When Newbie Farmers Wish Joel Salatin Could Come Move In…

Have you considered it? Writing Joel Salatin a letter, inviting him and his family to pack up their bags and move to your homestead? At least for a little while, maybe? We thought it. We wished it.

The training we never got:

Our story is probably too familiar to all of you. My husband’s grandparents, and my great-grandparents lived on farms. By the time we were married, the only grandparents still around and on the farm were my husband’s. We enjoyed visiting them on their 280 acre farm in Montana, but by that time they were in their 80’s and they weren’t farming anymore. We could see the life that “once was,” but we didn’t get a first hand look at what the day-to-day farm operation was like.

His grandparents, Halvor and Agnes (Norwegian Lutherans who served lefsa at every holiday feast) raised cattle, pigs, chickens, wheat, and had a large garden. The farm was their livelihood. They remembered when the grain elevator came to town, and when rules were set in place and they could no longer sell eggs to the grocery store. Halvor encouraged his children to get the education that he never got (his father wanted him to take over the farm, the youngest son of 12 children). Halvor wanted to be an engineer, but followed his father’s wishes and became a farmer. He encouraged his kids away from the farm, and they all left Montana for their college educations, and ended up staying in those states after finding work and/or marrying.

My husband’s mom (who moved to Washington state) remembered the farm, and talked about it often, but she didn’t train her kids in farming skills. My hubby grew up with a couple of different animals at different times, on a 2 acre parcel behind their family grocery store. They raised a beef cow named Emily (thus ruining my dream of naming a daughter Emily! Ha!), 1 goose, some goats and 3 sheep, over the years. He learned a little about animals, but not enough to grow up and run a farm.

When Halvor and Agnes passed on, that farming knowledge and all of those skills that the younger generations would need to run a successful farm passed with them. In 2010, when we purchased our farm, Halvor and Agnes were both gone. We bought our farm without any previous training. We didn’t have a living relative, friend, or even distant relative who remembered how to run a successful farm. We didn’t have a single human being in our life who could train us in what we needed to know.

We purchased 30 acres, which was nowhere near as much as the 280 that Halvor and Agnes managed, but 30 acres was a blessing to us! Because it was a foreclosure and needed some work, we purchased it for about as much as a 5 acre piece was going for at the time. We remodeled the home (that smelled and looked like some large animals had once been invited inside) to make it clean and comfortable, modified the barn so that a portion of it was a chicken coop, and we jumped right in to farming.

While our remodel was happening, our Barnyard Trio from McMurray Hatchery arrived. We had no clue what to do with our new ducks, turkeys, and geese, but we learned along the way. Shortly after that, our baby chicks arrived. My husband had built a brooder with the boys, in the driveway of our previous neighborhood home (planning ahead for the farm!), and the day we picked up chicks at the post office, I put them in that brooder. Only, we hadn’t thought about a lid. My husband was at work, so I called the only friend I knew who raised laying hens, and she came over right away. Her teenage son took our screen door off the back of our house and set it over the brooder–a lid! (That screen door never recovered…Better training and planning would have saved us a little $ that day!).

Farming books are not enough.

My dad has always said; “there’s book knowledge, and there’s real life knowledge”–unfortunately, that “real life knowledge” was unavailable to us when it came to farming. We bought all of the farming books we could get our hands on, searched the internet, and watched youtube videos. There was still a huge gap in our knowledge. There were things we did not know how to do, and nobody around us knew how to do them, either. It’s difficult to learn from a book how to do things like eviscerate a meat bird. Most farming books out there are surface-deep, at best. Besides, some things just can’t be learned from a book! These skills, unfortunately passed with our grandparents and great-grandparents generations. Their kids saw the hard work that the farm was; found new opportunities and better pay elsewhere, and they moved on. When they left the farm, knowledge that had always been passed down through the generations was lost.

We needed a relative who grew up on a farm and continued to farm in their adult years.

We needed someone like Joel Salatin to come move in with us. Because we didn’t have the training we needed, or anyone to teach us, we had a lot of loss on our farm. We lost animals, because we didn’t know what we were doing. We lost money, because we we didn’t know how to to do things frugally. Everything was such a huge learning curve for us, and we made so many mistakes along the way. If we had learned what we needed to know much earlier, we wouldn’t have had to sell our farm.

I wished we could learn from other farmers and share that knowledge with the world.

When we were on the farm, I had a vision: I wanted to travel the country and learn from farmers who were farming successfully. I wanted to ask hard questions: how much did things cost, how much were they actually making on the farm? I wanted to watch, and video tape as they did the things that farmers do. I wanted to pass this information on to others–to all of you. We never did this, of course. We were too busy just trying to get by on our own farm, hoping to keep our animals alive. We couldn’t consider traveling at that point in our life.

Someone else IS sharing that knowledge with the world!

Because of that vision, I was so excited to hear about a project that a farmer from North Carolina is taking on. He’s creating a video to teach people how to raise, feed, butcher, breed, and hatch chickens on their own farms. AND, he’s got the next-best thing to Joel Salatin moving in with everyone–Joel Salatin and other cool folks who have chicken-raising knowledge, are going to be on this video!! So you don’t get Joel hanging out with you in your barn, but you can watch him in your living room, and he’ll teach you what to do with those birds out there! And when you head out to the barn and you can’t remember what he said, you can run back into the house (or better yet, grab your smart phone) and re-play; over, and over, and over. I know, you’re still wishing he could just move in, but let’s face it, he can’t move in with all of the newbie farmers across the country!

This farmer, Justin Rhodes, contacted me via Facebook to tell me about his project, and I immediately gathered my family around to watch the trailer together. I was SO excited about it! The trailer might ring true for you, too–like us, you may have been trying to learn this farming thing on your own. The learning curve might be so overwhelmingly steep that sometimes you’re not sure if you’ll be able to grasp everything you need to know (before your money runs out, or before you’re too old, or before the animals die because of your lack of knowledge). You might be desperate for knowledge. You need a video like this. Justin has a Kickstarter campaign going on, where he’s trying to raise a little more than $25,000. I’m excited to share that at the time of this writing, they’ve already got $18k pledged. WOO HOO! I want this project to succeed so badly, for all of the newbie farmers and wanna-be farmers, who are trying so hard to make it.

If you’re not a farmer, and you’re simply an eater (aka human) you are the perfect type of person to give to this Kickstarter campaign. You’re not spending all of your money trying to keep animals alive on a farm. You’re not scraping by, barely making ends meet, or heating your home with free wood from fallen trees because you can’t afford to pay the electricity bill. YOU are the people who can bless this project, and bless the farmers who desperately need this video by pledging some money towards this campaign.

I don’t like to tell farmers to spend money, since I know they don’t have it. Farmers–on small farms, at least, are not rich. I do, however, hope that the eaters–the humans who are not farmers–will support this project, support local farmers, and care about where their food comes from. I, an eater, a human, a non-farmer (these days) care about this project and about farmers getting the training that they need to be successful.

Without the proper training, small farms (like ours) are going to disappear. I believe in supporting small farms in whatever way I can. I suggest that we, the humans who don’t farm, not only support this Kickstarter campaign, but also; when the video comes out, that we buy it and gift it to our local farmers. It will change their farming operation and could positively impact the future of small farms around the country (and the world, possibly). Please consider giving to this project so that farmers can learn the knowledge they need to make a farm successful–the knowledge they didn’t get from their grandparents. Please consider supporting the growth of small farms. Please give, so that other farmers don’t end up needing to sell like we did.

photo credit


    • Brenda

      Sarah, good question. 🙂 I have not been posting lately. I do intend to keep writing some posts, but not as often as I used to. Thank you for asking about it!!

  • Robert E. Ray

    I have a large large piece of land in The Sierra foothills. It was the site of a commune during the 70’s. It was severely damaged in the Butte Fire in 2015. It is under utilized and we
    are looking at alternatives to selling the property.
    I am now too old to farm mysel, I have a deep attachment to the property and am open to other creative uses with good- hearted persons.
    (It sits at the 2600’ elevation and has two good
    Robert and Laura Ray

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