Starting another post has proven difficult. What should I write about? My last post, I am a farmer, I let it all out. Walked out into the light and revealed what was devouring my life for so long.
I don't think I have another one of those types of post in me. Not today. Maybe never.
What do I have today? More than I deserve. My life is full. Full of love, creativity, wonder, laughter, and work. Not work like most people in this world. I am not punching a time clock, picking people up in my car or worried what my boss thinks of me. But I work. To quote, that orange bag of hot air running for president, Believe Me, I work, believe me. I am going non-stop. Aria and I both. Day and night making this dream of ours come true.
Maybe, the dream is the wrong word. I don't think we are dreaming this up, it feels more like this thing is coming to life. It is a living entity. Yes, we are laying out roads, planting the fields and building structures, but this thing we are calling Noci, is more than that. It seems to be breathing, it is learning to walk and finding its voice. It is deciding what it wants to be.
But like any living thing, it needs help. That is where the work comes in. Aria is at it all week on what dishes she will make for our members. What needs to be growing in the fields, what ingredients does she have, what flavor is she after, how will it look, what goes with what, where will we be eating? Worry, worry, worry.
Will we get the buildings up in time? Will there be a bathroom soon? Will we have enough funds to feed this thing and allow it to grow into adulthood? Or will we have to put it down prematurely?
Aria, I love her. She is a force.
She worries, laughs, loves, and nurtures. She is the perfect wife and mother. She isn't only the mother of our children, in many ways, she is the mother of this place.
I, on the other hand, I am the father.
Stubborn, single focused, not worried, logical, messy, nurturing, in my way, loving and always going.
I have my hands on everything. If it has to get done. If it has to get created, dreamed up, designed, moved, planted, dug, purchased or organized, I do it. Day, night, rain, in the wind, out in the blistering sun or whatever.
We are both living in this soupy mess. In our own ways, we both understand what it takes to give birth. It seems to take forever, it is a strain on your physical body and after a long wait, it will want to come out into the world, When it does, it is going to hurt.
Aria really knows what it is like to give birth. She has done it twice in the last five years. With our daughter, Siena, she did it without meds. She pushed and yelled for what seemed like forever and just when we all thought she had no more to give, she mustered the strength to complete the job. Out came Siena, into the light, into the world. I have video, it wasn't pretty, it hurt, it hurt a lot. She is a tough bitch. If she can push a human out, she can sure the fuck, birth Noci.
Of course, birthing Noci isn't like birthing a human child. It is more direct. Everything has to be thought about, created, grown, cared for and then built.
The Voice In My Head
My entire life, there has been this voice, guiding me, poking me, pushing me forward. A faceless voice coming from deep within. My primal core brain talking to me. The voice of reason.
Lately, that voice, it has been saying only one thing. Spring is coming, Spring is coming, Spring is coming ......
I find myself talking back to that voice. Softly repeating, yes in five months it will be Spring. I have time. In five months it will be Spring, I have time. But my own voice just fades off into the darkness. Of course, I am just talking to myself, like Mr. Robot. So I already know the truth, I am already behind.
The voice is just warning me to get my ass in gear, don't daydream, don't let things slide, don't take things for granted. Five months on this farm, is nothing. It might as well be five weeks. It is going to drive over me like a freight train. If I miss a window for planting, I am screwed. If I plant and bugs eat it, I am screwed. If I grow the wrong things, I am screwed! If the entire farm isn't planted out and starts looking like the Noci Sonoma in my head, I am screwed. We won't have a second chance. This Spring is it. Spring is coming....
Of course, I have help. Aria, the building crew and the farmers. I have a team of five farmers. Five eager, helpful, dirty, exhausted, hardworking farmers. Leading them is Lacy our Director of Growing. She is new to farming, but not to running a staff or keeping things organized. Lacy was the general manager of La Crema, one of the largest wineries in Sonoma. She is amazing and I am grateful for her, but she isn't me. She can't see what I have in my head. She is doing her best to make us professional. I am doing my best to make us unique.
We need to be something different, a place people around the world will talk about, dream about and want to come to. It has to be magical, something modern, something completely different. We are not just growing plants, we are not just designing a garden. We are growing an idea. We are growing a business.
Let us be honest. Farming is a business.
As much as people now days romance the idea of farming, for the farmer it isn't that romantic. Everyone wants to buy food on the cheap, even the high-end restaurants. No one is ready to pay the real cost of growing food. I think small farms especially have to re-think what the farming business is. What it could be.
This includes Noci. We have to rethink farming.
I was having a chat with Michael the other day, one of our farmers. We were talking about how challenging farming is. Especially small farms like ours. The standard business model just seems broken. As a farmer, you have to spend all your time planning and buying shit. You have to buy your seeds, hire your crew, work the soil, build your soil, fight the weeds and grow your crops. Then at their peak of ripeness, you have to somehow harvest them, clean them, pack them up into a truck, go to a farmers market, set up your stand, put out your veggies, and then hopefully, hopefully, sell them. All the while, you are competing with the farmer next to you, your friends and the grocer down the street, selling the exact same things. Your crops become a commodity. Just another thing. Nothing unique.
At the end of a long day, you pack back up what didn't sell, fold your tent, and toss everything in the truck. When you get back to the farm, your unsold product goes into the compost pile or you feed it to your chickens. Maybe you pulled in $500 or $1000 that day. Maybe you sell 50% of what you grow. Maybe you make a profit. Maybe.
Farming is expensive. Unless you are a one-person show, you have to pay someone to help. There is just too much to get done. If you pay your crew a living wage in this area, that means, your paying $20 or more an hour, plus health insurance, plus other expenses. Or maybe you are housing them and feeding them in your home to help bring down the cost.
Now that is just the people. The farmers also need a lot of stuff to work your farm. Tractors, tillers, mowers, weed whackers, chainsaws, seeders, greenhouses, pots, soil, compost, shade clothes, row covers, buckets, hoes, shovels, farm trucks, seeds, you get the idea. A lot of stuff.
All of those things add up. It adds up to a big fat zero if you can't grow enough or sell enough. It adds up to a business I don't want to be in. Who would? It is worse than the restaurant business. Another intensely high cost, low return business.
You start a farm out of love, not for the money. Unfortunately, we don't have the luxury of farming purely out of love. We have to make this work and work big.
So, that voice in my head, it has been talking to me for a long, long time about this farm, this place and it has some ideas.
Maybe we burn the playbook and make up our own. We change the focus of the game. Forget about selling things we grow. Forget about going to the farmer's markets or selling to restaurants. Forget about joining all the other farmers and competing for the same customer with the same product. That is what my voice is telling me.
Instead, it says, give it all away.
Grow everything. Wildflowers, cut flowers, berries, mushrooms, apples, plums, mint, artichokes, lettuce, asparagus, broccoli, rice.. anything and everything that seems fun or beautiful. Grow an environment, an experience, a garden, a place. Not a farm.
That is the plan. That is the idea the voice talks about in my head. Create a farm that isn't a farm. That doesn't charge for the things it grows or makes, but charges for access. We won't have to harvest, clean, or package. Our members will pick their own food, they will walk the farm, they will discover what is ready, what calls to them. They will gather their own flowers. They will spend time connecting with the land, and yes, they will happily pay a fair price in advance.
Well, that is if we make it more than just a farm. We have to build a place that inspires. A place filled with art, delicious foods, and buildings to explore, to enjoy. A place you want to share food with friends, a place you dip your toes in the cold waters running through the meadows. A place where kids can eat straight off the vines and chase a chicken or frog. A place that never leaves them. A place that calls them back each weekend and each Spring.
How do I know all this is true?
Because we have already begun selling this idea for the last few months. The farm isn't done, we are not ready, but we have already started to sell this idea to the early adaptors. The brave ones who stopped by our little farm stand and listen to us talk about what Noci will be, not just what is here now. In just over five months we have signed up over 100 members. In the past three months, we started selling our unlimited membership. Those members come every weekend. They show up in the heat, the wind, and the rain. They grab a basket, a pair of clippers and head out into the gardens. Yes, our weedy gardens. It is working. The idea is solid. At 500 members, we will bring in over $100,000 a month. Over 1.2 million a year. I believe we will reach that goal easily by mid-Summer 2017. I believe we are on to something new.
If you want to make millions from a small patch of land, you better do something unique, something different. Your farm better call to the people. That is what is on my mind. That is what I have to get done in the next five months. Spring is coming and I need to grow a place, not a farm.