One day not long after we bought the farm in 2012, I was alone in the farmstead, looking out over the empty fields, and said to myself “What the hell did you get yourself into? THIS IS GOING TO KILL YOU!!!”
Well, I’m still alive and kicking, and I will tell you the story of how I became a farmer.
For 30 years I had a successful career in the commodity markets in Chicago. I worked, traded, and brokered on the floors of the Chicago Board of Trade and Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Later, I managed a very active futures trading desk, working with clients all over the world. This satisfied my wanderlust and opened my eyes to people and cultures globally; a long way from home for a kid from Kenosha, Wisconsin.
During my 30 years in the commodity markets, I traded, among other things, all the agriculture products. Many of these were conventional commodity markets like GMO corn and soybeans, wheat, cattle, hogs, among others. I was a “paper farmer” then! I understood the “Big AG” way of producing food: produce calories the cheapest way possible.
After the financial crisis of 2008, I floated the “investment idea” of buying a farm to my wife. This was with the intention of renting out the land to a farmer. Once we bought the farm in 2012 and were ready to rent it, my wife, who is a certified health coach, expressed she did not want to farm the land conventionally (even as a rental!) and that it had to be organic. Her foresight gave me the appreciation of farming with a conscience of the land, the animals, and our health, but made it tough to find a farmer to work it. That’s when we decided to do it ourselves. With lots of reading and studying, and a great mentor (thanks to the wonderful mentorship program from MOSES) we were ready! The more I read and learned, the more dreams I had for our farm.
The first couple of years were spent improving the land and soil itself, and getting the nutrients back from the depletion of planting and harvesting conventional crops year after year.
In 2015, when we started buying cattle, I came to a crossroad in my life. The company I helped grow into one of the largest futures brokerage firms, was bought out and going through corporate changes. After 24 years working there, I was let go. At that time, I did a lot of soul searching about what was important to me and what I wanted to do the second half of my life. My wife in her wisdom said, “I will support you if you want to go back into the financial industry or work the farm, but you just can’t do both.” At this point in my life, I didn’t want to have regrets about not starting the farm business and letting this dream die. The easy choice was to go back into the world that was safe for me (finance) but I made the hard choice!
In my previous work, the bottom line was always about profit, many times disregarding other consequences by the making of money (like harming the environment, our health, our communities). My work as an organic farmer has changed the way I view business. I may still be a capitalist in some ways, but I have a different perspective. Success is not about “making more money” by exploiting resources. To me, success is being healthy. Having my family, friends, and clients healthy. Success is having a clean environment for my children. Success is deepening our connections to our community..
Our farm philosophy is that we improve people’s health with the nutritious food we grow, improve our soil health and our environment by our sustainable farming practices, and deepen our connection to our communities, then the bottom line will take care of itself, and I will consider myself TRULY successful!
Marisa usually writes about nutrition, grass fed beef, organic agriculture, as well as sharing delicious recipes; Paul writes about farm work- sharing his stories and experiences, and sometimes... we both collaborate on a story!