What To Expect When You're Expecting To Own A Farm Why you eventually have to stop picking sweet corn at 1 a.m. and other advice from a veteran farmer to one who is just getting started.
NPR logo

What To Expect When You're Expecting To Own A Farm

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/527051948/527640487" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
What To Expect When You're Expecting To Own A Farm

What To Expect When You're Expecting To Own A Farm

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/527051948/527640487" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Being a farmer is not easy. It's financially risky. The schedule is not good, and it's just a lot of work. Those were the things Carmen Black was thinking one summer a couple years ago. She was picking melons on her neighbor's farm in Iowa where she'd been working as a farmhand for a few years. And her neighbor said this...

CARMEN BLACK: Carmen, I just want to let you know that I'm going to retire in, like, less than two years. And I know you said you're not ready to farm and you're not sure how you're going to make it happen, so I'm just letting you know I'm retiring (laughter). And I was like, oh, no.

MCEVERS: Carmen did take over the farm last year, and she took on the risk that came along with owning it.

BLACK: Three things that I think about a lot are sort of devastating misapplication of pesticides that could just kill everything I have in the ground or an extreme weather event that could just destroy everything, a dog attack that kills all of my sheep - things that could just, like, wipe me out in an instant.

DON BUSTOS: So I have experience in that. And I don't want to minimalize anything, but a lot of the things you mentioned is part of life experience.

MCEVERS: That other voice is Don Bustos. He runs a farm in New Mexico, and he sat down with Carmen for our series Been There. He shared some of the stuff he's dealt with over nearly 40 years of good times and not-so-good times.

BUSTOS: One year, I had to sell my tractor. I got - I went through a winter - we were doing good and some financial things came up. And I got to the spring, and I didn't have enough money to buy seeds or to pay my laborers. But I got my fields ready, and I sold the tractor and I bought the seeds and paid the workers. And then it took me about five years later to purchase another tractor. But I think that's part of the success story at the end. I went through these struggles and, look, I'm still successful.

BLACK: I feel like your story sort of shows how farming is really difficult, and that is one of the things I think I love about it is at the end of the day being sore and tired. And I always sleep so good (laughter). But it's also really scary. And so I'm wondering how you've managed that. Like, when you had to sell your tractor, how did you sort of get through that and remind yourself it was going to be OK, I guess?

BUSTOS: So the people that I come from left Europe and Spain during the Inquisition. So there's this whole thing about escaping and coming to a new land of - and struggling to survive. But to do that, you had to have a certain faith. And my dad told me - when he told me to sell my truck, and I go, what am I going to do? And he goes, (speaking Spanish) - have a little faith. Have a little faith and then having good friends and family. Then the other part was work hard.

BLACK: Yeah. That makes a lot of sense to me, but I'm curious just, yeah, about your experience raising a family on your farm, how you can kind of balance all of the things because, you know, we work really hard and there's so much happening all the time.

BUSTOS: I didn't get married until I was a little bit older, a little bit more mature in life. And I always was thinking, well, you know, maybe I'm going to live alone or farming takes so much time and stuff. But I found the right person. And then, you know, balancing your life is - I have the story of I would get up with one of those headlamps, and I would go pick sweet corn at 1 o'clock in the morning so that I would have fresh sweet corn at 6 for the farmer's market.

BLACK: (Laughter).

BUSTOS: And I'm not the only one that's done insane things like that. But then sometime you got to say, no, I got to give that up, man. That's - that ain't going to work. No, I got to figure out a better lifestyle and a balance.

BLACK: When I think about meeting someone or starting a family or something, it just sometimes sounds exhausting because I'm just thinking about the farm all the time. And I don't grow sweet corn right now, but last summer, I did have a bit of a deer problem. I had some deer eat over a hundred cabbages in one night. And so I wasn't going to let them eat the rest of my cabbages, so I slept in my field for several nights with my dogs (laughter).

BUSTOS: That's so beautiful.

BLACK: That's the kind of thing that it's hard to imagine, you know, bringing someone else into. Like, sorry, I have to sleep in this field for a few nights because I'm worried about these deer.

BUSTOS: (Laughter) And if you love me, you'll join me.

(LAUGHTER)

BUSTOS: I've done that. I've done that. You know, that's the way it is (laughter).

BLACK: I'm curious about if you have any sort of, like, hopes and dreams for your own farm and your family for the future or just for farming in general.

BUSTOS: Oh, yeah. One thing I really look forward to is having people take over. So now that I'm getting older, I'm thinking about my son and my nephew and my daughter and my nieces. And when I pass away, I'm hoping that - that's, like, one of the last things I think about is that, man, I'm leaving something that other people want to do, and they're going to follow through with, something that's healthy, something that is beautiful because it's meaningful when you grow food. And you see that beautiful cabbage turning green from the water you gave it, and those tomatoes taste better because you sweated right on that tomato plant to make it that much sweeter. Those are the types of rewards that I look forward to.

MCEVERS: That was Don Bustos, who runs the Santa Cruz Farm in New Mexico, talking to Carmen Black, who took over Sundog Farm in Iowa last year. They talked to each other for our series Been There.

Copyright © 2017 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.