April 08, 2021 14 min read

In celebration of ten years on our farm, Anna sat down to "interview" Brooks over lunch. Below is the transcript of a conversation that is revealing about the positives and negatives of farming for a living and owning a farm. If you want to listen to the whole thing instead, here's a SoundCloud link. 

Anna: Looking back over the last 10 years, what stands out to you as the biggest area of progress on the farm?

Brooks: Animal containment. 

Anna: What are changes that stand out personally for you and our family?

Brooks: Changing relationships with our kids as they grow. 

Anna: They have more ability to actually be helpful?

Brooks: Yes, and they know that, and they have the option to do other things, so they are more reluctant. It takes more convincing.

I would say for me personally, my attitude and my organization.

Anna: How has your attitude changed?

Brooks: I just stopped treating pigs getting out and things like that personally, and just saw them as things happening when the right conditions are not being met.

Anna: If you could go back and change one thing you did in the past 10 years on this farm, do something differently, what would it be?

Brooks: Start shipping immediately. 

Anna: What has been your biggest challenge over the past 10 years of farming? I was guessing it maybe would have been deliveries? Or maybe just keeping animals in {laughter}.

Brooks: I would say leaving the farm is so hard for a farmer.

Everything breaks when I leave. 

Anna: Things break even when you’re here. 

Brooks: You know what I mean…

Anna: What has ACTUALLY been your biggest challenge?

Brooks: Having to do everything myself - production, marketing, mechanics, vet. 

In that same realm, it’s also hard to let those things go then. 

Anna: In what way?

Brooks: Each thing we stopped doing made things easier for us, but it was really hard to decide not to do chickens. Any change is so uncertain - what’s gonna happen? How many customers are we gonna lose? We’re gonna start shipping…. Who’s not gonna buy now?

Anna: I think production-wise the biggest challenges have been, in general, dealing with babies. For example temperature control of chicks was so hard. Which we eventually pretty much mastered, but then we stopped raising chickens for other reasons. 

I agree with you, that it was really hard to split our time and have to leave the farm so often.

Anna: Does that mean you feel like stopping raising chickens was a good decision?

Brooks: Yeah.

Anna: And shipping was a good decision?

Brooks: yes.

Anna: What have you learned in the past 10 years, what have been your biggest lessons?

Brooks: {In a gruff voice} “Life is short. Play hard.” 

Anna: Laughter

Brooks: Biggest lesson is - everything is going to break for sure. 

Anna: And is that frustrating? Does that make you feel like giving up?

Brooks: Second lesson would be - routine maintenance prevents some things from breaking. Makes the time between breaks longer. 

Anna: That’s your biggest lesson? I’m sorry, but I’m personally challenging you on this because I don’t see you actively do that. 

Brooks: I don’t do that. That’s the point.

Anna: So youdon’t do your own biggest lesson. Your own second biggest lesson.

Brooks: No, I used to dono maintenance. Now I do what I possibly can. 

The other lesson is, it takes a lot of money to farm. It’s a high capital, low margin business, and we really didn’t think about that when we started. 

Anna: What advice would you give to someone just buying a farm and wanting to farm for a living?

Brooks: Get a job. 

Anna: What advice would you give to yourself 10 years ago?

Brooks: Get a job.

Anna: But then you wouldn’t be here now.

Brooks: Right. 

Anna: So are you saying you regret where you are right now?

Brooks: No.

Anna: So, how do you feel about it?

Brooks: The advice I would give myself 10 years ago would either be: get a job, or immediately figure out your margins right now, and figure out how much you need to sell at those margins to make a living. For real. 

Anna: I’m gonna challenge that because I feel like we were always trying to do that.

Brooks: We never did it.

Anna: But we weretrying to do it. I personally don’t know that I would give myself advice along those lines, because I can’t think of anything that we could have done differently or should have done differently, at least in terms of figuring out  something financially. 

I see us 10  years ago - I think we were just driven by a vision. I was completely committed to making it work no matter what. I had an idealism, a drive that we were gonna make it work no matter what. We’re gonna do this. We ARE gonna pay the mortgage. I knew that we were gonna do whatever we had to do to pay the mortgage. We didn’t want to get a job, we didn’t really think about getting a job as a viable option, I mean we knew we could, it was a backup. But we really wanted to make a living farming. 

And we kinda did, actually.

We kinda did.

Brooks: Yeah. I mean, That’s what I would tell myself - I would say….

Anna: What? Be smart, financially, somehow?

Brooks: I would say - learn that chickens aren’t making you money! Right now! Learn that turkeys and pigs are making you money and stop doing that other crap.

Anna: I still don’t know that chickens didn’t make us any money. I mean, we did pay the mortgage, and support our family, for 8 years, before you had any kind of off farm job. We never made a late payment for anything. We were on medicaid, and had no money in savings, no 401K or anything like that, but we limped along..

Brooks: Did you say we never made a late payment?

Anna: Yeah, we never made a late payment. We had to defer our student loans, as well as negotiate down some credit card interest {nervous laughter}.

So you’re saying, don’t be in a state of financial survival, and try harder to make it financially successful?

Brooks: {interrupting} John ___, Merlin ___, Keith ___, asking me nonstop “why are you not paying”. Zero late payments… really?

Anna: I was talking about mortgage payments. Debt payments. Those were operational expenses, and you’re right. Those guys were left waiting [local vendors waiting 60-90 days or more on bill payments, all eventually paid]. I mean, that’s the truth.

Just to go back to what you said before, your advice would be to focus more on the finances, and make that a priority, figuring that out?

Brooks: Make a viable business. Yes.

Anna: That was always a goal of ours though.

Brooks: No,immediately make a viable business. Don’t test and retest, make a viable business right now.

Anna: Do you really think things can be figured out without testing and retesting?

Brooks: You need ONE year’s numbers to tell you.

Anna: So maybe your advice would be to keep better records. And then appropriately analyze them. 

Brooks: Yes. 

Anna: Do you think the farm is a success right now?

Brooks: {sigh} Yeah. We’re still some of the few people we know who made a living farming without leaving the farm for any number of years and are still on their farm. 

Anna: Would you do it again? If you could go back ten years, would you still sign those same papers?

Brooks: Yeah. 

Anna: You would just make different choices then on the farm.

Brooks: mm hmm. 

Anna: What is your vision, your dream for this farm for 10 years from now?

10 years from now… 2031. Our kids are between ages 13 and 23.

Brooks: The current business continues to exist with our kids or at least one of them involved. So we know something will continue. 


Anna: What is your vision for charcuterie?

Brooks: Very small scale, very unique products that are literally one of a kind, not available in this country. So. Raised the way we raise them, and then cured and delicious and amazing, not like hit or miss, like every batch is amazing.

Anna: Is there anything else you have musings or commentary or reflections on, having bought a farm and had a baby on the same day 10 years ago?

Brooks: The older I get the less I wanna do ALL the things. 

The older I get, the more I realize how expensive everything is and this business can’t support anything really. 

I would say a farm is the absolute best place to be during a pandemic. 

Anna: How do you feel about your children growing up here?

Brooks: I think that’s the best decision we ever made.

Our biggest goal was for our kids to not be like us, to have no idea where their food comes from until college. And… they know, for better or worse. They know where it all comes from, and they have some appreciation of that. That’s what we wanted! That makes me feel good! 

That’s probably the thing I’m like most proud of. 

Anna: Do you have any questions for me?

Brooks: What do you think? 

Anna: {laughing} About what?

Brooks: About all of this…

Anna: Come on babe, ask me a specific question {laughing}  interview format works best when you ask one question at a time.

Brooks: What would you tell yourself ten years ago?

Anna: I would say, you don’t have to do everything. You don’t have to try to do everything, try to be perfect at everything.Looking back at the last 10 years, I feel like a lot of things went REALLy well for us. I feel like a lot of things could have been a lot worse, and we got really lucky, and we’ve been really blessed. The few times when shit hit the fan, it was like a lesson, that was valuable, that we learned something from. Or it was a growth opportunity. I just feel really grateful for us hanging in there and carrying on and having the ability to carry on that we’ve had over the past ten years.

In terms of doing anything differently, I really can’t think of anything that I could have or should have done differently.

I guess I would have just told myself to try to relax more. {laughter}

And to try to like… slow down, and savor it.

And to try to find time, as much as possible, to keep records and make systems for organizing and not feel so strung out by production and delivery.

But at the same time, I know what it’s been like for the last 10 years. I know wecouldn’t slow down. Wehad to produce and deliver, that’s what we had to do. I don’t know that we could have done a lot differently. 

Brooks: Would you sign the papers again?

Anna: Yeah, I’d sign the papers again.

And I hope that we live on this farm and own this farm for our whole life. 

Until we move to Hawaii anyway {laughter} like when I’m really tired of having allergies…

Brooks: you’ve never been there though?

Anna: I know. It’s just the idea of a place where the grass is greener. 

I actually would really like a life of not as much hard work and struggle. In terms of having to do certain things to make a living, and being so limited in choices both financially and time wise. I feel like that's the biggest thing that I see having changed over the past 10 years, that we have a little bit of a greater sense of…. More money and more time because we, you have an off farm job, and we’re not doing all the deliveries ourselves. Except that we don’t really have more time because you're working the jobs of 3 people. So… it feels like a little more abundance and prosperity now, in that sense, but my vision for the next ten years is more of that.

Brooks: Yeah. Me too.

Anna: More money and more freedom to do what we want to do and less …

Brooks: Insanity?

Anna: you working three jobs… and yeah…

I would also really like to ….

If I could give YOU advice 10 years ago, I would say do not bring anything on the farm that you don’t want to have to deal with. In its broken state. Don’t take all these handouts and junk and stuff. And also don’t start projects that… But you didn’t know, though. So I wouldn’t literally say, “oh you shouldn’t have done this.” Like I think all of your projects have been well intentioned and appropriate. I guess I just feel like at this very moment, if you walk around our farm and know we’ve only been here for ten years - we’ve had a big footprint, a big impact on this farm. A lot of it positive, and a lot of it …. Now something that has to be cleaned up over the next ten years.

So part of my vision for the next ten years, which I think we share, is to have an organized, beautiful, effective farm. Having effective fencing has been huge. So having appropriate shop space, and barn...

Brooks: Appropriate shop space, where’s my shop space??

Anna: That’s what I’m saying. It’s a ten year vision of mine. We still don’t have it. You’re saying one of the biggest areas of progress over the last ten years has been containment of animals. What if ten years from now you look back and say,{fumbling for words} I mean, you’re not going to be like Mike ___, you don’t want to be how Jonas ___ was with his stuff, but I know you want to be…{nervous laughter} I mean, I know you want to reign it in to order and beauty.

Brooks: Yeah. I’m trying to get rid of stuff. Get rid of shitty buildings, and put up things that are useful. 

Anna: If we could look back in ten years and say we’ve seen huge progress in the orderliness and beauty of the farm along with the financial viability, that would be really…

Brooks: They go hand in hand.

Anna: Probably

I don’t think we could have prevented things from getting to be how they are now. 

Is there anything you think you legit could have done differently?

Or maybe you don’t even see any of that as a problem?

This is also a very selfish line of questioning {laughter}.

Brooks: Clarify the question.

Anna: When you walk around your farm right now, do you see that you could have done anything differently..

Brooks: You wanna know if I see the messy shit… as my wife

Anna: no, no, I’m asking you as an objective person, I wanna know if you see anything that’s not neutral to you. I wanna know the progress and positive things you see, and the things that bother you and seriously what you could have done differently.

Brooks: Yeah, if we had money. If we had money, I could have done a lot differently. I wouldn’t have a single shipping container. If we had money, I’d have a pole barn over there, and a curing room in the back of the butcher shop. 

Anna: So it wasn’t anything you could have done differently lacking capital. {waits for answer}

For example, that building over there, {points} that [unused] silo, that was an effort to raise barley fodder to save money

Brooks: And for nutrition, yes

Anna: When you look back on that, do you wish you would have done differently?

Brooks: {tries to change subject and evade question}

Anna: Constructively, what would you have done differently?

Brooks: I guess, what I would say to myself is:

There’s a middle ground between CAFOs and every-animal-outside-all-the-time…

Anna: permaculture?

Brooks: Yeah. Right. Like,we don’t need a new system for everything!

There’s a middle ground. Buildings are here for a reason. Pole barns work for a reason. Often, the simplest solution is not just the easiest, but the most elegant, beautiful, easy to maintain. 

Trying to design everything from scratch, means there’s only one person who can fix it. 

And when that person doesn’t have any time to fix things, that’s a bad system. 

Anna: No time, or money {laughter}

Brooks: Yeah. 

Anna: So what wentwell over the last ten years? What’s awesome? What did you love?

Brooks: Fencing. 

Mobile hoop houses. I mean, that’s a thing that we did, that we figured out and now they sell them as kits.

The pig feeder I designed.

The watering infrastructure that I put in wasinvaluable.

Anna: So you’ve had some areas of successful innovation.

Brooks: Yes.

Anna: And that feels good.

Brooks: Yes.

Anna: What does it feel like? {laughter}

Brooks: It feels like a light cloud of self satisfaction buoying me up from one task to the next, tempting me to design everything from the ground up.

Anna: {laughter}

Brooks:And Iloved seeing people get our food and be so happy to get it. They literally can’t get it anywhere else. And to see their kids growing up, and family members buying from us.

Anna: Yes. I agree, that is true.

Anna: What about playing with biological systems, I’ve maybe been more focused on human health, and you’ve been more proactive with regenerative agriculture

Brooks: If you walked across the fields that were farmed constantly when we first got here, and you walked across the now, there’s a huge huge difference.

Anna: That’s something that went well.

Brooks: Yeah.

Brooks: What do you think went well?

Anna: I already answered that question. A freaking lot. Like mostly everything. I think there were so many times when we received help, or financing, or funding, I mean there was a lot of hard work involved but I just feel for the most part that the universe was on our side{chuckles}

Brooks: Yeah. I mean, a lot of people’s lives changed by living here too.

Anna: I thought you were gonna say that was one of your biggest challenges, managing people. I’ve heard you say that over the years.

Brooks: I would say the biggest headache was having part time, seasonal labor was the thing we depended on for so long. 

Anna: For financial reasons. And the literal job of telling people what to do and having them do it, that was hard for you. 

Brooks: No.

Anna: Telling people what to do and having them not do it. People messing stuff up.


Anna: Well that’s kind of like what you said, when you make the system but you’re the only one who can use it, that’s hard to teach people. It’s also hard to find good workers. 

Anna: I thought you were gonna say something you learned was how to manage your own energy, to take breaks for recovery and recreation...

Brooks: yeah for sure. I basically said that.

Anna: no, you didn’t say that. You used to argue with me. I used to urge you to rest on Sundays, I thought it was important. Ten years ago right now, you were not trying to rest.

Brooks: Starting to do the Wim Hof method was huge, well for one I just got healthier. Probably because it made me realize I needed to take breaks and helped me change my attitude. 

Anna: Is there anything else you want to say about that?

Brooks: Why are you making fun of me?
Anna: I’m not. I’m trying to dig deep. I’m trying to get you to say something that’s like areveal. And you’re trying to gloss over the surface.

Brooks: I don’t know what you want me to say babe, I …

Anna {laughter} OK. 

Brooks: I just literally burned myself out. The first five years on this farm, I literally burned myself out.

Anna: I would agree.I was actually really surprised that you didn’t say that. Because when I think about the last ten years ago, where we were, all I can think about is survival mode. Just us never stopping, never having a break, never feeling like we… I mean, it has not been till the last two years [since Brooks had off farm job] that I haven’t beenafraid when I check out at the grocery store, that my card is not gonna be declined. And it’s such a gift, now to be able to do that. I don’t take it for granted. I feel so secure being like, “i KNOW I can buy these groceries right now.”

Brooks Yeah.

Anna: That is such a big thing.And i don’t think we realized how much that financial insecurity was a stressor. And constantly trying to run to keep up and make the next delivery. 2, 3, 4 times a week. A constant state of urgency, never stopping. 

Which is the opposite of what led me to farming which was a desire for rhythm, and contact with nature, a pace that was a seasonal ebb and flow, it was literally the opposite of that.

Yeah I think switching to shipping was a great decision, and if we can continue to make it work financially, I’d like to continue. And I’d like to maybe have a greater role in the farm operations as our kids get older. 

For my role as a supporter, as the farmer’s wife, I was willing to live in survival mode to live our dreams - to farm.

Brooks: I would agree with that. 

Anna: And I would do it again. 

But it’s harder to do it the older you get. It’s much easier to live like that when you’re 25 than when you’re approaching 40.

Brooks: I would also say most people are not in as good of shape as me physically, and it pushed me to my limits. So anyone else who’s thinking about doing this, I’m going to inquire, “how are you doing it”

Anna: “Where are you getting money…”

Is there a way to be smart enough or have enough support to do it?

Brooks: Yeah, be independently wealthy. 

Or if you know marketing really well, and have access to capital. You can probably figure it out if you’re smart. 

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