4 'rules' before you farm or move to a small town
This past week, I was given the opportunity to be the opening keynote speaker at the Women in Agriculture in Arizona conference in Tucson, Ariz. As is often the case, I speak about my life experiences and the lessons I've learned along the way that have developed my character and career.
As a single mom in my early 20s, I wanted to be on the farm with my parents. For one year, my parents let me live with them during a difficult transition. However, before I could move back to the farm for good my dad established four "rules":
1. Get a college degree. (I was partially finished with a bachelor's degree at this point in life.)
2. Work for someone else.
3. Have my own source of income.
4. Have health insurance.
By age 25, I had reached these milestones. I had a college degree and a job that included a salary and health benefits. The job offered the flexibility to work from the farm. I rented out the home I owned in Fargo, and my son and I moved to the farm.
I met my husband and married a couple of years later, and life took a different direction. I never became a full-time farmer, but my dad's "rules" have served as an insightful foundation for the past two decades.
My dad encouraged my husband to leave the comforts of his corporate sales job to return to rural America to work and eventually own his family's lumberyard and grow a home building business. My parents walked a similar path, and their insight and direction gave my husband and me the confidence to make the leap to become rural business owners.
Agriculture and rural America need a next generation. Not one situation is alike. My dad's rules were specific to my situation but correlate well with a quote he often says: "If it is to be, it's up to me."
Completing my college degree with $14,000 of student loans and then working for someone else, who wasn't a relative, taught me self-reliance.
My dad also says, "A little knowledge is dangerous." As a young 20-something, I didn't really know what my path forward should be, so moving back to the farm seemed like the safest, most comfortable route for my son and me. I didn't have the knowledge or experience to successfully work and live on the farm. My off-farm experience paved the path for my career growth. Looking back, I can see how my career has taught me about risks and decision making while giving me perspective on the management decisions my parents make today on their family farm and my husband and I make in our small-town business.
I've heard young people in agriculture say they need mentors. More than mentorship, though, they need hustle, desire and drive. Mentors will give you a chance and guidance when they see you working to get ahead in an industry you love.
Often an off-farm job is going to be a part of the equation to help an individual or family achieve their agriculture or rural business goals. While I'm a rural business owner alongside my husband today, I'm not involved in the daily business routine. I have another job, working for Agweek, which aligns with my passion for agriculture and career goals and adds value to our rural family life.
You don't have to approach your future in agriculture the way your parents or grandparents did. If you are willing to work and hustle, whether or not you have on-farm experience or an agriculture degree, there are opportunities waiting for you in farming and ranching and the growing ag industry that supports it.
Is agriculture a way of life? Yes — but it's most importantly a business. Get some additional training. It doesn't have to be a four-year degree or a doctorate. It can be a nine-month plumbing program, a two-year mechanics program, a dental hygienist degree or something else that interests you. Your additional training and education can be your ticket to a stronger rural and agriculture future for yourself.