The reason we do this

The reason we do this
A walk with the Coys

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The fear of failure in farming. Courage is the most valuable commodity.

Despite my fears of failure, I have in the past faced them, crossed the river and shown courage can be attained.  I have always wanted a farm since I was a little girl.  My parents raised me in the country and that planted the seed of agricultural love in my heart.  I wanted more.  I wanted to own and operate a farm that would be able to not only sustain, but provide a profitable avenue for future growth.  I could visualize my operation, but I had very few fiscal resources to start my venture.  When I say very few, I should specify; I had no savings.  What I lacked in funds, I more than compensated for in drive and passion.

My father, mother and grandfather all could see the passion that I had for my dream.  It was also no longer just me reaching for this goal; my new husband shared the same vision and passion.  Together our enthusiasm was contagious.  As Gus Lee describe courage, we too “boldly stood for the principles” (p. 40) that are found at the heart of agriculture.  Because of our passion, our family chose to put their collective resources together so that we could put a down payment down on a farm.  My grandfather then agreed to act as the bank for the rest of the amount.  An amount was set that we could manage and we began to search for properties for sale/ for auction.  Soon after, with their support, we owned a farm.   It sold at auction for the exact amount that we pre-determined could be feasible.   Albeit a rundown, uninhabitable one, but nonetheless it was a farm. For the next two years we lived with my parents, gave birth to our first daughter, and completely gutted and renovated the farmhouse.  During this time, we stared at possibility of failure many times.  But, together we crossed the river, and then two weeks later, found ourselves looking at the same turbulent waters in our journey.

Although the lesson of nothing ventured, nothing gained has been learned and lived in my life, there was a time when my courage withered and a great opportunity for our farm was missed.   There was an auction of a parcel of land that was a stones through from our new farm.  This property was an ideal addition to our pasture; however we were still thick into the renovations of our home.  The voices of doubt and the fear of failure were fresh in my mind when I went to the auction.  I knew how much I could spend on the property, theoretically.  However, this figure would also max out our credit limit and leave us in a situation where we had no more liquid capital to continue the house project.  I went to the auction.  I was alone.  I was young and inexperienced.  I had never purchased land on my own.  I was afraid.

The auction began, and there were very few bidders.  I timidly raised my number and it was quickly countered with a higher bid.  Voices of doubt rang through my mind, fears of failure swirled around me like a whirlpool instead of a mere river of fear.  Trembling, I raised my number again, and again, and again. In the end, I was in fact the highest bid, but before the gavel went down, I retracted my final bid.  I had the land, for a mere $1750.00 an acre and I let it go.  I gave in to fear.  I cannot ever take that moment back in my life.  I understand what justifications I used that day to back out. Ultimately, I allowed fear to govern the decision, and it resulted in an astronomical loss of potential to our farm.  That land value has since skyrocketed since the discovery of deep shale gas and oil.  We could have paid for that land several times over with lease money and significantly added to our grazeable land. However, I have learned and allowed that experience to shape subsequent decisions, specifically one that is eerily similar.

Once we moved into the house, the work of restoring the farm began.  We had to choose what we wanted to raise.  With little agricultural experience, we decided to watch the markets and compare those details with the land resources that we had at our disposal.   The fear of the investment of our meager savings was gut-wrenching.  We chose to purchase three heifers.  I talked to as many people as possible, and found the cheerleaders for starting a first generation farm are few and far between.  This being said, we began to hand select who we surrounded ourselves with for counsel.  These people helped us continue to face the fears of failure.  They also reminded us that the premise of risk and reward analysis is important, but sometimes bold moves need to be made in order to make strides towards success. 

Life does not often give us opportunities for redemption in a similar form that it was originally presented.  Nevertheless, the good Lord had determined that the classroom of life was ready for another lesson, and it was about to be determined if I had paid attention the first time through.  Did I learn how to mitigate fear?  Did I learn to cross the river of fear and to have the courage to make bold decisions?

As I pulled into the driveway one day, a sign caught my eye.  It was an auction sign for the property directly across the street from our farm.   I had been pining for this immaculate hill for years. Twenty acres of the most beautiful, pristine grazing ground and it was going to be for sale.  It was going to be in the same uncertain climate that the other land, the fifteen acres that I had let slip through my fingers, was in.  My heart sank.  I would not get it.  It would go for too much.  The fears started bubbling up.   But the words of Eleanor Roosevelt give an ideal frame of reference for this moment in my life. She said “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face” (p 43).  I was going to push back the voices who scoff at the idea of my dreams, go to those who have been proven counsel and follow my dreams. 

I prayed; I prayed for clarity, for discernment, and for the courage to have some very gutsy conversations.  My steps seemed clearly placed in front of me, but this was my fight alone. I went to work and called the land owners.  I asked: how long ago had they signed with the auctioneer?  Was there any way that they could cancel the auction? In a perfect world, how much would they need to get for the land to fulfill their needs?  Fortunately, they had just signed with the auctioneers and these folks were old time farmers who would love to see this land be used for agricultural purposes.  However, I needed the capital to make the purchase and banks were not an option.  I talked to my father, but he was unable to help at that time.  Fear and doubt started to creep back up, but I chose to continue the search.  I contacted a friend of the family who was a diversified investor.  The pitch was made, a verbal agreement was made and I convinced the land owners to pull their land out of the auction all within a two hour time period.  Professionally, it was the most courageous moment in my life.  I was shaking that night when it was done.  Adrenalin, I am sure played into that.  Was that me making those calls?  Did I really have the courage to make that happen? 

Since that time, the property value has increased with the oil and gas boom, and we have been able to roll that back into the farm.  Jim and I completed the fencing project on “the hill” and this past fall our cattle herd grazed that land for the first time.  I know that I will continue to struggle with my fears of failure.  However, with wise counsel, God and the faith that I am holding fast to high core values I believe that our farm will continue to thrive and grow.