Friday, March 23, 2007

A New Year of Life

I celebrated my 31st birthday this week by building a compost bin to deal with my personal waste on-farm. Not particularly glamorous but it felt really good to be working on something for myself and to get one of the many items crossed off of my to-do list. The first couple of weeks this month I was pretty high with thoughts of actually realizing some of the things that I've been thinking about for the past number of years. I wanted everything to happen immediately so that I could wake up the next day and have a flock of sheep, a fully functioning dairy, and a successful cheese business, (and a couple cool herding dogs and a hot boyfriend, too). I've hit a new stage this week, feeling the force of the enormity of work ahead of me to get to where I want to be. There have been a couple of "oh shit, what the hell have I gotten myself into" moments, but they haven't lasted long. There has been a strong force of serendipity at play in the past month which has given me a sense of well-being about my chosen path.

As I have made a few major purchases (51 sheep, a barn full of hay, a trailer) and put a noticable dent in my life savings, the reality of starting a business and worrying about income and out-go of cash has taken hold. Every few days, I sit down with my collection of articles and research on sheep dairying and my draft budget and adjust income and expense amounts as I gather more information. It is all so fictional right now that it is hard to make any really reliable calculations but so far it looks like I might actually be able to make a living doing this. A big unknown is building a dairy. As numerous people have pointed out to me, a local small dairy recently decided to move to a different county because of the difficulty they faced getting approval for new dairy construction. There is a big red star on my to-do list next to contacting all of the government agencies from the state to the county that I'll need to get permits, certification and various approvals from.

There are a lot of unknowns in my budget projections around how much it will cost to build a milking parlor and cheese room, if any of the existing farm buildings could be remodeled (or if that would cost more than its worth.) I thought I was on to something when I found a modular dairy unit "Cheese on Wheels" for sale out of Wisconsin. It is very slick. They take a semi-trailer and custom build it with all of the equipement you need to operate a small scale cheese making facility--pastuerizer, cheese press, walk-in cooler, etc. However, the price tag of $275,000 is a bit more than I was hoping to spend on initial start-up costs. I think I can do better on my own (not without a little help) searching out used equipment and building something from scratch. It would be really cool to have a perfect little dairy show up on the back of a tractor-trailer though....

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Beginning of A New Adventure

I've finally run out of excuses (such as needing to go to France to visit cheesemakers) for delaying my cheesemaking plans any longer. My New Year's Resolution was to get in gear and actually make my vision of a sheep cheese dairy happen. So, suprisingly quickly and easily (so far...) things have begun to take shape. I found a farm to lease! Well, actually it is a little more complicated than that. Through my friend Reggie, who works for California Farmlink, I met a couple who have a 60 acre farm in Watsonville, California and are raising sheep, dairy cows, steers, rare breed hogs, turkeys, chickens and a few guinea fowl. They are looking to have someone lease some of the land in order to better utilize their resources and to have an additional person on the property to look after the animals. So, I am going to graze a flock of dairy sheep on their pastures (along with their sheep and cows) and potentially build a dairy there. I am buying a 2005 Airstream trailer to be my very own shepherd shack! Also, I have set in motion the purchase and transport of 50 yearling East Friesian/Lacunne cross ewes from Wisconsin to Watsonville at the end of March. I will be cutting back my hours at Gabriella Cafe, the restraurant in Santa Cruz where I am chef, but will still be able to have an income for the rest of the year, and give them a chance to replace me. Once I get settled at the farm I am looking to get a border collie puppy, too. I've been pretty manic and giddy for the past week or so since this all started to take shape and I've been trying to meditate and temper my desire to make everything happen all at once. My brother Tim and I entertained ourselves on the drive out to Los Banos to look at Airstreams by thinking of names for my business, names for the sheep, and decorating ideas for my very own trailer park. I've been compiling a list of flower names for my ewes, but Tim wants me to name them things like Megatron and Rayon. Maybe I'll let him name the ram. Well, as my new adventures proceed I will be posting updates on this blog for any and all interested parties to peruse. Wish me luck!

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