Perhaps you may have noticed the hashtag “10-Year-Challenge” trending on the various social media platforms lately. Users are encouraged to share a picture of themselves from ten years ago versus one from today, and perhaps comment how their lives have changed in the interim.
I spend very little time on apps like Instagram and even less on Facebook, but even I noticed when our oldest daughter Harper posted a picture of herself from 2011, swinging from a giant maple tree on our farm.
Most photos of 10-year-old Harper were of her back; she absolutely hated getting her picture taken! But this photo is of her proudly showing off a much-loved pastime—swinging from her favorite tree. Our youngest daughter, Margaret, is 5 years old in the photo. She is seated on a small platform my husband Peter had built for the girls, clearly enjoying watching her older sister show off and perhaps patiently waiting for her turn.
There are many things that strike me about this photo and how much our lives have changed in the last ten years. Yes, our daughters seem so grown up now and so young then, but the picture also encapsulates the massive shift that has taken place on our small farm in a relatively short period of time.
You see, we had cut that big old maple tree down five years ago so we could expand our cheese plant. I didn’t know then that our seemingly innocent expansion would be as stressful as it was…nor that it would give us such immense hope for the future of our business. It was a sad day for all of us to see that big old girl go, but it was a sacrifice that had to be made. Now, visitors to the farm can eat an ice cream on the porch where that maple once stood—exactly where that sweet memory was made.
The photo also reminds me where we were financially just ten years ago, and how we were still very much struggling to find our footing as a business. I was selling our cheeses, chicken, and eggs at four different farmers markets every week—not because we were making and selling thousands of dollars of product, but because I had to go to that many markets and spend umpteen hours in an effort to make just a few hundred dollars. Our efforts were showing us a little promise, but we had to work and scrape by for every penny. Looking back, it is remarkable to me that we’ve come so far.
The picture also reminds me of what we have sacrificed over the years, including that big old maple. While the business expansion was indeed stressful, we’ve also dedicated our lives to making a living on the farm, foregoing summer vacations and road trips. Now that our girls are older, I fear we frittered away their childhood while our noses were pressed to the grindstone. The tree and the little girls swinging in her gnarled branches are but a memory.
In spite of it all, I feel great pride in where we are today. I may miss the maple or the little girls giggling on their tree swing, but time marches on regardless of how you spend it. We’ve built something very special, breathing new ideas and life into a beautiful old farm and are now in a place where we can enjoy the moment. Our growing pains are behind us (no more extravagant expansions!) and can now dare to imagine what lies ahead.
Speaking of a 10-Year Challenge, Peter and I have our own little plan to retire in ten years, wrapping up our farm dream in a nice little bow that might be attractive a younger buyer…someone with dreams of their own and the energy to match. We will tidy up that which needs to be tidied, finish projects that need finishing, and make sure our business shows a respectable profit after expenses. My hope is this farm will enjoy be many more decades of love and life. And maybe—just maybe—I’ll get around to planting a few more trees to enjoy before we go and as a small gift for the next generation of little girls and boys.
This month’s article is dedicated to two neighbors that passed away in the last few weeks. John DeHaan bought our farm in 1980 and milked cows here before we bought the place in 2004. For his retirement, he built a cabin on the hillside overlooking our farm and I think got a kick out of watching our sheep and goats while they grazed. Dave Dudgeon lived less than a mile down the hill from us, lovingly tending his flower gardens in retirement. He was always quick with a smile and a compliment on what a good job we were doing. Their presence and support will be greatly missed.