guest essay: having my cake and eating yours too
Jen Welch, mother, owner and operator of the Crowded Acre raises what she describes as the bovine, porcine and caprine varieties, plus a few fowl too. She also runs a farm school and is the founder of Farmers Femme -- an organization dedicated to providing support to the existing and prospective women farmers in Central Colorado. She is also part of the team that is bringing the Sweet Roots Festival to life. A music festival dedicated to the celebration of Women in Agriculture this summer.
This light-hearted look at the frustrations that many women in agriculture face also highlights the strength and 'brass-tacks' that they possess.
photo provided by Jen Welch
Having my cake and eating yours too - by Jen Welch
I've never really been one to just sit around and relax. In fact, I think it's safe to say that I am always on the move. Even if I am physically stationary, my mind is moving a thousand miles per minute. And I love it. I thrive on it. I live for it. I do my best work under pressure, accomplishing multiple tasks at any given time. I am not afraid of failure and am eager to learn new things to improve on old ways. I enjoy machines with multiple moving parts, all working to make a bigger picture possible. My farm is one of those machines. I am merely the engine. Some people don't work this way. My husband is one of those people. I have friends that are some of those people. I don't hold it against them ... at least, I try not to.
I try not to take offense when someone tells me I can't, or shouldn't, do something. I remind myself to smile politely and to thank them for their honest opinion ... and then I turn around and do it anyway. Take, for instance, this past fall/winter when I was looking into a greenhouse grant program. I explained to the coordinating agent that I am a woman, with three small children, operating a diverse animal protein farm that is small, but purposeful. After a brief comment about how "cute" small farm operations are, he opined that they were not realistic when it came down to brass tacks. 'Most small farmers just don't have the business sense to make it work,' I remember him saying just before suggesting I study the business models of a couple different prominent, white male farmers. 'To be honest,' he said at the end of our conversation, 'I just don't think this program is for you. Don't get me wrong, you will qualify for it and I will put in your application if that is what you ask me to do ... but I just don't think, that as a mother of three who is operating a farm all by herself, that this is right for you.'
I thanked him for his honesty and for his opinion, but I could not force a smile. I got off the phone and seriously questioned whether or not I had what it took to move my business forward. I can happily live the rest of my life selling beef and pork shares, but I want more. I have said a hundred times over that in order to be successful as a small farmer, you either need to be marketing a unique product or marketing a common product in a unique way. I want to find a unique way to market my common product. That part of me that wants to learn and improve upon my technique, that part of me that wants to make a difference with what I do, that part of me that doesn't take 'No' for an answer - she is 'Who I Am.' She also values her family and home life. She raises three children among countless pigs, cows, goats, and poultry. She has a deep love for chocolate cake. She does what she wants and wants what she does ... and right now, that requires a greenhouse.
I am lucky to have a family that supports me. In fact, if it weren't for my family, I wouldn't have shared access to a 'new-to-the-farm' 26' x 40' greenhouse complete with heating and cooling systems. My kids play in it while I work, enjoying a spring-like oasis while there is still snow on the ground outside. My animals watch me go in and come back out as they happily munch on their feed. I never did take a look at those business models ... I decided to create one of my own. I decided to stop asking myself 'IF' I could take my business to the next level and am focusing on 'Doing It' instead. And I will succeed. Maybe not the first time, but that doesn't matter because it won't be my last. Because this is 'Who I Am.'
I'm having my chocolate cake and eating it ... and if you don't keep an eye on your helping, I just might take that too.
Jen Welch lives and writes in the Upper Arkansas River Valley of Colorado, and her superpower is 'eatingallthechocolatecakeafterthekidsgotobed.'
originally publish April 28, 2015