What are you waiting for?
I just returned home from a morning running errands in town that focused completely around that ever-evolving, still-ambiguous “business” that’s taking shape in my head, on paper, and out in the pastures. Sitting down in front of the computer to eat lunch, I opened up a webpage and an ad popped up on the screen. Big black letters spelled out, “What are you waiting for?” The timeliness of the sentence made me grin for a solid minute before I went back to worrying. There’s been a lot of that lately.
This morning I went to the first of hopefully many meetings with the Farm Services Agency (FSA). FSA was one of many presenters during the Strong Starts, Farm School program through my local ag extension office. The agent for our county came to Farm School with folders full of information and resources, her message specifically geared towards brand new farmers. “We are here to help get you started when you probably feel like there’s no help until you’re profitable,” then proceeded to tick through a list of services available in the form of (low, low, low) interest real estate and operating loans with lengthy amortization terms. I was curious about our eligibility and the actual level of support FSA might be able to offer in the form of both money but also hand-holding, since her presentation focused heavily on the development of business plans alongside the agent. That’s the kind of help I need, badly. I called her as soon as class ended.
I’ve never been to a USDA/FSA office, and my only experience with loans has to do with getting the house and land, meetings that happened mostly at swanky title company office suites. The FSA office seems like a temporary landing space for mostly mobile agents who likely spend much of their time in the field – literally – on ranches. Furnished entirely with circa 1976 furniture, every flat surface was covered with pamphlets and resource material. A gentleman strolled down the hallway with a fresh plug of tobacco in the lower corner of his mouth. He had the distinct markings of a rancher; strong hands, sun-ripened skin and hair, work boots under faded wranglers and a pressed short-sleeved button-up, “Ma’am,” he said with a curt nod, “you been helped yet?” And off we went down the hallway to my agent’s office, a lovely woman with the warmest smile I’ve seen in, oh boy, a long time. The agent doesn’t live in Austin and drove in just this morning to meet me. She came around the table for a firm handshake then sat herself back down at the desk, spreading papers out before her. “Let’s see, Miss Jenna. You’ve got some goats! Tell me about them.”
We spent 30 minutes talking in broad strokes about my plans. She asked me to think in phases; where I am right now, what the big dream looks like, what the middle ground could be. I told her about the fact that I may soon, for the first time, not have a conventional job in order to focus on the plans we just discussed, and she immediately leaned forward, pierced me with two pale blue eyes. “This is a tough, tough time for you, I’m guessing. You are thinking long and hard about stepping out of a career you worked to build in order to do something you don’t know much about. I know this is a scary transition. It’s ok.” Then she reached across the table to pat my hand quickly, and I barely resisted my gut instinct to grab her hand hard, to thank her for acknowledging my tangible fear, to beg for validation that this is the right and best decision. But her hand quickly returned to her papers, and the moment passed before I could turn into a blubbering mess in my post-Eames era, avocado pleather chair. Still, I was grateful for it, however fleeting.
After handing me a pile of homework and discussing a follow-up meeting, she stood up and shook my hand again. “I am so excited for you because I can tell you’re passionate. And that’s why we do this. Because we truly want to help farmers take the very first steps. I am so looking forward to this!” I believed her. I do believe her. It’s not FSA’s responsibility to make sure we succeed, but if they help us in any way, it’s evident they’re invested in our progress – and right now that counts for a hell of a lot.
I floated on the high from that meeting straight to Antonelli’s Cheese Shop where I talked to the cheesemongers about goat cheese, tried a few samples, asked a few questions. I left with a bag full of small hunks of aged and semi-soft goat cheeses and a genuine excitement to start working on more scheming around my plans for this place. Then my phone rang; more news of drama related to my current job. The high from my morning dispersed like a balloon releasing air. White-knuckled the steering wheel the entire 15 mile drive home. Tossed my bags on the counter moodily and turned on the computer, my scowl reflected back from the still-dark screen. Then that ad popped up immediately like divine intervention, a bizarre coincidence, or maybe the universe-come-knocking.
“What are you waiting for?” said the ad.
For better or worse, I find I’m running out of answers.