPX parish in Walton, KY, a lovely exurban area with lots of land nearby. We have two amazing Traditional priests who are working within the diocesan framework under permission of the bishop who are starting a Latin-Mass only parish within the next few months — they’ve been featured quite regularly on Audio Sancto, so they’re very solid priests (that’s where I go.) We have an FSSP parish just west of Cincinnati in rural Brookville, Indiana. It’s a lovely country church where Fr. Flood, the former District Superior of the FSSP settled. There’s a small but growing Traditional Catholic rural community springing up around that area. In Cincinnati itself, there’s a large Latin Mass diocesan group at a city church. The land in the rural areas is affordable, the CSA and farmer’s market community is probably not saturated in my opinion (but I’m in no way connected to this industry, so please take my word with a grain of salt!) There are some small Catholic schools where you might be able to work at to bring in an income. We even have a friend who teaches at one of the Catholic schools and drives a limousine (town car) evenings and weekends to add to the family income. There’s also Uber driving here. I’d be happy to discuss with you further if you’re interested. God bless!

  19. Conor Gilliland

    Hey Man,
    I have been getting involved with National Young Farmer’s Coalition. They have great resources to help people find land through land trusts. It is specifically their mission to help people just like you. Here is a link to land-lease and job opportunities through their website. Good luck. God bless. http://www.youngfarmers.org/land-and-jobs/

  20. Tom Usher

    We live in the rural eastern Ozarks, about 45 miles SW of St. Louis. Would we like to be further out? Sure. But the reality is that it’s awfully hard to make a living in rural America and being relatively close to a major urban center makes finding work a whole lot easier.

    I’m a carpenter and my wife works for a large corporation. Between the two of us we make enough to live comfortably and have some excess to give to others.

    The place we live in (Robertsville, MO) is mostly just a post office. The town long ago ceased to be. But the community exists and it is strong. I credit a great parish and priest for a good deal of that. But there’s the nearness of St. Louis, too. Many of the families that have farmed the area for generations are still living on the farm because they didn’t have to leave to find work. Most work in St. Louis. Even the kids that left for the bright lights still come home regularly, many eventually moving back.

    Most of the farms around here are cattle or horse centered. The Ozarks don’t lend themselves to row crops. Pasture and hay fields pretty much rule the local economy. The ground is hard, rocky and generally tilted to one side or the other. Vegetable gardening is a raised bed affair and staying ahead of the deer is always a challenge. But, we’ll never run out of water. The Ozarks are blessed with plenty of springs and rivers.

    So, while this might not be our dream location and we might not be able to live independently off the fruits of our land we can get at least a good part of the way there. We’re close enough to St. Louis that we can benefit from the larger economy yet far enough away to gain a good deal of independence from it. It’s sort of the best of both worlds. I think that it is the most realistic compromise we can make. The dream of an independent rural existence wedded to the reality of the need to earn a living in modern America.

    Maybe that’s the sort of compromise that we all have to make. Baby steps towards an eventual rebirth of the rural life. It’s not a bad way to live.

  21. Kris

    Maine has great farming communities, with many young families. There are “pockets”‘of traditional liturgies. It is worth a look!

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