Haystack Farm

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Progress in Reverse

I've never liked to back track, in anything. Hiking, driving, career plans, finance, I have always thought to go backward was to waste energy.  Over the last couple of years, once again, farming has been a wise and demanding teacher. It has taught me the value of retreat. 

Now I'm not talking retreat as in fleeing from the enemy out of fear. I'm talking measured, rational retreat when you realize the road your walking is not taking you where you want to go. Retreat when you realize you are not in a good position and you need to regroup. 

So often in many areas of our lives we put our heads down and trudge on through the blizzard. We get so surrounded by all the daily demands we don't take time to raise our head and look at how our situation is working, or not working. Pressing on through challenge and hardship is a valuable skill to have. I believe the trendy word for it right now is grit.  The experts say we need to teach our children to be gritty, to set a goal and head to it, to not give up, to gesture in the face of adversity. This is all very true. Most of the time life proves itself to be operating on some degree of incline and those without grit for traction tend to slide back to the bottom. Grit should not, however, mean an unrelenting slog without any consideration for a change of course. What's the phrase? "Work smart, not hard". Imagine what we could accomplish if we worked both smart and hard.

We have taken a few wrong turns in our farming over the last couple of years. The decisions all seemed sound and full of promise at the beginning but proved themselves to be full of frustration and financial negatives. Our first instinct was to push onward in the hope that with time and experience we will see better results. Our grit told us retreat was for those with Teflon shoes only, we were better than that, hardier, tougher. So we put our heads down and trudged. We saw the quality of our family life go down and stress levels go up. It started to become where waking up on the farm, the place we loved, the place we dreamed of, was like waking up in a TV show where the picture and words were out of sync and the colour was all shades of brown, grey and yellowish green. But quitting was for wimps. We bent our heads lower and leaned in further.

It was a poorly timed summer holiday that broke through our blinders of determination and forced us to raise our heads and look around. The kids and I decided to drive across Canada to attend a wedding. That left only one part-time farming partner holding the bag on the homestead. With uncooperative weather, another major non-farming project struggling to reach completion, and an ark completely out of control with predators and fallen trees on fences the camel's back broke. It was painful. There was gnashing of teeth and tears on our pillows. Then came the light.

Through the crack in the insanity light began to shine on what we were doing and how it was not working. We started thinking about ways to change, options going forward. We felt guilty about disappointing our customers if we stopped raising chickens. We felt embarrassed by our failure to make it work. We felt sad at our wasted energy and the state of our family. As we rolled into fall that year and the sores started to heal what we really started to feel was relief. We had made the decision to retreat.

We did not flee crying, with our tail between our legs. We calmly collected what was left of our marbles, skills, and resources and walked back down the road to a place we could stop, rest, and re-evaluate. The process of retreat and re-evaluation is still on-going. As we slowly turn the ship around we are becoming more comfortable in our decisions. Best of all we are moving very slowly towards any new destination. We may, in hindsight, have put a few horses before a few carts. Through our retreat we have been able to see what went wrong and why. The space given to us by retreat is also enabling us to plot a better course going forward.

So to those who say retreat is an admission of failure, a kin to quitting, I say they are almost right. The difference is retreat is the voice of sanity that can lead you down the path to success. We need not be afraid of failure. We should celebrate our ability to recognize it, acknowledge it, and learn by it, all from a safe distance of retreat of course. 

 

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