Anyone who knows me knows that I love Hallmark Channel movies. You know exactly how it’s going to end . . . happily ever after. Even the villain, aka the boyfriend from the big city who wants to sell the leading lady’s antique shop against her wishes, ends up finding someone to love. Hallmark movies make you believe that as long as you love something, or someone, nothing else matters. But unlike what those movies show us, love requires work. Sometimes love isn’t enough, and I’m not just talking about relationships.
I love farming. I love the relationship I have with my cows and family. I love that every day is the same yet completely different. I love the farming community and the people in it. I love that what I’m doing has a purpose. But is all that love enough? Is the love of farming enough to keep farming?
I don’t think it’s a secret that we tend to hold on for too long. I can name a few cows in our barn that aren’t profitable anymore, but we can’t bring ourselves to say goodbye. I bet most of us can think of a farmer in our area that has been holding on for years longer than they should. Here’s the problem with holding on — I believe it can ruin us just as badly as letting go. The longer we hold on, the harder the thought of letting go becomes. The stress and hurt seeps into all aspects of your life. It affects your personal relationships, your own personality, and your mental health. It consumes you until you’ve pushed everyone who cares about you away because "they don’t understand." Maybe they do, though, and maybe they just see a life on the other side of farming that we could never imagine.
It sounds like an impossible conversation; do you choose the farm or your own health? As a farmer myself, I already know your answer. We always choose the farm. We are the eternal optimists thinking that next year will be better. Next spring will be drier so we can make more feed, prices will be higher, and then maybe will be able to build that new calf barn. I know it’s easy for me to sit here and write this when I’m not the one faced with the decision, but when do you choose you? When do you decide to love yourself more than the farm?
Look, I would never tell someone to sell their farm. That’s a personal decision between the farmer, their team, and their family. But I am saying we need to stop ignoring that option. We need to start choosing ourselves. And for those farmers who say, “It’s the easy way out,” is it? Is it really? What if you were faced with selling your farm tomorrow — does that sound easy to you? Stop shaming others for the decisions that they believe are best for them. Maybe someday, when you’re faced with the same decision, they’ll be the person you need most.
The author dairies in partnership with her parents and brother at Spruce Row Farm in Pennsylvania. Jessica is a graduate of Pennsylvania State University, and since 2015, she has been active in promoting dairy in her local community. You can find her and her 250 Jersey cows on Facebook at Spruce Row Dairy or on Instagram at @seejessfarm.