You don’t know what you don’t know

Recently I talked to a woman who had zero experience with country living and farm life. In all seriousness she asked me, “Is it sort of, kind of like that show Green Acres?” I paused before answering, waiting for (what I hoped was going to be) a burst of laughter before she declared “Just kidding!!” but she never said that, just blinked at me with wide eyes, waiting for my response. She was a nice lady, but here’s a pro-tip from me to you: never say $h*t like that to someone in the thick of it on a farm. And by “thick” I mean literal shit and I mean mud and I mean life and I mean death. Don’t. It’s not like Green Acres. Not even sort of, kind of. Unless you count that time Jer and I split a box of wine at midnight while installing IKEA shelves in the dairy to a soundtrack of Michael Jackson. That was as close as it gets. Sound fun yet?

My god I love my babies and I love this farm, our broken house, this land that is slanted and impossible, this fickle clay dirt under our feet that is useless, this rain that comes in torrents or never comes at all, these dark nights that cover the horrific brutality of predators until morning, these thorns that pierce the soles of my animals’ hooves, these snakes that steal our eggs, and I love the dairy that is so close to ready but already requires so many improvements. All of it, I love it. But all jumbled together? It can feel like a colossal mistake.

There has been no time or energy to write here, I am writing now because it feels necessary to document the distinct moment I can pinpoint the realization that I truly did not know what I did not know when I blindly and enthusiastically stepped away from my career and stepped onto this path. I did not know. I thought I did, but I did not.

These are not words meant to discourage – my god no. They are simply the best advice I can give if you are considering something drastic, moving from hobby to business on the back of something as uncertain as agriculture. Wrap your arms and mind around every variable you can find, and then embrace the fact that you will never (never) find every variable, until it finds you.

Then be fierce in defending what you do know that you know. That you love your babies, and your farm, and your broken house, the wild variations in the weather, the impossible slant of your land, the fickle dirt that sometimes will/sometimes won’t be steady under already unsteady feet, the gorgeous brutality of predators doing exactly what you do each day – only difference is their greed is primal. Aren’t we all just trying to grip life by the throat? And if not, shouldn’t we try?

I know this is hard, but I also know it is good. There is nothing like spring time on a farm, in all its pulsing, oozy glory to make a person feel tired, bruised, hungry and alive.

Green Acres? Only if I look comical but pretty while wiping goat placenta off my face. So then, sure – sort of, kind of.






  • Francesca

    April 21, 20169:38 am

    Yes just yes yes yes and yes. I know we’ve had this conversation, where someone says, “You’re living my dream” and all you can think is that either their dreams are incredibly, vividly effed up or that this person has zero idea what they are talking about.

    I went to lunch at the country cafe the other day wearing a shirt spattered with slaughter blood and flood mud on my face. I didn’t even realize it until I went to the restroom, and even then I was so hungry and exhausted that I barely cared.

    I still wouldn’t trade this for anything. I still love it out here, but the fantasy and the reality diverge at some point and never the twain shall meet again.

  • Cami

    April 20, 20168:48 am

    This is very good! Can I share it on Ask The Farmers?

    • jennakl

      April 20, 20168:49 am

      Thank you! And yes, please feel free to share :)

  • Cody

    April 20, 20168:45 am

    I think that’s why a lot of new farmers leave the lifestyle so quickly. Television has sort of romanticized farming, or at least made it look easier than it really is. Just last week I stopped at the gas station for some beer after a really hard delivery that resulted in two dead kids and one that was barely clinging to life. The attendant was like do you know you have blood all over your face? No, no I didn’t, but I’m not surprised

    • jennakl

      April 20, 20168:52 am

      Damn, that’s brutal Cody – I’m so sorry. But that’s the most accurate picture: blood on the face, not knowing, not caring, just getting $hit done and drinking a beer at the end of a hard day. I think you’re absolutely right about it being romanticized. Absolutely. Right.

  • Meg Wittenmyer

    April 20, 20168:18 am

    I hope non-farmers somehow get over here to read this. Luckily, I live in farm country (Wisconsin) and my friends and neighbors here understand how hard I am working to get our creamery operational, not as quickly as I’d hoped, but soon. Very soon. You couldn’t have explained the lure and love of farm life better and I wish you such amazing luck with your dairy and cheese making ventures. I am right there with you!

    • jennakl

      April 20, 20168:29 am

      Oh Meg, thank you for this note!!! I am cheering you on down here in Texas. Slow and steady…it will happen but never on time, never on budget, never soon enough. Wishing you all the best on your journey!

  • Kyle Seipp

    April 20, 20168:18 am

    Well said! And an apt description of the emotion when you hear an innocent…but face it…asinine question like that! I am not even sure that if you were able to carry around and que the studio recorded laughter on demand that the MPAA would still give a rating of below R for some of the shenanigans (or at least on my part vulgarity!) of farming and ranching.

    “All of it, I love it. But all jumbled together? It can feel like a colossal mistake….Aren’t we all just trying to grip life by the throat? And if not, shouldn’t we try?” – best line and sentiment! Pardon the overly cheesy cliche’ and quote (because in all fairness it wasn’t mine!) but ‘dreams don’t work unless you do’ – bet that wasn’t on Green Acres!

    • jennakl

      April 20, 20168:26 am

      Oh my god – I get to hear from Joe AND Kyle in the same day?! It feels like Christmas! Thank you for this note, buddy. Most of farming would definitely earn more than an R rating – it’s unrate-able :) And damn that’s a good quote. You actually have no idea how badly I needed to read that this morning. Wishing you all the best of the best.

  • Joe Young

    April 20, 20161:08 am

    Keep at it JKL. You are definitely not Mrs. Gabor, but you are experiencing every lovely thing that a farm can throw at you. It is a tough life and it takes people with a lot of character and will to succeed.

    I believe you have those qualities and you will do well. You can always go back to UT. JY

    • jennakl

      April 20, 20168:28 am

      So, so lovely to hear from you Joe, and THANK YOU for the kind words, although you’d have to drag me kicking back to the “system” :) I hope you are doing very well!!