“I’ve never said this to anyone out loud, but I have always wanted to be a farmer.”
That sentence was the first step – of many – on the path that brought our family to Braham, Minnesota. Let me begin at the beginning, for people who might not be familiar with our story. Chris and I were born in the same hospital, 51 weeks apart, in Woodland, California. We went to the same preschool, elementary, junior high, and high school (back in our day, there was only one of those in town). We don’t need to get into details, but it is safe to say that Chris and I have been a very important part of each other’s lives for a very long time. I knew early – as much as any 10 year can know such things -that he was the one for me, without a doubt. Junior high and high school brought all the awkwardness that you can imagine, but we ended our public school career on a high note at Senior Prom together. At the end of the college years, I had a Bachelor’s degree and a couple of teaching credentials, Chris had almost 10 years of experience in the construction industry (he started young, in a family business), and we were married.
During the first seven years of marriage, we plugged along like most normal, young couples do. We bought a house, had two beautiful daughters, and kept our noses to our respective grindstones at work. By 2014, though Chris had made the leap from bags-on-everyday tradesman to an office and fieldwork leadership position in a new, higher-end construction company, he was unhappy and unfulfilled. Our conversations had not yet turned to farming, but were focused mainly on questions like, “What if you go out on your own?” “Do you want to work for [competitor]?” “What if you went back to school?” While these conversations were infrequent – we had no real reason to be unhappy, with our two healthy babies and all our local family and friends – they were distressing, because they seemed so completely un-solveable. While he truly enjoyed and cared for the people he worked with, Chris was frustrated with several aspects of his job (all of them too mundane to list) even though it paid him a wage that let us live comfortably within our means. It would be irresponsible, Chris argued, to leave his job, throw all financial security and future savings away “just because he was feeling whiney.”
In contrast, I have always absolutely loved my job. Teaching is what I have always wanted to do; I have loved every teaching position and every teaching staff that I have had the pleasure of working beside. On every staff, I connected with what have become life-long friends. This dichotomy of feelings made our conversations that much more difficult. It was painful for me to see Chris dreading every Monday morning, grinding through every work day, and cringing every Sunday night. While, as I said, life was full of positives, and we were without major dilemmas, I knew that this situation was not a long-term livable one for our family.
Then, one night somewhere between the births of our second and third daughters (life gets a little muddled in the memory when you have three under six), Chris uttered the words above. I am sure I sat quietly and waited for him to expand on his thoughts before I jumped to comment, and I am sure that whatever I managed to say had no real substance to it whatsoever. Again, I was probably a little short on sleep. However, over the next few years, we took this seemingly hair-brained and as-yet unexplored thought from a wild idea into a plan. Chris began to research sustainable farming, we watched horrifying documentaries like “Food Inc.,” and I began to steel myself for the prospect of leaving our friends and family to live where it snows for a large portion of the year.
Chris’s newfound information about grass-based farming helped us narrow our search to areas with a certain climate; we needed to be somewhere where it rained enough for grass to grow without irrigation. That ruled out the entirety of our home-state, California, (which, to be honest, was already ruled out because of budget) and most of the west. We looked briefly into areas in Oregon and Washington, but again, budget and land prices made those plans impossible. At the end of all of Chris’s research, all of our discussions, and all of the budget scenarios, we were left with three states on which to focus: Iowa (our long-held romantic favorite), Wisconsin (Go Pack!), and Minnesota. In fact, I distinctly remember the evening that Chris casually dropped, “You know… what about Minnesota?” into our nightly farm-dream chat. The response I gave – without waiting – is one for another blog post.
As our geographical target became more focused (at most an hour away from the Des Moines or Minneapolis airports), we realized that sifting through real estate listings and wikipedia pages would only give us a superficial feel for any of the areas we were looking at. We needed (farm) boots on the ground to decide if we were really going to make this leap; in January of 2017, Chris and I planned a reconnaissance trip to the midwest for that summer. We would fly into Des Moines, rent a car to toodle around the small-towns of Midwest America (in a generally north-easterly direction), and we would fly home out of Minneapolis. We were confident that we would be able to choose an area to move to in 2018. With plane tickets paid for and babysitting arranged, we relaxed for a couple months.
However, if we were to make all these farm dreams come to fruition, we were going to have to begin to make some serious, permanent decisions. Our first appeal for outside counsel, other than to our families, was our realtor. The conversation that we had with him is one that changed – or at least dramatically sped up – the path to Yellow Hutch Farm. We spoke with our realtor about the prospect of selling our little, finally-fixed-up starter home. “The market is hot right now. We can put it on the market and get it closed in 30-45 days if you want to.”
Needless to say, our reconnaissance trip turned into a “holy-shit-we-might-buy-a-farm-this-summer” trip, and we were off and running. All the details and feelings about moving 2018’s plans to RIGHT NOW are best saved for another day, but it is safe to say that after our four-day, three-state, seven-farm trip, we are certain that we chose the right place for Yellow Hutch Farm to be. We are so glad you’re on this journey with us, and we can’t wait to see what the future holds. ~Lauren