Where do You See Yourself in 5 Years

“Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”

I hate that question.  I work in tech.  I have a hard time telling management, most of whom don’t work in tech, that I have no idea what changes are in store for my career.  I don’t really see myself moving to management and if you try to explain current tech trends to HR their eyes glaze over and they just wait for you to finish talking.  I like what I do and would like to continue doing it.  Tech changes constantly and if I were to guess, 5 years from now I’ll still be diligently working to stay abreast of new trends, add value, etc.  Looking back 5 years I couldn’t foresee the iPad.  I couldn’t foresee (and still don’t really understand) Facebook.  I have no idea what Microsoft will dream up next.  I don’t think we’ll use keyboards much longer though.

Looking at my farm in 5 years is a little easier.  I’m a little restrained by the economy and have no idea how to pay for this but I have a vision of how I would like to reshape the farm over the next 5-40 years.  I have plans to add greenhouses and ponds, I have a plan for pasture grazing and improvement, woodlot improvement, establishment of new tree stands, orchards, swales and general beautification of the farm.  On the topic of beautification I need to replace a number of buildings but that’s further down on the list.  More water on the farm = more life.  I need to build 6 or 7 ponds over the next few decades.

I plan to transition our primary revenue generation away from chickens to cattle.  We haven’t begun to build our beef herd yet.  I hope to divorce myself from the feed grinder as it is both dangerous and expensive to operate.  Further, it’s one more thing I have to store in a shed…a shed I need to replace.  Instead we’ll use dense swards of grass to harvest sunlight, earthworks to harvest rainfall and cows to cycle nutrients.  It’s a terribly complicated machine with no moving parts but entirely dependent on free and continued sunlight.  I plan to use a solar-powered fence charger to keep the cows where I want them.

To prevent wind and evaporation we have plans for tree plantings.  These will be primarily fruit and nut trees but I would like a larger stand of sugar maples to tap in my old age.  I better get started now!  The fruit trees will give guests another reason to come visit the farm…another over-arching goal of ours.

Everything we do should boost biodiversity, restore the local ecology, and help nurture our community.  I hope to raise big, fat cows and have room for big, fat groundhogs.  We plan to leave meadows ungrazed until the ground-nesting birds have hatched in July.  I hope friends and customers continue to come here seeking rest and inspiration…or at least entertainment.

We have given strong consideration to picking up a Fertrell dealership.  It could happen in the next 5 years though I have a lot to learn and, again, need a shed.  And a scale.  And a truck.  But it’s possible…

I anticipate my oldest son will begin to step up his involvement in the farm and will either relieve me of one or more enterprises or will start some of his own.  At 17 he should be ready to test his wings and I plan to enable him to do so.  He has always been our guinea pig so he’ll set the pattern for his siblings.  Whatever they are interested in, we are interested in.

I didn’t list revenue in my planning.  I can’t set financial goals outside of paying for the land and the improvements.  I am not a corporation.  This isn’t a machine.  This is a biological process.  Financial goals fit with biology like socks on a rooster.

These are, of course, moving targets.  These plans will likely shift as the wife and I dive deeper into our studies of permaculture.  So I guess, like tech, my farming goals aren’t entirely knowable.  It’s a best guess either way.  But it’s easier to keep my audience interested when I’m not explaining database index optimization strategies.  Yeah.

So, there you go.  The top-down view of the next X years.  That question is so much easier than career planning.  What about you?  Where do you see yourself in 5 years?  Will you finally achieve your “someday“?

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A United Front or How We Got From There to Here.

This post is much more autobiographical than I like to write.  Please accept my apologies.  I think this is an important subject.

My wife and I are in this together.  The things we do are things WE decided to do, not things one of us forces on the other.  We live to fulfill our purpose.  We aren’t simply busy, our work is intentional.  This wasn’t always so.

I met my wife when we were 16 and 15.  I, like most public school children, suffered a total lack of vision.

Anonymous – “What are you going to do after high school?”

Me – “I don’t know.  Join the Marines or go to college or something.”

Even when we went to college I didn’t know what I was there for.  I enjoyed playing tuba so I was a music major for a while.  I enjoyed studying frogs so I became a biology major.  I even did a research project on tadpole development and published a poster at a meeting of the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists in Seattle, WA in 1997.  After college I needed a job.  Any job would do.  My wife was a year behind me in school so I needed something local.  I went to work for a software company in town.  It was Y2K and software companies were hiring.

You with me there?  Music -> Biology -> Y2K Software.  Movement for the sake of movement.  By all appearances I was succeeding.  I don’t know what I was succeeding at but I was “educated”, employed, married to an intelligent, beautiful woman and owned a home.  It all just sort of happened.

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where–” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
“–so long as I get SOMEWHERE,” Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”
(Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Chapter 6)

Though I put too much emphasis on pretty and not enough emphasis on strong, I married remarkably well.  Everything else in life up to that point just sort of happened, but our marriage was intentional.

We realized we were just letting life happen to us not long after we had our first child.

We read a few books including Rich Dad/Poor Dad which, for all its flaws, gave me a push in the right direction.

Much later I found Crossfit and started making different dietary choices.  You have to make better dietary choices so you can recover between Crossfit workouts.  Shopping the perimeter of the grocery store shows you how limited your options are.  It’s easy to exceed your grocery budget eating only fresh foods.  We decided the quick solution was to be more serious about gardening and keep a few hens for eggs.

But this is real life.  Real life is hard.  We hit a rough spot in our marriage.  We bought an old fixer-upper house and spent several years making it livable.  As you can imagine, a house without a kitchen adds stress to a marriage.

It got pretty gritty and reached a point where we had to make a decision about continuing our partnership.  This was a hard time in our lives.  We were working so hard with small children, work, a major remodel, and home schooling we forgot to make time for emotional intimacy.  It was difficult for us to learn to open up to each other again.  Though I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, I feel this time prepared us for later struggles.  We renewed our vows on our 10th wedding anniversary.  This time we were less formal.

While we rebuilt our relationship we read.  Over time we started shifting our reading away from gardening and more toward agriculture; The Contrary FarmerMaking Your Small Farm More ProfitableBackyard Market GardeningYou Can Farm and Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live it.  I started beekeeping.  We read books about homeschooling.  We studied Shakespeare, history, math, economics and chess.  We switched off our television and studied as broadly as we could, often reading aloud as a family for hours on end.  We adopted the philosophy that we can’t teach our kids but we can model education by teaching ourselves (See Thomas Jefferson Education).  It works.

As time passed we realized it was time to move.  We needed more than just a yard.  We prayed, we continued studying, we continued working, and we prayed some more.  Though the market had just crashed and we knew it would be tough we listed our house.  We had a vision of a preferred future, we were working to gain both experience and knowledge but there were no serious buyers.  Our bags were packed.  We were ready to go.  We couldn’t leave.

It took two years to sell our house.  Then suddenly it was gone.  Where were we going to go?  We looked and looked for small acreage farms but found nothing.  Oh, we found some but we were  not willing to gut and rehab another home and we weren’t looking for a mansion.  It seemed there was nothing in between.  We did, however, find a very nice home on a large lot in a quiet suburb.  The location was excellent, the price was right, the yard was huge and we thought it might be just the place to ride out the storm.  Maybe even build some equity…even if we couldn’t have chickens.

The suburbs proved to be too much for us.  We took on some major remodeling projects in the house, continued to read, continued to work, to garden, to keep bees and to fit in.  It didn’t work.  We just didn’t fit in.  Follow the link for the gory details.

So here we are, several years later, living on the family farm.  The road here was full of twists but there were a few things that were constant throughout.  My wife and I remained faithful; first to the Lord, also to our marriage.  We were diligent about seeking out experience and education.  Though we were stuck in town we were constantly working toward our goals, learning to compost, learning to dress chickens and rabbits, squeezing more food into our garden space.  All of this was accomplished together.  Years of working side by side, supporting each other, questioning our decisions together, moving forward hand in hand…often with great uncertainty.  Even today she weeds the peas….

…and I weed the peas.

I get into the near-freezing pond on New Year’s Eve

…and she gets into the near-freezing pond on New Year’s Eve.

I can’t be home working with her every day but all of our planning, all of our decisions, all of our dreaming is done together.  I don’t simply tell her we’re raising X chickens each year and go off to my job leaving her to care for it all.  We develop a plan together that we believe we can manage.  Yes, she works hard.  Yes, I work hard.  But the biggest job is staying close and open to each other…to continue dreaming together.

If you are going to sell your beautiful suburban home, move out to the lonely middle of nowhere, survive the scoffing and questioning of friends and family, milk goats and/or cows, raise chickens, kill/scald/pluck chickens, practice rotational grazing when all your neighbors think you’re nuts and devote yourself to gardening and canning instead of driving to a grocery store you’ll need your spouse on your side.  This is a wonderful place to raise kids, we eat the best food in the world and we have a lot of fun but homesteading stresses marriages.  The work is hard.  It’s easy to take on too much and start blaming each other when the money comes up short.  As a man it is easy to dig in my heels and try to force something to happen.  Because she is with me, I’m forced to stop and consider the consequences.  At times her hesitation is difficult to appreciate as I’m sure she finds it difficult to appreciate my lack of hesitation.

If I have to choose between the family farm and my marriage I choose marriage.  Stewarding my relationship with her is far above my obligation to steward the land.  My dream of remaining married to her for the rest of our lives supersedes my dream of home-cured bacon.  It is easy to lose sight of your goals when searching out a new dream.  Sometimes you find you traded in your Mercedes for a Yugo.  Emotions are poor counselors.  Don’t be afraid to embrace your dreams slowly.  Put your toes in the cold water together.