“When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.”
Wendell Berry, “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front“
(Yes, that’s the second time we’ve quoted that poem this week.)
“Work for nothing. Take all that you have and be poor,” is a sentiment completely at odds with the American Dream. Perhaps no one takes this idea as seriously as sustainable farmers. While the rest of us are working hard to earn cash to get “further ahead’ in life, this ragtag group of farmers is changing the world, feeding their communities, protecting the environment, and often going broke doing it. I’ve talked to farmers all over the state—young and old, beginning and experienced, wealthy and poor—they all echo the same sentiment. You will never get rich farming unconventionally… in fact, you may loose the shirt off of your back.
Growing food to feed your neighbors is sacred work, so why are the people doing it going without? Many of the farmers I meet can’t afford routine vehicle maintenance, which is a necessity when driving older vehicles as they do. They don’t have health insurance, which is particularly frightening with the dangers inherit to farming. People may think it’s some sort of trendy statement for farmers to dress in thrift store threads, but the reality is they must invest money in the farm rather than their own wardrobes. I’ve talked to farmers who actually cannot afford to eat the food they grow, because they need the cash from sales to make farm payments. Even in a downturning economy, land prices are still so high that those who want to farm can often not afford to buy land, leaving them in tenuous lease agreements that can end on a moment’s notice.
Enter my friends at Rough Draft Farmstead. They were one of the early farms in my Young Farmers series, and I know that many of you fell in love with them as I did because you’ve told me so. Hannah and Jesse are a fantastic young farming couple who have traded in lives as city dwellers to pursue the ideals of Wendell Berry—nourish the people, protect the land. They also happen to be eloquent writers and talented artists. Their blog is captivating, and Jesse is also an ongoing contributor here at SK.
Hannah and Jesse did everything that you should do when starting a farm—long internships, intense studying, careful planning. They skipped a traditional wedding, choosing instead to elope so that more money could be diverted to their farming endeavors. Despite their best efforts, they have had arrangements to farm land fall through twice now.
But they will not give up. They take what they do very seriously. At this point, there is no going back. They’ve committed wholeheartedly to this lifestyle and everything that entails—including a commitment to living simply.
They’ve finally found a place that will be permanent. The farm they interned at, Bugtussle, is selling them a small piece of land to start yet another draft of their Farmstead. (I think is a reflection of Hannah and Jesse’s outstanding work ethic and integrity that the farmers who lived and worked with them for so long would invite them back to their property to stay.)
The only thing is that they need a place to live. While I have no doubt they would be happy to pitch a tent and slowly build some rustic shack over the course of a year (because that’s just how they are), they’ve set the bar a little higher by hoping to build a simple off-grid cabin for less than $10,000.
Their plans to pay for their cabin, however, are quite unconventional. Already broke from having twice started over, they need an influx of cash to get the farm going. Since their lives are so far off the beaten path anyway, why not try something a little crazy? Hannah and Jesse are going to crowdsource their cabin. They’ve called on their friends, fans, and supporters to make small donations to help them reach their goal of $8,500 to fund their project.
You might be thinking, “Why didn’t I think to ask everyone I know to pay for my house?” I can understand that perspective, but I feel like Hannah and Jesse aren’t just asking you to buy wood for their home. They are asking you to make an investment in what they are doing, in this idea that new farmers can make something work when everything is set against them. Perhaps there’s a deeper point here as well: if all of us were willing to live in homes that cost so little, maybe we could all chip in as communities and help young couples get on their feet?
Hannah and Jesse are taking a brave new path that could be a future model for other farms and sustainable organizations to follow. Consumers have crowdsourced books, movies, food trucks, and household gadgets, so doesn’t it make sense to crowdsource a farm? Especially in a world where grant and other funds to farms are rapidly dwindling, shouldn’t we be putting our money where our values are? Much like an Amish barn-raising, we can support those in our community—even if doing it online is a little bit unconventional.
There are incentives, too, for those who back the campaign, including dinner at the farm once the cabin is complete, some of Hannah’s amazing artwork, and more. Because I truly believe in Hannah and Jesse and what they are doing, I am taking some of my most valuable space—a blog post here—to tell you that every little bit helps. If every reader of Sustainable Kentucky donated just $5, Hannah and Jesse would have the money for their cabin and then some.
I wish Hannah and Jesse the best on their new endeavor, but I also want to offer something of my own. I am often contacted with inquiries about advertising on this site or perhaps seeing if I could visit your sustainable farm or business to write about it. As an incentive to encourage donors for Hannah and Jesse’s campaign, I’m extending the following offer:
*Any business or farm that donates $50 or more to the Rough Draft Farmstead campaign will be listed in our monthly newsletter for November—just email your donation receipt and business name/website/Facebook page to email@example.com. You will also be listed as a post sponsor when I go visit Hannah and Jesse’s completed cabin! (No guarantee when that will be except to say it will happen eventually.)
*Any Kentucky sustainable business or farm that donates $500 or more to the Rough Draft Farmstead campaign will receive a post on Sustainable Kentucky, including a complete interview, pictures, Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest promotion of the post, etc. within the next 6 months. I will cover all travel expenses to and from your business. Please note: to be eligible for this promotion, you MUST email me before donating to be sure that your business/farm aligns with our values and is appropriate for a site post. (I don’t want to bore my readers with something unrelated to their interests!) I only have limited post allotments and time in my schedule, so I will limit the number of these available if there is excessive interest, so you MUST email me first at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Okay, now on to the fun: check out the Rough Draft Farmstead Indiegogo campaign to make a donation or leave an encouraging comment. Connect with Rough Draft Farmstead on Facebook to keep up with Hannah and Jesse.