I consider myself a different kind of farmer. Well, I do now. I didn’t label myself as such until I started sharing about our farm on social media. I mean, everyone thinks they’re normal until they start comparing themselves to others, right? At first, I was pretty self-conscious about it. I worked hard to be accepted as an intelligent source about dairy farming while still being myself. The hardest part was garnering the acceptance I craved from other farmers. I wanted them to see that while I was wearing stick-on mustaches and talking in silly accents, I was also spreading the truth about farming to people who desperately needed to hear it.
As a full-time commercial farmer, I’m ashamed to admit this, but we are not that accepting of different. Be really honest with yourself and define the word “farm.” Most of us see a couple hundred cows, a thousand acres, or a living that is consumed by farming. But what about the guy who runs 20 head of beef on some acreage down the road? Or the family with two milk cows that they use to make cheese and sell locally? Or the retired couple with 50 acres they use to make and sell hay each year for an extra income? I get it; they probably don’t fully understand the struggles and pressures of taking care of hundreds of animals on a daily basis. They may not know the responsibility of providing work and income for multiple families. But does that mean they don’t know struggles? Their struggles may not be on the same scale, but they are still struggles. I was reminded of that recently while I was rereading the secrets I’ve collected over the last two years.
Secrets of Ag is a project where I invite people within agriculture to anonymously share their secrets with me. I then reshare them for others to read and possibly commiserate with. It’s been enlightening. When I reread this secret below the other day, it inspired this article. It made me realize how judgmental and ostracizing we can be. The good news is, we can change that. Slowly, but surely, we can change.
To the person who sent this secret, I’m sorry that you feel alone. Farming is so isolating. I’m sorry you have no one to talk to. I’m not only proud of you, I’m in awe of you. You are doing more than most to reach your dreams, and that’s no small achievement.
Last year was such a tough year on the farm. I lost half my herd. And I couldn’t talk about it because people truly do not understand farming. My family cares nothing about it, and I run the farm by myself on top of a full-time career off-site. No husband, no kids. I have a dozen dog and cat rescues and even a rescue pony, but I sell my goats for meat and I’m a hunter. I rescued animals solely up until running the farm 2.5 years ago, so most of my followers on Facebook know me through rescue. They know I have goats and I breed them, but I always notice their eyes when I admit I sell for meat. They certainly don’t understand my excitement to study a carcass. And death? I don’t talk about it much. People don’t want to hear about that. So, I take it all in by myself. I had one die a couple weeks ago and honestly, after so much death last year, I’m numb to it. I literally felt nothing. I didn’t even tell anyone. I dealt with so much shame of feeling like I failed my herd when half of them died. Don’t get me wrong, I am happy with my life. I would not give up farming, ever. I was designed for it, and I have learned so much in 2.5 years. I hope my farm is 100 times the size it is now in twenty years. But I am lonely. I wish I had people close to me who I could talk to about all the stuff regular people don’t want to know. I wish there were people that I could call when I’m making a business decision. And most of all, I wish someone would tell me how proud they are of me, that they see the work I’m putting in and that I am succeeding.
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.