In Defense of Quitting

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As with most weekends this time of year, I found myself at a potluck surrounded by many farmers and many beer cans.  We all introduced the new comers to the area, did the obligatory complaining about the weather, and got down to the business of catching up with each others operations.  One farmer there described his very difficult last year.  Through a series of unforeseen circumstances these new farmers have been moved off of the land they had been leasing for the last 4 years.  Overall they lost a couple of buildings, the pizza oven, and the veggi washing station, but most importantly, they lost the nutrients and husbandry that they put into that acreage.  This was and is a devastating blow.  As we continued to sit and sip we talked about this year and how they are handling the sudden loss. They have already scrambled, found new land, set up their irrigation and are ready to take on another year.

I do admire their tenacity and drive but as I was listening to this story I couldn’t help but think about myself and what I would have done. Simply put, If I was in their shoes, I would have quit.  We as farmers and Americans can at times be independent to our detriment.  If things are not working out, if you are not happy in what you are doing, or are unable to support yourself then why continue?  There are two major factors that affect our decision to quit.  Below is a passage from the Freakonomics Website outlining the two major factors in people not quitting.

“To help us understand quitting, we look at a couple of key economic concepts in this episode: sunk cost and opportunity cost. Sunk cost is about the past – it’s the time or money or sweat equity you’ve put into a job or relationship or a project, and which makes quitting hard. Opportunity cost is about the future. It means that for every hour or dollar you spend on one thing, you’re giving up the opportunity to spend that hour or dollar on something else – something that might make your life better. If only you weren’t so worried about the sunk cost. If only you could …. quit.”

The feeling is that you cannot quit because you have put too much time into the project.  This is not considered a productive way of assessing success.  In fact, this concept can actually worsen your situation by directly affecting the other cost associated with quitting.  Opportunity cost is the cost of not spending your time on something else.  This could be a quality of life issue, or it could be a monetary issue.  Basically you have to ask yourself if you could be meeting your goals if you switched and found something else to do with your time.

But then there is that pesky feeling of passion.  Many of us are passionate about what we do in the world of farming and the thought of leaving something behind looks like a failure to us.  Passion and drive aren’t everything.  No matter how much I want to, I will never be able to raise a family of Wookies at my home.  This is something that I am very passionate about, but the resources I would invest in this endeavor could be spent in more productive wasy that may make me some money and possibly make the world a better place.

So what does this mean to you the farmer?  Try new things, learn all that you can about them, and see how they complement your current model.  The most successful businesses are constantly evaluating when to start something and when to quit. That doesn’t mean you have to drop everything but maybe reevaluate and consider what parts of the business you could jettison to stay solvent.   I think that maybe if we stopped using the word quit we could get more people to consider it.  What if we just said evolved?  After all, that is ultimately what you are doing.  The past doesn’t disappear when you stop working on a project, all that you have learned and loved is still with you ready to be called up and applied to your new work.  Last year I evolved from a operation that was pretty good at raising a variety of animals to butcher and sell to consumers to being really good and really focused on one type of livestock.  I quit, I evolved, and I hope that everyone that needs to can do the same.

For those of you who are currently seeking land for farming or someone to come and farm your land we urge you to take a look at the Hudson Valley Farmlink Website.  This organization combines the strengths and talents of many satellite farm land access organizations in the Hudson Valley and beyond.  This is a great place to get your dream off the ground and begin your own process of evolution.

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