Welcome back to another edition of the Art of Manliness Podcast!
In today’s podcast we talk to Forrest Pritchard, farmer at Smith Meadows Farm in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. He’s recently published a book entitled Gaining Ground: A Story of Farmers’ Markets, Local Food, and Saving the Family Farm. An enjoyable read — made me want to cash out and start a farm. Forrest and I discuss his story of how he saved a farm that’s been in his family for eight generations using sustainable farming practices. Even if you have zero interest in becoming a farmer, this is a great podcast to listen to — one of my favorites.
Highlights from the show:
- How Forrest decided to become a farmer
- His early obstacles as a farmer
- The differences between typical farming and sustainable farming
- How sustainable farming made his hog pen smell like maple syrup
- The turning point in his farming career
- His daily routine
- Lessons regular guys can take from farming
- How you can get started with farming
- And much more!
We’re also on Stitcher!
Gaining Ground Book Giveaway
If you’d like to get your hands on a copy of Forrest’s book, Gaining Ground, we’re giving away a signed copy to one lucky AoM podcast listener. To enter, simply leave a comment below your thoughts on the podcast.
Deadline to enter is Friday, June 14, 2013 at 5PM CDT. We’ll then draw a random comment to select the winner.
Read the Transcript
Brett McKay: Brett McKay here, and we welcome to another edition of The Art of Manliness podcast. Well, I don’t know about you guys, but every now and then, I have this dream or fantasy that of going out to Vermont, buying some land, and becoming a yeoman farmer, you know. To me, it sounds really cool, but if I’m honest to myself, that’s never going to happen. But today’s guest actually did that. His name is Forrest Pritchard. He is the owner of Smith Meadows Farm, located in the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia. This is an eighth generation family farm. This farm has been in his family for eight generations, and he just came out with the book called Gaining Ground, and it’s basically his story of how he saved the family farm, because before he took it over, it was in pretty bad shape, and on the verge of being sold, and he decided to change directions in his life and become a farmer. So today, we’re going to talk about his story and we’re going to talk a bit about his book Gaining Ground. So listen it.
Well, Forrest, welcome to the show.
Forrest Pritchard: Hey, thanks, Brett. I’m honored to have anything to do with The Art of Manliness. Thanks for inviting me.
Brett McKay: Well, you’re very welcome. You’re a farmer, which is a manly profession, goes back thousands of years, so it’s very appropriate that you are on The Art of Manliness podcast. Let’s talk a little bit about your history before we get into kind of what your book is about. Your farm that you run at Smith Meadows, this is seventh generation farm, right, it’s been in your family for seven generations, a long time. You grew up on this farm working on it with your grandfather and your dad to extent. When you were a kid, was farming something you saw yourself doing like when you were in high school, like, yeah, I want to be a farmer, were you ready to get out of town and head to the big city?
Forrest Pritchard: What I wanted to do more than anything when I was a kid was be a superhero. You know, I wanted to be Spiderman, and I thought my cousin, Peter, was a luckiest guy on the planet, because he had the first name like Peter Parker.
Brett McKay: Oh, nice.
Forrest Pritchard: And I was stuck with this crummy Forrest which didn’t serve me till Forrest Gump came along like 30 years later whatever. But now, I mean, you know, I think– in the book, I mentioned at one point like I was playing Star Wars as a kid, and everybody in our generation, and you know, now more generations are going to play Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and A Team, and all these iconic shows of our childhood, but I don’t think there was any accident, you know, like Luke Skywalker, you know, George Lucas wrote that character as a farm kid, you know?
Brett McKay: Hmm, yeah.
Forrest Pritchard: The farm kids are dreamers, and farming can be like you know pretty confining field where dreams can sometimes be squelched or made to fit inside a box. So I was lucky as a kid, I wasn’t made to do farm chores, I wasn’t like, you know, now you are five, go and make some hay, that kind of thing.…you might be driving this tractor by now. I was given a chance to be a kid. It was not to say, like you know I didn’t participate and I didn’t grow up on the farm and I wasn’t out there all the time, because I was the barefoot, Huckleberry Finn kind of kid to run around the fields, but I was also allowed to like have a childhood, you know, have an ability to kind of have fun as a kid, so. I mean I think probably more than anything kind of being given that freedom by my elders to be respectful about childhood period and value it, led me to want to farm. Because then I was able to not feel like miserable, not feel like encumbered by a bunch of chores, and I didn’t have that Luke Skywalker feeling where it’s like, you know, Luke, go clean the moisture vaporators, oh, you know, I want to go play with my friends kind of thing.
Brett McKay: All right.
Forrest Pritchard: So, yeah.
Brett McKay: So, yeah, you wanted to be a superhero, so like, yeah, farming really wasn’t, it wasn’t pushed on you, right, I guess.
Forrest Pritchard: Right.
Brett McKay: But when did you decide like farming is what you wanted to do, I mean, that’s a big decision because a lot of people who are listening don’t know like farming is an expensive job. There’s a lot of expenses that go along with the profession.
Forrest Pritchard: Right.
Brett McKay: So how did you decide that, you know, make that leap, I mean, did you feel called to it or was there was some moment where like, yeah, this is what I have to do?
Forrest Pritchard: I think it was definitely a bit of both. There is an undeniable sense of stewardship that’s just kind of handed down, and you don’t have to spend long, being around the farm, and you and I were talking earlier about your feelings like when you go to visit Vermont for example, like there is just something and you stepped into this small farm town and this area of sustainability and seasonality that just resonates. It’s hard not to feel that resonate, I mean unless you spend your whole life in Las Vegas or something, I don’t know. Like where you have to live, apologies to lifetime residents of Las Vegas, I just blew it.
And the other side of all that is when you’ve got this kind of like cultural resonance on one side, but then you are like 19 or 20 years old, you think and you know what are you going to do with your life or you’re going be in English Major, you go to law school, or you are going to dropout and cook hamburgers and you’re driving down the road and you see farms literally that you grew up seeing all your life or you visited when you were a forager or you went over to your friend’s place and played in his barnyard, and they’ve been bulldozed straight down to the ground, okay? And I’m talking about late 80s, early 90s, in the Shenandoah Valley, the farms were not being saved then. Farms were being pushed out for housing developments, and that’s just a really tangible kind of visceral thing that hits you in the gut, you know, you drive into town in one direction, and by the time you bring your errands and you come back, the barn that you’ve seen there for your whole life, it’s gone. It’s just like there’s dirt and there’s people. So, it doesn’t take a huge stretch of the imagination to say, look, could that be our place, we’re not doing so well, I hear my parents grumbling over the bills and grandpa is gone, and he was the last person to be farming. What kind of creative person you had to be to say like, the writing might be on the wall, if we don’t do something.
Brett McKay: Yeah that was interesting how you are talking about how– just like bulldozing land, right, like putting development on there like shopping, but yeah, it’s the sense of place, right? Like you feel connected to the land.
Forrest Pritchard: Right.
Brett McKay: Even here in Tulsa, like, just in the past few years I’ve lived here, there’s been a lot of development, you like see it go up and like I know yeah, you feel like a part of you is missing, because you see this like beautiful land that was once there not there anymore.
Forrest Pritchard: Exactly. And there is something about this. It kind of makes me say like how, like well, you know, like, okay, but it doesn’t feel like really good, okay sometimes, sometimes it’s like, really? Like that’s what’s happening with that farm, like it’s turning into like another subway, you know five-dollar footlongs. Okay, well, here we go, and there is going to be a parking lot. But you know, at a certain point, like how many battles, how many battles can we take, how many battles can we win, and you have to say like look I’ve got this family’s farm, I can’t save family farms everywhere, but I can give a try on my own land, and that’s kind of like, I was 20, 21, that’s pretty much like what I was feeling.
Brett McKay: Yes, at 20, 21. So were you done with college, or you were still in college at this time?
Forrest Pritchard: Yeah, I was still in college when I was struggling with some of this stuff. I ended up majoring in geology because I went to liberal arts school and they didn’t have an ag or environmental track, so geology started to resonate with me and so I studied and, yeah, that’s definitely where my interest started to go about that time.
Brett McKay: Right. So you mentioned the word when you were talking about the type of farming you do, you do sustainable farming. For readers who aren’t familiar with it, can you just briefly describe the difference between sustainable farming, what you do, and typical industrial farming that goes on?
Forrest Pritchard: Sure, sure, sure. Yeah, I’d be happy to. And just, you know, kind of like a Webster’s definition, of sustainable farming, you know, the word sustainable means not to repeat the word in definition, but it sustains, it sustains itself, like it’s kind of a self-perpetuating mechanism, and for farming, that is, you know, it’s commonly associated with organics and local and non-use of chemicals and things like that. But sustainable isn’t just about production methods, it’s about finances and the economics of things too. The overarching theme of sustainability is to not only grow things in a way that nature provides the sustainability, but the economics are sound, they’re plausible, and they are repeatable.
So getting back to your question, like basically what we do, is we do have an organic model where we don’t use any commercial fertilizers, we use no antibiotics, we use no hormones, and we market our food locally to customers that really care about the stuff, they care about were the animals raised humanely, is this money that they are spending going back to green space, is the dollar is going to be reinvested in the local hardware store and the local feed store and stay in this area.
And, you know, I want to back up one second and say like I’ve got no bone to pick with the other side, with conventional agriculture. Nothing in my book is about like this side is right and the other side is wrong. Basically what we do is, we offer people an alternative. So what the alternative you growing up that I saw to what I do now is how most of our food is still raised in this country. I mean 97% and onward of the food that you get at McDonald’s, or Safeway or Wal-Mart or wherever you shop, is raised with chemical usage, confinement, feed lot practices, animals that are strictly grain-fed, and then fed antibiotics as a byproduct of grain feeding, food that has been literally trucked thousands of miles, with a plume of diesel smoke behind it, and a little bit of that might seem like kind of ivory tower and kind of oh, well, there’s is an organic farmer sitting on his soapbox kind of thing, and like I get that, like, you know, when we are disconnected from our food, it’s hard to say like, is organically better or conventionally better? Well, I’m not trying to persuade anybody like to eat organic or to eat whatever they want. But when you stood on your family’s front porch on a failing farm, and you’ve been raising corn and soybeans conventionally, which I did about 15 years ago, and you get handed a check for 18 bucks, okay? Like your whole harvest gets turned over and you get basically a $20 bill for a year’s worth of work, man, you know, that’s going to cause anybody to rethink things , and that’s exactly what happened to me. That persuaded itself. I required no additional persuasion.
Brett McKay: Yeah, yeah. So, talk about a little bit I mean – back up here. So, you guys primarily raise livestock, right? Is that your kind of the main…?
Forrest Pritchard: That’s right.
Brett McKay: Okay.
Forrest Pritchard: Yep.
Brett McKay: I mean what are some of the benefits of the meat or the products or the – I don’t know what you call it…
Forrest Pritchard: Sure.
Brett McKay: …of doing it sustainably and what are some of the difference between cows who are grass-fed between cows who is corn-fed?
Forrest Pritchard: Of course, yeah. And I should back up a second because you just kind of sort of answered my question for me. I said we raise livestock, what we really do is we raise grass on our farm. We are a pasture farm and like why am I going to put like big asterisk neon lights over top of this is because everything that we do on our farm goes back to sustainability. And like if people out there listening, you know, just think about you lawn for example or the park that’s in your neighborhood. There is grass in the park, okay? Like how does the grass grow? Let’s just break it down real quick. We got sunshine, we got rain, and we got soil fertility, okay? And we can go out and put some Scotts Miracle-Gro on stuff, okay? But like how many $20, $50 bags of Scotts Miracle-Gro can we sustain, okay? So then it gets back to like issues of sustainability, and what we got is a built-in natural system where we take free sunshine, and we take free rain, and we couple that with natural soil fertility that’s just like available to us.
And that’s really challenging how we can argue that that’s not a self-sustaining system. I mean that’s the circle of life in a nutshell right there. So, what we…
Brett McKay: Yes, it’s like I could go on forever, right?
Forrest Pritchard: Exactly, exactly. That’s my whole point. So, some of this is like some bigger picture shanking to get down to like what ends up on your plate, when you shop at a farmers’ spot, when you take home like grass-fed ribeye steak or something, okay. Yes that’s delicious and you like you got to talk to the farmer and everything everybody feels like warm and fuzzy for a minute, but we can like really go backwards and like trace this and say what is the root of sustainability here pun intended, because the root, you know, it’s roots down the soil.
So we are going to take a grass-fed animal, the grass-fed production model, and we’re going to compare that with a grain-fed model and the contrast is very stark. And not, you know, not to be like a Debbie Downer or anything.
Brett McKay: like wah wah..
Forrest Pritchard: I’m not interested like I said… yeah, exactly.
Brett McKay: Yeah.
Forrest Pritchard: What I mean, you know, far more eloquent people and I’ve spoken about this and the internet has got ten million and one images of animals in confinement. And all you have to do is test this with your nose, okay? Have you ever been driving on the interstate highway, and all of a sudden, you know, listened to radio and everything is great, and you just catch a whiff of something and you’re like, uh, what, you know, what is that smell?
Brett McKay: There is a big, yeah, like one in Amarillo, right outside of Amarillo, Texas, whenever we’d go to Albuquerque to see my grandpa it was the worst smelling thing. It was like you had to hold your breath for five minutes.
Forrest Pritchard: There is something wrong with that, Brett. Okay, I want your listeners to like think about that for a second, like why would we smell something like rotten in our refrigerator or like something dead, do we like recoil, like on kind of like on a molecular level. We’ve been just kind of for generations been taught like that bad, this good, you know on the kind of caveman species, you know, like don’t eat, eat this.
Brett McKay: Yeah.
Forrest Pritchard: So, when we have to drive down the highway for like five miles with the windows rolled up and the air conditioner on full blast, because it smells so bad, just imagine if you were in those animals or one of those people working in that field where there is ten thousand, thousands animals standing and they are on excrement and being fed grain that has been trucked from North Dakota down to Texas, and a trail of this stuff, and there is no sustainability when animals have been– they’ve evolved to eat grass. There is no explanation for giving them a monoculture diet of just pure corn, and quite frankly, their digestive system were built against it, which is why antibiotic use is almost mandatory in a confinement system. So, I’m going to step off my soapbox for a minute and catch my breath.
Brett McKay: No, yeah, yeah, well, it makes sense, I mean, yeah, it is unsustainable I guess, right? It just doesn’t make any sense. Here you feed in this grain, like their bodies not I guess really designed for, so as a consequence, you have to give them more antibiotics, which probably isn’t good for the person eating it. Like, I don’t want to…
Forrest Pritchard: Precisely.
Brett McKay: I think that actually is– getting this back to like the manliness thing, I think I read studies about how the hormones in some grain-fed beef can affect testosterone levels…
Forrest Pritchard: Of course. See soy is loaded with estrogen.
Brett McKay: Yeah.
Forrest Pritchard: Okay? And you know what’s the coincidence when we got a bunch of 10-year-old boys running around and we kind of say to myself, my God, that kid need to grow up. I mean, I’m not joking. I mean, you don’t have to like the left wing and inorganic lovey-dovey to be like, you know, what’s going on with some of these kids.
Brett McKay: Yeah.
Forrest Pritchard: So, there is a direct consequence between what we are putting in our food and filling ourselves with, okay. And if you are going to fill ourselves with things that comes from natural soil like our ancestors ate, this is where like the whole Paleo…
Brett McKay: Yeah.
Forrest Pritchard: …eat like a dinosaur and all the stuff, you know, it resonates…
Brett McKay: Yeah.
Forrest Pritchard: …I think.
Brett McKay: For sure. One of the things that stuck out to me the most, not the most, but was interesting you started raising hogs or pigs, and I found fascinating is that…
Forrest Pritchard: Sure.
Brett McKay: …the way you guys do it. Like, there is a system that you guys do, right? And what I found is that, usually we think of pigs, like, oh, they’re just like wallow in their own filth, and like they enjoy being…
Forrest Pritchard: Sure.
Brett McKay: …but you found that like the pigs actually they go to a place to like do their business, and…
Forrest Pritchard: Right.
Brett McKay: …and they come back somewhere else, and actually like raising pigs isn’t very stinky, actually smells kind of sweet if you do it right.
Forrest Pritchard: Exactly. Our pigs smell like maple syrup.
Brett McKay: That was the most bizarre because that is so counterintuitive because I think, oh, you raised a pig, which is like sitting in its slop, which is nasty, why would you want to eat that, even though I love bacon.
Forrest Pritchard: Yeah, well, I mean if we give a pig, no choice, but to sit on its own slop, that’s where it’s going to sit.
Brett McKay: Yeah.
Forrest Pritchard: But do we have the courage and the wisdom to say like, okay, let’s give this pig some different choices, and be able to have like the patience, you know, to talk about like some positive male attributes, you know, wisdom, courage, and patience. That’s a pretty good platform right there, and to go back and say like look, let’s watch this pig, let it express itself, is there some way that we can reach an intersection of the pig being able to like express its pigness, okay, and us being as farmers, to be able to say like, look, we can raise this animal sensibly at the same time. And that’s going to be a win-win. That’s going to be a pig that’s probably going to grow more quickly. That’s going to put out much more flavor for me by being able to like eat the minerals of the soil and mineralize its body, which it cannot do by the way by just eating corn all day long and living in its own filth. And it’s going to create a sustainable story for people to come out like visit local farms, see this, smell with their own nose, nothing, they’re just going to smell fresh air, which is what you expect to smell when you go to a farm. People go out of the country to smell fresh air. They don’t go out there to smell hog excrement.
Brett McKay: Yeah, yeah.
Forrest Pritchard: Okay. And, you know, all this stuff just gets back to like what can be sustainable. Now, don’t get me wrong. The truly sustainable animals I see on our farm are grass-fed cattle and our grass-fed sheep, because those are animals that are either eating clover, eating diverse grasses, and that’s a closed loop of sustainability. Our pigs and our chickens are omnivores, so we do give them some choice grain as a component of their diet. But that– all goes back into a circle of, okay, we’re producing some products, and their manure, which is able to be naturally distribute across the pasture, because we will take the pigs across pasture, but intensively from the management standpoint goes back to doing what? Fertilizing the grass, for the cattle, for the– so just kind of how we…
Brett McKay: Just being economical in every aspect.
Forrest Pritchard: Yeah. I mean, we can go out with tractors and get chemical fertilizers and ring up big bills for ourselves and by the way you have to fill up the tractor and repair it when it breaks down and put it in a barn for 11 months out of the year when it’s not being used or you can run a bunch of pigs out there, that will taste fabulous when you put them on your plate. It’s a humane way to treat our animals, whether you are vegetarian or you are an omnivore, far most humane in the way most animals are raised. And at the end of the day, the manure doesn’t even have to be cleaned up, it just goes around to the pasture, and it fertilizes the grass.
Brett McKay: It’s awesome. It’s the circle of life. It’s a beautiful thing.
Forrest Pritchard: Yeah. What can I say, I didn’t invent it, I’m just participating.
Brett McKay: Yeah. All right, so you decided to get into farming, you’re going to go the sustainable route, but this wasn’t an overnight success, right? This was rough going in the beginning. What were the biggest obstacles at the very beginning of your journey to become a sustainable farmer?
Forrest Pritchard: Oh, man. That one– I don’t have to think about that one. It was a negative peer pressure.
Brett McKay: Yeah.
Forrest Pritchard: Like, all the voices– I think I put that right at the end of Chapter 1 in the book. It’s like this is what all the voices were trying tell me when I get that I check for 18 bucks, you know, like, you can’t do it just– like it’s God, okay, you had a few months to like dig around on the farm, now get yourself a haircut, and a polo shirt, and go get a job.
Brett McKay: Yeah.
Forrest Pritchard: And that wasn’t just all my friends who were a generation before would have been young farmers and were now put on khaki pants and finding jobs in Washington DC, which is about an hour from our farm. And that was other farmers, okay, saying that, I mean they were, you know, they were discouraging because for – all through the 1960s or 70s, the 80s, commodity prices were just going down, down, down. I’m not making this up, you can pull up umpteen charts on this, where commodity prices diverged from the cost of living, okay? It’s just a big, greater than symbol, commodity prices kind of flat lined and trickled down in one direction, and the cost of living went up, and the gap in between is that V-shaped diagram keeps growing over the years. The gap in between becomes insurmountable the bridge, okay. And by 1996, when I was standing there looking over our farm and thinking about becoming a farmer, the gap was just about as wide as it had ever been. So, needless to say that I could not find many farmers in my area that were like, let’s sign you up pal.
Brett McKay: Yeah.
Forrest Pritchard: Get your straw hat and overalls and gets you started. They were like do anything but farm.
Brett McKay: Yeah.
Forrest Pritchard: So.
Brett McKay: Yeah. And I guess too, you talk about commodity prices, a lot has to do with subsidies, right, farm subsidies, and that’s part of the problem, a lot of farms that used to grow diverse products, produce animals, because that wasn’t where the money was at, they started diverting all that land and resource to soy.
Forrest Pritchard: Of course, soy, corn, bean, wheat. Exactly.
Brett McKay: And so, yeah, I guess that’s like that was the way you’re supposed to do it. So I guess when you came along, said, hey, yeah, I want to like feed my cattle grass and I want to– I got an orchard, I want to try doing some stuff there. People were kind of like, a lot of the farmers were like, what planet are you from, son or…?
Forrest Pritchard: Brett, I literally got laughed at, at one point, okay. I write about a little bit and you’re still like one of the things that makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck from like, you know, kind of the indignity of it. I still like have take umbrage.
Brett McKay: Yeah.
Forrest Pritchard: You know, it’s like I’m serving at this party, and I’m working as a caterer to like– not as a caterer, as a server for a catering company to help pay my bills while I try to farm. This is like my night job, I’m serving like cucumber sandwiches to people. I’m at this party, and I’m telling these farmers in a 30-second little break like what I’m up to. And they literally, after I get them telling them that I’m going to sell grass-fed beef and take it to farmers’ market, and we are going to get like local customers, they turned to each other and made eye contact, it’s like one of those moments where they just couldn’t help, but laugh. But we’re going to laugh first and there’s like burst into laughter, and I must have turned red from the tips of my ears down to my toes, so.
Brett McKay: So, what kept you going? I mean, through all these I mean, like from the book, it took a while for you to like even start making a profit and the profits you made were very small 18 bucks, right?
Forrest Pritchard: Yeah, yeah.
Brett McKay: Tell me what kept you going with all the negativity, and I mean just like the lack of resource, I mean what kept you going?
Forrest Pritchard: Right. You know, if we think about farming, you know, farming and writing both are not really notorious for being great careers from the financial standpoint, okay. This is the reason why people go to law school and medical school and all these things. So, I had help from both my parents. They realized that they could not farm, okay. Again, keep in mind this is late 70s, early 80s when stock market was doing very well and the economy was going strong, and all this stuff, but commodity prices were just in the toilet.
So both my parents, they were not farmers. They both had off farm jobs in Washington DC and another local big town. So, when I came along, like there was no logical way for me to say like I’m going to make a living here, until I had enough time to like either figure it out for fail trying, like fail nobly, okay. Like you gave it hell to go, you know, it has been four years, and you know, it’s not working out kind of thing. So, I’m just constantly grateful for my parents to like believe in me. And what greater honor can anybody have than like your dad, who is working a desk job in DC, say like look son, like I don’t really think it’s going to work out, I don’t think I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but like I love you man, you know, I’m going to stick behind you as long as you keep going. And, you know, in a lot of ways this book was kind of written in gratitude to that spirit. It’s just a spirit of something bigger than yourself.
Brett McKay: Yeah.
Forrest Pritchard: That’s the best way I can describe farming. It’s like a commitment to a faith, a faith and spirituality that’s just bigger than any of us.
Brett McKay: I love that, I love that so much. It makes you want to do farming right now. So you’re a big success now, all right? You had a book.
Forrest Pritchard: Oh, yeah.
Brett McKay: The farm, it’s thriving. I mean it’s like you have multiple streams of revenue coming in. I mean it’s like a little corporation almost, right? What was the tipping point for you? Was there a particular moment or were there moments for you like, man, yeah, this is working, I can make this a success?
Forrest Pritchard: The moment once when I got interviewed by Art of Manliness for a podcast was living history folks.
Brett McKay: Yeah.
Forrest Pritchard: Oh, man. Like the easiest way I can answer that is like an overnight success after 15 years. It’s like, okay, this guy is a success, right, overnight. Just overnight, over and over over again. Like the biggest thing I can attribute any of this to is like my customers believing me, okay? Like in the acknowledgements, I say thank you, that’s the last thing I say to my customers. And like nothing I could have done, could have happened if my customers didn’t say like, look, there’s this 25-year-old guy, he is on the back of a pickup truck, he’s wearing a bandana and a t-shirt with no sleeves on it, like, who in their right mind would buy like frozen ground beef on the street corner from like a human that look like me?
Brett McKay: Yeah.
Forrest Pritchard: Okay? Like if they didn’t have like a greater mission about what they were about and what did they value. And my customers just bring me their values, and that’s like the humane raising of animals, about like the organic, growing practices, it’s about like they really want to support small family farms that are just like with transparent growing practices. They value the fact that they can sit in their car and drive out to my farm, and just like able to walk around, helping the barn doors. And they are not going to see like there are chemicals, like I’m keeping like in the back of the shit. You know what I mean. It basically all comes down to people believing you, and after a while, you have enough people believing in you, then, yeah, you start to rock and roll a bit.
Brett McKay: So, what’s the typical day on the farm like for you? Is it really like what you read about in those books or you grew up watching old movies where you wake up at 4:00 in the morning, I mean is that what it’s like, what kind of walks through your day?
Forrest Pritchard: Sure. Yeah, I’m not exactly sure what a typical day really after 17 years of farming. There is some routine and we do– we attend seven farmers’ markets in Washington DC every weekend, that doesn’t mean like from May through October, that’s year round, okay.
Brett McKay: Wow.
Forrest Pritchard: We have a year round food platform in the form of livestock. It’s got the seasonality to it, don’t get me wrong, we don’t raise our chicken for example in the summer time when the grass is, our meat chickens I should say. But everything else, even our laying hens, you know, I’ve got dozens of pictures of chicken down the snow even after year after year. So like what’s a typical day aside from our weekends, we attend farmers’ markets, Monday through Friday, it’s going to be like just absolutely fraught with variability. It could be anything from putting up a new fence to taking a chainsaw out to a tree that just fell on the new fence, you know. It can be changing the oil in our truck as preventative in our 13-year-old farm truck to finding out that because we didn’t change the oil, like the head gasket went on it, now we got to get the truck to the shop. You know, this morning I worked a bunch of sheep, plant herbs, checked the parasites, fixed a flat tire on a livestock trailer, and picked up my farmhand for lunch, because the truck was our commission and like ran him over to where he lives. That might not sound very like romantic, but that’s like my typical day man. Work with livestock, checking on pastures, making sure stuff isn’t broken, and fix them.
Brett McKay: Well, you sound, yeah, much manlier morning than I do, like I went to the post office and I went to office depot.
Forrest Pritchard: I think I like the post office.
Brett McKay: And I bought some envelopes. So, it’s not very manly. I need to– you make me feel inadequate.
Forrest Pritchard: Well, that’s not intentional for sure.
Brett McKay: Yeah.
Forrest Pritchard: I love to get envelopes man.
Brett McKay: Yeah, who doesn’t? All right, so people who are listening to this podcast, and are like, man I want to eat a pig that smells like maple syrup.
Forrest Pritchard: Okay.
Brett McKay: I want a cow, like I want to support this sort of sustainable farming, I want to read the benefits of this. What can these people who are listening, these guys who are listening, what can they do to support sustainable farming?
Forrest Pritchard: Right. The best answer I can give to that, like the easiest answer is, and it’s easier than ever frankly, is know your farmer, okay? Know your farmer. Like anybody that’s out there who is listening right now, tell me who your farmer is, like who is it okay, like who is your doctor, okay, who works in your office, you know, who is your kid’s soccer coach, you know, like why do we know all these names and faces, when we don’t know who our farmers, okay, or our farmers, plural.
So the easiest thing to do is go know your farmer. Where do you find the farmer? You find them in the farmers’ market, okay? You find them through CSA, which is an acronym for Community-Supported Agriculture or Community Subscription Agriculture. You can find them through buying clubs where someone in your neighborhood is like, hey, I know like you’re too busy to like go out and find your farmer, so like I know this person, I’ve been out to their farm, I’m going to like pull a bunch of food because I’ve got like a 20-cubic foot chest freezer, you know, and a big refrigerator in my garage that I’m not using and we’re going to have like a drop off for this farmer.
Brett McKay: So you can go to a farmer, like say I want to buy a cow, all right, like if you wanted to?
Forrest Pritchard: Yeah, yeah, sure, and that’s like a fourth option. Like my greater point is like there are myriad options, and I’m not like blowing smoke, like these are real things, okay, like farmers’ market is one in an economy for the last 10 years where all you hear about is like a bad economy. It is like both the … gridlock, they get the economy going. Well, guess what? Like farmers’ market in the past 10 years had gone from something like 500 nationally to like 7000 or 8000, okay?.
Brett McKay: Wow.
Forrest Pritchard: And that’s growth like any industry will be incredibly envious of, and this isn’t like let’s make some more widgets in Hong Kong, okay? We need more action figures because Star Wars has a new movie out. These are like family farms. There’s like strapping it up saying like, look customers really finally give a damn about the food we’re eating. Now, we are going to take to the farmers’ market, and what we and customers have to do is say like, yes, thank you, we’re going to show up, we’re going to buy this food, we’re going to create a relationship with this farmer and get to know in and out of this one farmer, like in the whole market full people, and like get behind the stuff.
Brett McKay: That’s awesome. So just get out just find a farmer. That’s it. You put him in your Rolodex or your iPhone.
Forrest Pritchard: Sure.
Brett McKay: I know people don’t use Rolodex anymore.
Forrest Pritchard: Yeah.
Brett McKay: Awesome. So, there’s probably some guys who are listening to this like me, who I’m talking to and like may I want to become a farmer, I’m not sure that’s doable right now, but this is a young guy who is like, you know, he is 20. He was the age that you were when you decided I want to become a farmer. Any advice that you can give these guys who are considering this career? In fact, I think you are actually writing a guest post for us about, so.
Forrest Pritchard: Right, exactly. So, yeah…
Brett McKay: Just kind of the CliffsNotes version I guess.
Forrest Pritchard: Yeah. And I’ve touched on a bunch of these subject within the podcast, but yeah, like the– kind of like the CliffsNotes version of top ten rules of like starting your own farm, number 1 has to be stay out of debt, okay, like what is it about our culture that one should take shortcuts on everything, okay? We want to like get to the finish line first, we want to win the videogame first, we want to have like the most likes on Facebook, okay? Slow food, local food, organic farming, has nothing to do with shortcuts. It’s like the anti-shortcut, okay?
And what we do as a culture is we say like look I really want that $600,000 house, and man, I need it now. You know, I need it with a swimming pool, I need it within like a 40-minute commute to my house, because all live in city, but I really want to have this house, so we finance with that. And then guess what happens in 2008, in 2009. Okay, the chicken, you know, to borrow farm analogy the chickens came home to roost okay, and we all got in trouble. And this happens over and over again in farming, because there is so much variability with the weather, with prices, with our own personal energy levels, with unexpected calamities, health problems. I mean, just the list goes on and on and on, and you can’t have any of these things in farm successfully, like you can only farm where everything is successful, where everything is going right. So we have to assume that lots of things are going to go wrong which is, where I get down further in the post and say expect to fail and accept failure, like value failure okay.
But knowing that we are going to fail, like stay out of debt, okay? And that’s the best way I can say like just grow slowly and buy what you can afford. If you can only afford to rent five acres and you got to farm, then there is nothing small about five acres man, you can grow a lot of vegetables and you raise a whole flock of free-range laying hens on five acres and make money on it. I challenge anybody to go out and raise five acres to tomatoes and tell me that’s not a job. That’s a small farm, okay?
Brett McKay: Yeah, for sure. So how is this whole experience– how long it has been like 15 years in the making?
Forrest Pritchard: Mm-hmm.
Brett McKay: How is this 15-year experience of saving the family farm, becoming a sustainable farming, how has it made you a better man?
Forrest Pritchard: Well, that’s a pretty challenging question. I think the best way I can answer that is to say like it made me a willing father okay? And that’s going to sound a little weird for the first thing to say, but I’ve got an eight-year-old son, okay? And the farm has been in my family for seven generations now, and you know, it doesn’t really matter it has been in the family for one generation or 10 generations, it’s just that’s the way it’s been, and for seven generations or six generations before me, somebody had to say yes, okay? Somebody had to say like, I’m not taking that job in town, I’m not going to run for politics or whatever, you know, to fill in the blank, I’m going to be a farmer. And when I came along, I had to be that person. Like a farm isn’t a farm without a farmer, okay? A farm is just a piece of land, it’s a park, it’s a wood that you drive by on the highway to protected piece of land that was bought by some billion dollar endowments, okay? A farm has to have a farmer, and if I’m going to build to pass anything on, like if I’m going to be fulfilled as a man, then I have to have a son or a daughter to come along behind me and say like, yeah, dad, like this is cool, you know, what you are doing works and like I want to do it too, like the kid in the back of the crowd like pick me, pick me, I want to be on your kickball team you know, that kind of excitement, that’s the way it’s got to be. So like I didn’t– when I was 20 years old, I wasn’t thinking about any of the stuff. I was thinking about pizzas and go and watch a movie and waking up with enough energy the next day to farm for kind of 12 hours, but then you do this for year after year after year, and your priorities will all just begin to shift. And when you bring another human life into the farm, it just really completes the picture for, as another component of what sustainability really means.
Brett McKay: Yeah, I mean, it kind of inspired you to like start living a legacy, right? Like you want to build and pass this down to your children, your grandchildren.
Forrest Pritchard: Yeah. I think that’s really well put where legacy is like a very politic kind of encapsulation, that’s exactly what I was talking about, and there’s plenty of legacies out there that we are going for like that brass ring, and we’re going for the golden parachute whatever, and at the end of the day, we might look back on and be like what did I really accomplish? But if I can look back and say like, look, we saved our family farm, and I’ve got a kid that like wants to take it over from me like a family business, oh, man, that’s cool, you know.
Brett McKay: That’s awesome. So last question, Forrest, and if I get to get back out and shear some sheep or whatever…..
Forrest Pritchard: I’m on my way to the butcher right after this.
Brett McKay: Are there any like life lessons that an average guy, say a guy who is not going to be a farmer, but are there any life lessons that a man could take from the life of a farmer that can help them become a better man?
Forrest Pritchard: Yeah. I mean, let’s think about being kids for a minute. Like what are the songs that we are taught when we were in kindergarten? We learnt about Old McDonald and all the different animals on his farm, we were given like a play set for a barn with a farmer and donkey and a cow and all the stuff and, like why after we’re all so removed from being on farms ourselves, like why do we still value as a culture like the idea of a farmer. You know there’s got to be something there. We don’t give our kids like a cubicle to play with, okay? We’ll give him a little guy sitting behind a desk, which like got computer. Hey, you know, happy birthday, you know. Play with this. Like we don’t do, like why don’t we do that? So like even if you don’t want to get into farming, like we just have a cultural resonance that says like, look we– there are certain things we value about farming, like we can take these things away and make ourselves better. And like what are those things? Man, I hate to say it, but it’s poetry, okay? I know we are not supposed to read poetry, like Robert Frost and everybody I thought, you know. Robert Frost being a famous farmer himself and Wendell Berry for that matter, but like it’s issue that stays, it’s issues of dedication, it’s selflessness. It is the desire and the willingness to wake up for 50 years in a row and say I’m going to put on my boots this morning, and I’m going to go out and fix a broken fence, I’m going to go help pull a calf out of a cow that’s straining and it’s going to take me all morning, I’m going to go out in the rain this afternoon and take care of my chickens that are otherwise going to be out there getting pneumonia, if like I don’t take action right now, and like wash, rinse, and repeat for 50 years, and then what do you get at the end? Do you get like severance package, do you get like benefits, when you retire? No. Of course you don’t. So what kind of a person does that? I don’t know. For some reason our culture continues to value it, and I can’t say I disagree.
Brett McKay: That’s a good stuff. I’m ready to like give my pitchfork and overalls….
Forrest Pritchard: Well, go for it man.
Brett McKay: …and my farm. Well, Forrest, this has been a fascinating discussion. All who are listening, I highly recommend go out and get his book. It’s an interesting read. So, Forrest, thank you very much.
Forrest Pritchard: My pleasure, Brett. I appreciate the opportunity.
Brett McKay: Our guest today was Forrest Pritchard. Forrest is the author of the book, Gaining Ground, and you can find that on www.amazon.com and bookstores everywhere.
Well, that wraps up another edition of The Art of Manliness Podcast. For more manly tips and advice, make sure to check out The Art of Manliness website at www.artofmanliness.com. And if you guys could do me a favor, if you enjoy this podcast, this free podcast, you can go to iTunes and give it a rating and a review. That would help me out a lot, help other people find the podcast. So if you do that, I’d really appreciate it.
So until next time, this is Brett McKay telling you to stay manly.
Last updated: October 1, 2015