Monday, October 27, 2008

Productive Distractions

Like many other human beings, when faced with some sort of Major Life Issue needing to be Dealt With,  we are prone to being distracted.  Thus, our house is never so clean as when our taxes are due.  

Now that we are deep in the throes of 'Plan B' (and Plans C-G just to be safe) on the 'Looking for a New Farm' project, we find ourselves irresistibly drawn to all the things that need to be done around the farm that are NOT filling in loan paperwork.  Naturally, the paperwork from the Farm Service is the longest and most complicated, Thank You, Uncle Sam. Then there is also the 'Looking at Other Farm Properties', in case the loans for the one we want don't work out, lots of time consuming soul-searching about what to do if our Big Dream just doesn't work out, and what are the things we are willing (and not willing) to compromise on.  You know, fun stuff like that.

Fortunately,  the Gods of Distractions are bountiful in their generosity to us.  

Not only do we have a nail-biter election going on in our country, one that really does feel like the most important one we will vote in thus far in our lifetimes (this is the one area in my life where I actually want complete change), we also have the wonderful Internets full of interesting, semi-useful and utterly irrelevant yet somehow compelling information to spend lots of time digesting.  

The on-line time does somewhat negate the mental benefit of not having television service, but I know that once this election is over the internets will all seem much less interesting to me. But for now, it is hard not to get caught up in it all, sometimes wallowing in massive indignation, such as Packy's recent observation that if the RNC had chosen to donate their funds to the purchase of our new farm instead of a new wardrobe for Sarah Palin, we would be moving right now.   The land that we had hoped (are still hoping, mostly) to buy has the potential to feed many people, educate many more in how to feed themselves, and contribute to our local economy.  It would put a beautiful piece of land, in a county with very, very few sources of locally grown food, back into agricultural production, and provide large areas for wildlife habitat as well.  Hell, even the money they paid Mrs. Palin's makeup artist would make a difference in our ability to accomplish this.  It is so painful to see an amount of money that could make the critical difference in our ability to achieve our dream casually tossed around on some snappy black boots and some cute jackets. 

As you can tell, fuming about this is a really good distraction from paperwork.

Then there is this:

For now, we are just calling her "The Kitten" or "Squeaky Cat" as she (we are pretty sure about that detail) talks a lot.  In a high little kitten voice.  It's a bit weird, because for months now, Packy and I have been saying to each other, "I wish we had a kitten!"  As the saying goes, be careful what you wish for. Packy found her down by the barn two nights ago, skinny and thirsty, and covered in tree sap, and very eager for affection.  She is familiar with houses, litter boxes (thank you, Cat Gods) and cat food.  She has obviously lived in a house, and we are going to spend some time in the next few days trying to figure out if someone around here is missing her- I would, if she were mine. She is pretty damn cute.  But, people do dump cats around here, so the farm crew may be gaining another teammate.

Eddie the Cat is not very pleased about this, but he has mostly stopped hissing at her.  We've tried to remind him that this was how he gained entry to the household too- he moved in on our cat at the time, the Late and Still Missed Elsie.  I think if the Little Kitten (that we are not claiming yet, nor getting emotionally attached to, really) calms down and stops hopping on everything and everyone and trying to eat everything and just...shuts up with the constant squawking, eventually we will all calm down and be OK with the situation, even Eddie.  Fingers Crossed.

Then there are all the fun outside distractions, many of which actually do double duty as Chores Which Really Need to Get Done Before Winter, thus making spending time on them entirely justifiable.  It has become clear to us that whatever happens next in our lives, it is probably not going to happen in time for us to start over this fall on a new piece of land.  Thus, we will need to keep renting this place next year, and as we have all these established beds, and perennial plants, and infrastructure already in place, we may as just get it all ready for another growing season.

"I'm sorry, I can't work on that paperwork right now, I must get the lavender cut back and limed!" 

 "No time for Future Income Projection Charts, I must clean out the greenhouse so that we can move in all the plants that need to go inside for the winter!"  

"I would love to be calculating our Net Worth, but I really must get all the things cut back that need to be cut back, and mulch what needs mulching, and get cover crop sown!"

We are late with everything this year, but fortunately we are having the most amazing fall- sunny, and warm even.  This is definitely helping to make up for the sheer wretchedness of this past summer.  And spring. And winter.  Although if it were possible to schedule this kind of weather next spring and summer, I would do so and gladly take the rain now.  

So, if you will excuse me now, I have Things to Get Done!  Although, given that we have an appointment with our Farm Service Representative tomorrow, there really is no way to completely avoid the paperwork today.

One day until the Farm Service Meeting.  Seven days until the Election.  New Farm Acquisition- no estimated date yet.  But we are quietly  hopeful.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Plan B

As goes the sweet pea trellis...

Well, let's just say we are working on a new strategy for funding our farm purchase.  The folks at ShoreBank said "Thanks, but no Thanks" to our loan application.  I suppose I should not have been surprised, given the current economic climate in our country (and around the world), that a bank would be nervous about lending money to a business that was not a normal, super low-risk proposition.  Most banks hear the word 'farm' and they start to back slowly away from you, looking for the exit door.  I realize too that there is a fair amount of circling the wagons going on in the banking world, and that Bank People are nervous, and don't want to take risks.

Perhaps, we were told,  if we had proposed this to ShoreBank six or nine months ago, it might have flown, but not now.  The frustration for us is that in times like these, a business like ours is more crucial than ever, especially for small communities like those along Oregon's north coast. What could be more useful than a business that produces food for people, and that also educates them on how to grow their own food as well?  Our country's financial institutions have had a meltdown, but our needs as human beings have not changed- shelter, food and clothing are still our most basic requirements. During this year of economic uncertainty our business has actually seen growth-  our sales have grown, our customer base has grown, support for our farm has grown, demand for food grown on the north coast has grown, the number of people coming to us for vegetable plants and advice on how to grow them has grown, the number of people asking to sign up for our CSA program that doesn't even exist yet has grown.  

It is challenging for our farm to be caught up in financial circumstances way beyond our control, but it is also forcing us to be more creative in how we go about making things happen, because we are determined to make this happen somehow.

What has been so heartening to us is the number of people who, upon hearing our news, immediately stepped up with offers of help and support, and from some of them, private financing.   And as we have spoken to other businesses in our area, we are realizing that several of them have gone the route of private financing to either start up their business or expand. There are contracts and payment schedules, so from the businesses point of view there is still a loan payment to make, and obligations to uphold, but the payments go to individuals, rather than a bank.

So, although we are also speaking with other local banks about our plans (not holding out much hope right now, but in the spirit of leaving no stone unturned), we are now working on putting together a prospectus for private investors who literally want to put their money where their mouth is, and help get our farm up and running.  We are lucky to have many smart and creative friends who are able to think of all kinds of funding possibilities and sources of information and help, and whose brains work more along those lines than mine do- if you want to know how to propagate your French tarragon plant, I'm your girl, but how to design a business plan that makes a banker sit up and say, "Hey, not bad!", and I need some help.

However, with the way things are going in the financial world, we may be able to offer a better investment return than more conventional paths at the moment, and how many money market funds host investor appreciation harvest dinners, or pay you special bonus dividends of flowers and basil?

I would still much rather be putting the last of next year's garlic crop in the ground and sowing cover crop seeds than working on all this funding paperwork stuff, but this is sowing seeds of a different nature, and just as important for our future.

All this stress about THE FUTURE OF THE FARM has really distracted me from what I love about the work I do, which at its most basic is growing beautiful, useful and edible plants, teaching people about growing these plants themselves, and selling what we harvest in one form or another.  So I am going to make the next couple of posts about Plant Things, because I need to talk about something that brings me joy and makes me feel optimistic, rather than talk more about Financial Stuff, which is just not much fun right now.

Thank you all for your words of encouragement and support to us, we are lucky to live in such a supportive community, and to have so many people believe in what we are doing.