As well as Milkweed Farm, we have Teasel Farm. Neither are really farms, just large fields, but we're working on making both more productive. Milkweed is small enough that I can manage it myself. Teasel is four times the size. It's a permanent grass pasture and we rent it for animal fodder. For the past few years we have rented it to a friend in the village, someone Mike's known for 20 years. Their youngest son is named after Mike. Their oldest son is at college studying to be a gamekeeper.
We had rented the field to him at "mate's rates", about half the market value. I was under the impression that I was building up social capital in the community, working in partnership with the local farmers so everyone could get a break. It turns out he's been subletting Teasel farm and earning money on it without our knowledge. And other farming friends of ours knew it was going on and no one told us. We only found out by accident.
I put a huge amount of stock in fairness, and the whole situation completely floored me. I didn't know how to process it. I thought we were part of the community. Now I feel I've been relegated to the "outsider" position, new to the area and new to farming. I'm the stooge, the mark for a grift.
I having been stewing on it for over a week, trying to understand how I misperceived the situation. Anthropology was my major at university; I tried to examine the situation using the theories I learned in those four years. No answer is wholly satisfactory.
I've baked, and spun wool, and sat watching the meat chickens settle into their new surrounds to mitigate the hurt and revive my flagging spirits. I've listened to podcasts from NPR, and talk radio from home to remind me that there are other perspectives and that I do fit in somewhere, even if it's miles from here. I've read other people's blogs and cheered for their successes. Thank you guys for being so positive.
On the plus side, the situation made confront some misplaced idealism on my part. I thought working for myself and working with animals would buffer me from social ills and the worst parts of human nature. No dice. People are everywhere and I have to find a way to manage my interactions with them. I can never be wholly self-sufficient while I need people to cut my hay, bang in a fence post or level a lumpy field edge. Since I don't have social capital, I will have to use money. Pay and be paid. For now, that will have to do.
I also realised that as much as I like learning to care for the land and livestock, I hate trying to navigate the government bureaucracy that goes with agriculture in Britain (and probably elsewhere). Well that's just tough. There are compliances, environmental standards, subsidy requirements, and I'm going to have to spend time to learn them if I want to make my farm my living.
I spoke to another neighbor farmer, one I respect as a stockman and producer. I sat down in his kitchen to ask about organic control of docks over a quick cup of tea. I ended up leaving nearly two hours later with more information and a better understanding of Milkweed Farm's bigger picture. He also recommended a reputable land agent, someone who's paid a fee to help you manage your tenants and farm bureaucracy to get the most return for your efforts. I've called to set up a meeting. I hope with a bit of time and guidance I will learn to be my own land agent. I can chalk this episode up to experience.