I grew up on a hobby farm with a variety of animals, including sheep, chickens, goats, horses, dogs and cats. We made our own hay and sometimes we hosted a small garden. Living in Milwaukee county, I was considered a “farm girl”. This label can be thrown around quite easily, these days. Many documentaries and songs, alike, speak of, and often idealize, the farming/country life. As sustainable living and gardening are becoming more popular, it would appear the actual full-time farmer is not necessarily all that modern-day culture imagines him (or her) to be.
My husband and I had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Connie and John Mahoney of “Gallatin Grown” in Manhattan, Montana. My desire to get their perspective was inspired by the short film, “Age of the Farmer” done by Spencer MacDonald and Eva Verbeeck
The short film talks about the average age of farmers in Canada being 65. In the U.S the average age of farmers is 58, and according to the US census the average age of farmers has been increasing steadily through the years. The idea of younger generations taking over the family farm has, in many situations, declined. However, Connie and John are a young couple (28 and 31 years old) with an 8 month old daughter and an 8.5 acre vegetable farm.
“After John and I got married, we lived in Crested Butte. When the opportunity came available for us to take over part of my dad’s farm, I didn’t want to do it. I fought John for a long time.” -Connie
John, who had no experience with farming and ranching, but a genuine love for all things outdoors, was completely enthralled with the idea of a job that allowed him to be outside. He told us that he had a desk job in Colorado and yearned for the opportunity to work in the open air and raise a family in that “wholesome” sort of setting.
Connie, who had grown up in a farming/ranching home, was more accustomed to the lifestyle and totally uninterested in returning. However, lots of prayer and John’s abundant excitement eventually gave her peace and willingness to give the farm life another try.
The summer they moved in was, “the summer of tears”, as Connie explained. “There were so many frustrations and so many things to learn. We had a steep learning curve, and I was very grateful to those who were patient about helping us through it”.
The theme that was especially apparent to me was the hard work that goes into a farming lifestyle. John shared his feelings about the misconceptions he had before he started in this line of work. It was an extremely hard adjustment, both physically and emotionally. John started working on his own land, while also putting in hours with 2 established farmers, as a farmhand.
“I definitely had some romanticism for what I thought it (farming) was. You’re working 14-16 hour days, in the sun, 6 days a week and even doing some work on Sundays. It was hard learning the disconnect from the work. Even right now, I feel like I should be outside working. Learning how to shut your mind off from this sort of work is really difficult”
Not only is the work load a struggle, but in this career path, there are so many things over which there is no control. The weather determines much of a farmers life. John explained that you can work for weeks and have everything done “right”, and all your efforts can be destroyed in a 20 minute hail storm.
Another challenge for John and Connie was recognizing that while their favorite pastimes used to be very active, like mountain biking or fishing, now their everyday work was so physically demanding, they often did not have energy for the recreation they used to love.
While the struggle is significant and very real, there is always a silver lining. Gallatin Grown has a great reputation and their produce has been abundant. In their very first year they had 40,000 pounds of carrots! In addition, they talked about how the challenges and unknown territory drew them closer together as a couple. John mentioned that they learned to really enjoy the small moments, like when Connie would bring lunch out, and they could eat together, in the midst of the craziness.
John smiled when he said, “You also get to see a lot of rewards, you get to see what you grow and you get to see your handwork pay off, and that is exciting”
We ended up spending a good chunk of the morning with Connie and John, as they were so easy to talk to and so transparent about their journey in the agriculture world. It should be noted that currently, Gallatin Grown does not use a permaculture farming technique. They are organic and do not use any pesticides, however, their layout and manual labor is conventionally based. Overall, they put in many hours of hard work!
I took a few really important lessons away from our time together.
- Our culture can tend to romanticize the “good old days” and “working in nature” without actually being fully aware of the struggles that come along with manual labor and gaining one’s income from the earth, itself.
- I also learned that a good farmer MUST be a good marketer. One of the biggest learning curves for Connie was finding markets for their produce. She needed to learn the language and understand the system before their quality produce could be shared with the communities around them. Knowing how to sell is of utmost importance.
- Finally, I learned that there are a lot of flaws in our current farming system. The politics, the government control, the corporations, the education…much of it needs to change for the success of our agricultural communities. There needs to be more cooperation between neighboring farmers and less governmental hoops to jump through, so that small farmers do not feel pushed out or forced to join a system they do not agree with.
I loved seeing our generation in this farming game. I loved seeing people who care about the way they grow and the people they sell to. They gave me a very realistic look at what a modern day farmer has to go through. Of course, we believe that permaculture is a very different farming technique that changes the environment and the work load drastically, but I was so encouraged to see a young family in this line of work! They reminded me that while we are very excited, our own journey in permaculture design and work, may be quite different than originally expected. It is important, as an entrepreneur and a farmer, to be prepared to adapt and accept the good and the bad.
A special thank you to Connie and John for chatting with us and for your genuine hearts and positive outlook! If you want to follow this farm you can check out their website here, or check our their Facebook page here.
We do not know what the future holds for Connie, John and their baby, Hazel Grace, but we know that “Gallatin Grown” has made a significant mark in the Bozeman, Montana area, and this amazing brand will continue to leave its mark on the lives, and in the bellies of many grateful hearts.