Today was Leap Day, a 24 hour bonus once every four years that mysteriously inserts itself into our calendar. Here on the farm, I always greet this day with a tongue-in-cheek gratitude, knowing that it’s only a sleight of hand fabrication, an accumulated basket of leftover minutes, but happy nonetheless that it ‘feels’ like I’ve gained an extra day.
Truth be told, today we needed it. We’ve got 600 young chickens coming tomorrow morning, new layers to reinvigorate our spring flock. I spent the morning with Aaron and Robert hastily constructing laying boxes, employing our ‘tight and good enough’ philosophy of carpentry, where functionality trumps form. We worked inside the shop while it poured rain all day outside, and had half of them complete by lunchtime.
Earlier this morning, I sent out a group e-mail to some of my former apprentices regarding financial planning and investing. A significant part of our teaching program involves long-term goals for saving and retirement, since no farm I’ve ever heard of comes with a 401K plan.
We consider careful money management a huge, if often underemphasized, aspect of successful farming. I always tell my apprentices, “We all farm for the same reason: because we love it. For that reason alone, we need to educate ourselves as much as possible about finance and investing, so we can do what we love for as long as we want.”
I had my lunch hour booked with a trip to the local saw mill, to pick up a load of fresh, clean sawdust to greet our new chickens. I had just pulled out onto the highway when I received a text from a former apprentice, one of the folks I e-mailed this morning, Lars Prillaman:
“Might want to listen to Kojo right now and join the discussion. Its about sustainable and local foods.”
Huh, I thought. I’ll be on the road for the next half hour, and I usually enjoy that show anyway. I turned on my radio.
The show, on WAMU 88.5, was called “Growing New Farmers,” hosted by Kojo Nnamdi. Just as I turned on the radio, I heard him suggest that if there were any farmers listening, to please call in. I took this as a sign. A few minutes later, I was in the call-in cue.
As I listened to the guests, and other listeners calling in, I kept telling myself: you need to talk about the importance of sound money management, and fiscal responsibility. That’s the message new farmers need to hear. They’ve become farmers because they’re already passionate about agriculture; now, they need to know how important it is to financially safeguard their dreams by saving a little money along the way, and investing it wisely.
I drove the winding back roads towards the sawmill, staying on the line, delighted that my cell service held the call the whole way. As I listened, the guests raised one good point after another, and I found myself nodding in agreement with everything they said. In fact, I was just mulling over a point on balancing production sustainability with customer demand when suddenly Kojo put me on the air.
“Here’s Forrest, from Smith Meadows Farm in Virginia.”
Yipe! What had I planned to say again? Suddenly on the spot, my mind went blank. It was… something about our apprenticeship, and teaching young farmers… I quickly mentioned our apprenticeship program, but I knew that wasn’t what I wanted to say. Before I could remember what I had called about, Kojo congratulated me on the success of our program, I thanked him, and I was off the air.
“Finance!” I said out loud, over the steering wheel, the instant I hung up. “Money management!” I shook my head. Good thing I was a farmer, I told myself, and not a radio host.
The French have a wonderful saying: “L’esprit de l’escalier.” Directly translated, this means “the spirit, (or wit) of the staircase.” The idea is that you manage to think of the right thing to say only after the moment has passed, such as descending the stairs later that evening, long after the conversation is over.
Of course, I wanted to tell any new farmers that might be listening that it’s great to want to grow potatoes, or raise some chickens, but at the end of the day, make a little time to learn how to conservatively save a little money, and educate oneself on ways to identify low risk investments for the long haul.
Oh well, I thought. I’ve never yet been able to tell our apprentices everything I want them to learn, and I’m around them for an entire year. At least I had sent that e-mail out this morning, to my own little listening audience. Leap Day had been good for something more than laying boxes after all.
To hear today’s show, click here (I chime in right around the 40 minute 30 second mark):