I’ve never been a fan of New Year’s resolutions. Perhaps it is because I’ve tried them in the past and failed miserably—usually a quiet promise to myself to loose “some” weight or get “more” exercise that never saw the light of February. We all want some vague improvement in our lives and the turning of the calendar is as good a time as any to make big promises to ourselves. Of course, I know very well how and where I got off track on these past resolutions: They weren’t specific; they were often made quietly to just myself; and they ultimately weren’t important enough to me for whatever reason. It’s this last bit—making resolutions based on what is truly important to us—that will determine the success of our resolution in the long run.
So, what is important to me? Because of my age, our farm business, and my interest in local food, my list is pretty specific. But perhaps you may feel the same way about some of these because they are important to you, too…
1. I want to spend more time with family and friends. This past year was perhaps the worst yet in the family and friends department. The farm was too busy, our farmer’s market schedule too hectic. I missed two family weddings. My husband’s and my parents aren’t getting any younger. My nieces are growing up too fast; my daughters barely know their grandparents. Friends that live just minutes away may as well be in another time zone. We need to figure out how to balance life and work—a difficult proposition when the farm needs us 24/7.
2. I want to work smarter, not harder. Farming is clearly a physical job and takes its toll on a body. Ask any dairy farmer how their knees are (or when they’re getting new ones), and you’ll get a chuckle. Ask any vegetable farmer how their back is holding up and you’ll get “the look.” Whether it’s talking to other farmers, reading the latest research, or taking an online course, we can look for ways to make difficult jobs a little less so. Maybe it’s rethinking overly repetitive jobs or trying round bales instead of square…there’s always room for improvement in this department.
3. I want healthier, happier animals that make me more money. That may sound weird…aren’t farmers always trying to make their animals healthy and happy? And what about that money part? That sounds kind of…greedy, perhaps? Happy, healthy animals are easier to care for. They have fewer health problems and are more cooperative, making life easier for the farmer. And all farmers know that happy animals will perform better. Happy animals affect your bottom line—that line that says whether you made any money last year or not. There are always ways to improve the lives of animals under our care, be it slightly better ventilation in winter housing, sand for the cows to lie on, or a well-designed handling system.
4. I want to spend less money. There is no end to the long list of items and projects that a farmer can legitimately spend gobs of money on. And I mean gobs of money, on legitimate expenses that either keep the farm running or make life better. Just look at the first three resolutions on my list: We could hire more people to allow for more family time; we could buy big equipment to make our jobs easier; and we could buy the finest in animal feeds and housing to make our animals happy. But…we still need to make a living from farming and every expense takes away from the bottom line. As in years past, we will again agonize over every farm purchase, weighing the benefit versus the cost and calculating how long it will take for the item to pay for itself. Making the farm profitable means spending less money than we take in.
5. I want residents of the Mohawk Valley to value their friends and neighbors, their community, and their locally owned small businesses—to be “Mohawk Valley Proud”. OK, so this is a terrible resolution because I have zero control over it. But it is important to me, perhaps the most important of all. Why? Maybe it is because I am a transplant to this area—a born-and-bred Wisconsinite that didn’t grow up here—and I find the local psychology so interesting. There is a definite “have versus have-not” mentality of Upstate versus Downstate…a jealousy or even (please forgive me) an “ugly stepsister” attitude that pervades the Valley. It absolutely confounds me. There is so much here to be proud of—it is a beautiful area with enormous potential and wonderful people. And isn’t it our collective attitude that ultimately defines our reality, making the world around us better—or worse?
What if this was important to all of us? What if this was THE resolution we ALL made and took everyday steps to ensure it came true? I’ll do my part by patronizing locally owned businesses, by eating at locally owned restaurants, and by eating seasonally and shopping farmer’s markets. I will recommend local businesses that support their community to my friends and neighbors, especially restaurants that buy from local farmers and stores that purchase from local artisans. And I will let everyone know—far and wide—how fortunate I feel to call the Mohawk Valley my home.
If you are thinking about your New Year’s resolutions, decide what is truly important to you first. The resolutions will write themselves and will have a greater chance to succeed. Happy New Year!