Off Farm Work

In just a little over a week from now, I have been asked to provide educational leadership at our local elementary school as the new school principal. What started last Spring as a fellowship has now turned into a full-fledged professional job off the farm and away from the mill. This was never the plan. I've felt a bit guilty for seemingly running off to stand at the helm of an elementary school, hoping to use my skills and talents to lead students and teachers to academic success. Again, this was never the plan. After retiring from the US Army and launching our fiber mill and farm, I suddenly realized that off-farm work might be necessary to grow our business and even feed the children. But then again, this was never the plan. The reality of running an agriculture business is daunting. Not only do we rely on our livestock to generate outstanding fleece, but we also lean heavily on you, the local fiber farmers, to send your fiber for processing. And with all of that, we then rely on the products selling to the consumer. All of this depends on water, feed, and good health. If one of these variables changes, it can lead to devastating consequences, a trickle-down effect impacting everyone.

We began our agriculture business perhaps in the most difficult circumstances we could imagine - a worldwide pandemic, a historic drought, and family members fighting cancer. Not to mention the shortage of quality grazing land and overpriced farmland to grow food for the livestock. Farming, we are finding, is at times beautifully wrapped in a disaster waiting to happen. A few days ago, I came across an article in The Wall Street Journal that claims nearly 90% of farm families make their living not by farming but by off-farm work. The article describes farming as a part-time salary with full-time demands driven by mother nature and commodity prices. In our rural farming area here in Utah, this is true. For example, I just spoke to one of my teachers who needed to call back because she was getting into the swather and explained she needed to cut the field before school began. It then came to me that I have been given a rare opportunity to lead farmers and farm families in off-farm work and school. And perhaps, just maybe, they are like me; they can't wait to jump into the tractor after work or maybe rush home to feed the livestock or, like me, spend the evenings in the mill spinning your wool into a beautiful yarn. So I am grateful for my agriculture work, our farm, our mill, and my off-farm work. And I am very thankful to you, the producer of wool that may also sit in staff meetings this fall while your hearts may be in the field with your animals.