In the age of Instagram and ever-present media, it can be near impossible not to compare yourself to everyone around the globe. Flooded with a barrage of perfectly staged pictures, intriguing captions, and promoted products, a sense of inadequacy can wash over us every time we look at our little pocket robot. This is true not only on a personal level, but on a professional level, as well. When we started our small farm over two years ago – making the distinct choice to not jump in head-first with business loans and a full-time commitment – the social media comparison game was a real struggle. We questioned every decision we made: had we seeded our tomatoes at the right time? Should we be expecting more out of our kale production? Did everyone deal with flea beetles in the numbers we saw on our baby greens?
The self-induced pressure to be bigger, better, and more beautiful kept us in a state of anxiety and self-doubt for most of our first year. In our second season, we cooled down a bit. We made a conscious effort to be grateful for the farm we had and gave ourselves a break for only being second-year farmers and business owners. With every perfect broccoli crown we saw on Instagram, we tried to remind ourselves that a lot of the farms we follow are much more experienced and mechanized than we are – not to mention most of them listed farming as their full-time occupation. We were in a different boat and needed to either be okay with that boat or get in a different boat.
This past winter has been one of self-exploration and digging into what we really want out of life – not what Instagram tells us we want. In other words, we took a hard look at the boat we were in and decided to make it comfortable rather than complain about how it wasn’t like everyone else’s boat (or splash around in the water never deciding which boat to get in). Deepening the foundation of trust within the self (boat) is not an easy task, but it does make the comparison game seem less and less attractive. When we get clear about who we are, what we want, and then believe we are capable and worthy of having it, priorities shift. Instead of wondering if our Zinnias look as healthy as everyone else’s, we’ve been learning to ask ourselves if our Zinnias look how we want them to look or if we even want to grow Zinnias at all (the answer is “yes!”).
When we began to get clear about who we are and what we want out of this farm, we consciously made a lot of changes to be implemented this year in our New Vision. As noted in our last blog post, the first and most important change was that we needed to be on the farm. We bought an RV last year and Brian, with the help of a friend, has been chipping away at a complete internal renovation. It should be good-to-go in the next couple weeks! (We’ve been glamping in the fields since the beginning of May and are excited about some solid walls!)
Second, we wanted to make the farm our full-time priority. This meant quitting our service industry jobs and committing to treat the farm as more than a side-business. This shift has been the trickiest one for a couple reasons. One reason: it’s scary! It’s scary to put all your eggs in one basket and turn your back on a regular paycheck, set hours, and a cushy safety net. But ultimately we realized as long as the farm was a “side hustle,” it’s quality would always suffer. Finding the motivation to put more effort into an endeavor that is considered a “side” is rare – most people will save their energy for the main gig.
Another reason this adjustment has been tricky is the size of our farm and the conditions of our property. Our space is limited, which caps the actual amount of produce we can grow, and there are many other things happening on the property besides our farm, which means we have to take other businesses' priorities into account.
This brings me to the third big change of our new vision: flowers and integration! Flowers have been a side hustle of the side hustle for the last two growing seasons. We never learned how to grow cut flowers while apprenticing and have used the “seed-and-pray” method of flower growing since starting Small Feat Farm. We incorporated flowers into our CSA program last year and received so much positive feedback that we thought we’d try our hand at flower farming in a more serious way this year! Being more lucrative than vegetables, flowers allow us to produce more revenue out of the half-acre available to us on the property. While we are still infants in the flower world, we opened a Flower CSA in addition to our Vegetable CSA program and will be selling bouquets around Cumberland and Portland. Joanna worked with a florist and wedding designer in Montana, and has experience arranging flowers for events – so the hope is to offer more design services in the coming years.
Integration! We are in a unique situation regarding the property we farm on and the community we are a part of here in Gray. Catherine Caswell, owner of the property, operates three other businesses out of the same space. First, Caswell Farm is a wedding and event venue featuring the property’s centuries-old barn, farmhouse, and grounds. Small Feat Farm takes up the back half of the field and provides an authentic backdrop for the weddings and events that take place here. As our flower operation takes off, the hope is to supply wedding clients with fresh flowers they can pick out and harvest themselves!
Second, The Bar Association is a mobile bartending company that services not only the weddings at the barn, but multiple weddings every weekend throughout the summer and fall. As experienced bar tenders, we are convenient employees of The Bar Association for events at the farm (since we live on the property) and happily accept the additional income :)
Third, a new catering company called Barn and Table is kicking off this year with the construction of a gorgeous brick oven right behind the barn! The wood-fired beauty will allow for a whole new cooking and dining opportunity on the property. As couples book the catering business for their weddings at the farm, we are also hoping to host and supply veggies for regular Farm-to-Table dinners and pizza nights. Brian has recently taken up interest in baking bread, too, and is excited to see how wood-fired loaves might make their way into a CSA!
Long story short, we have decided to dive head-first into this property in its entirety. When we first met five years ago and started dreaming about our future farm, we talked about creating a multi-faceted space where opportunities for farming, weddings and events, farm-to-table dinners, workshops, and education coexisted in a dynamic flow. This has been our long-term vision since the beginning – but we always saw it in the distant future; something we would need to work years and years for. This mindset kept us from realizing that our dreams are actually happening right under our noses! In the sea of comparisons and anxiety about how we stacked up to other farms, we lost sight of who we really are and what we wanted out of life. Turns out, we want exactly what’s happening right here, right now. We’re not a thirty-acre farm with tractors and employees. We are Small Feat Farm: a low-impact producer of flowers and veggies for our community and guests visiting this beautiful, dynamic property in its multi-faceted splendor. Now it’s time to embrace it, commit to it, and believe in this new (or renewed) vision!