From our farmers: On the challenges of farming and family

John and Heather's Family - Springtail Farm

This is the fifth in our “From our farmers” series, which was contributed by John Felsner of Springtail Farm, one of the farmers enrolled in our Farm Incubator Program.

The challenges of producing food are innumerable: prices for land, materials, inputs, fuel, and insurance always seem to be rising; the uncertainties and rapid transformation of climate and weather patterns; eking out a living in a fickle market, and the list goes on. When my partner Heather and I made a decision to start a small family of our own, we were familiar with the difficulties of market gardening, as well as the satisfaction and promise it provided. What we were entirely unfamiliar with were children. What we’ve discovered since having one—and what has been both rewarding and unfathomably challenging—is that the hardest part of raising a healthy child while producing food is learning to manage relationships. Because, like good, honest food production, a child demands a full, healthy community in order to thrive and meet his or her full potential.

The highest hurdle for us with raising a child and farming is making time for everything that needs to be done day in-and-day-out. An off-farm source of income has always been the mainstay of our farming work, but this presents additional challenges. Every season for the past eight years I’ve worked 25 to 40 hours a week off-farm, and then done field work on the days I have off. With the addition of our daughter there has been the added need for working in time to spend with her and Heather. Forging and solidifying relationships with friends, neighbors, family, supporters, CSA members and customers is also paramount to our work. It all sounds overwhelming, and many days it is! Nonetheless, each season we plan and process, make revisions, save pennies and prepare for the opportunity to embark on the upcoming growing season so full with possibility.

What I’ve learned is that everything is about relationships: relationships with place, family, friends, neighbors and our farm community. In a perfect world, establishing and maintaining these relationships would just be challenging. In the hectic world we live in, the idea of preserving healthy relationships is nothing less than overwhelming. However, with kids to raise it is imperative that we find ways to build these relationships around our family. In the modern vernacular this is referred to as “attachment parenting,” but it is how humans have always reared their young.

I work with greater or lesser success each day to manage time and maintain sanity. In doing so I’ve come to terms with the fact that scale farming is not a revolutionary and romantic alternative to 9-to-5 drudgery, but it is innovative in terms of what it has taught me of my own shortcomings and strengths, as well as being a tremendously effective means of forming and maintaining deeper relationships. While we struggle to find time for everything, it is within these relationships that Heather and I have created a world in which our daughter can grow and thrive.

Action has meaning only in relationship and without understanding relationship, action on any level will only breed conflict. The understanding of relationship is infinitely more important than the search for any plan of action.
-J. Krishnamurti