The economical perspective
We have never calculated on getting rich by moving to a farm. Maybe less poor, since buying a much smaller house in the Stockholm area would have cost us five times more. Still, to create actual economical value from a farm, you need some farming activities going that converts ecological and cultural capital into economical. We have chosen goats. Not only because we love goats, but they are also the perfect species for our stony, hilly and bushy farm. As the only domesticated ruminator that can break down cellulose, they are thriving from all shrubs and bushes that most farmers consider a problem. They are also low in expenses, since they’re not too out-bred to suffer from diseases that affects cows and pigs and calls for overuse of antibiotics.
The investment itself is a zero sum. If we bought an adult goat and took it directly to the butcher, we would get meat for about 8 euros, and that’s what we are paying for minced cow meat in stores. But that is all economical risk there is. If we don’t want the goat, we eat it. As long as the animals are in production and bred, they keep producing buckling for meat and new milking goats each year, not to mention about 600-700 liters of milk. If we only would sell the milk for let’s say, 30 cents/liter, that would give us 200 euros/year, but here is a possibility to convert cultural capital to economical presenting itself. By using our knowledge and making cheese, the value increases significantly. Calculating on a cheese yield of 20%, 650 liter of milk can be turned into 130 kg of cheese. Depending on wich kind of cheese, the price may vary, but counting low, we could probably sell it for 15 euro/kg. thats 2000 euros/year. Per goat.That’s not bad. And we got 21 of those. Then we have costs for feeding them, but 6 months of the year, they are browsing freely, not costing a cent, the cold 6 months are we feeding them hay and dried bushes from our own lands, but if we had to buy all hay for a winter season, that would sum up to about 30 euro/animal.
Working time is another factor that is hard to estimate. When we learned to make cheese, we estimated 6 hours/batch, wich would be 12 hours/week with two batches a week. This would be a reason to scale up, or collaborating with nearby farms. And now another cultural conversion opportunity appears. What if some process steps can be easily automated and monitored? What if I can expand my sensor network to control and record the process so I get reliable results without needing to put my nose over the kettle all the time? That’s potential.Talking potential. Quality dessert cheese are sold for much more than 15E/kg. 60-70E/kg directly to customer isn’t impossible. But that would need to involve a quite advanced storage facility… Mmm, tasty conversion.
Potential for conversions
Ecological to economical: Plants to milk and meat.
Cultural to economical: Milk to cheese
Cultural to economical: Programming skills to reduce labour time.
The cultural perspective
The capital form with the highest potential to be developed on a farm ought to be the cultural. Back before the industrial era, a variety of skills where required for maintaining several lines of production. During the industrial age, a specialized skillset was encouraged, but much due to the high conversion costs (labour taxes, insurances and administration), the option to hire specialized high skilled labour is not availible to the small scale agricultural entreprenour. Instead, as knowledge is becoming more and more accessible, developing the personal skillset has become the main value building activity on the modern farm. The old socialistic utopia where workers spend their lives specializing on their profession, supported by professionals in their other needs, seems quite outdated contemporary work life. For people of today, that idea even represents a dull and meaningless existence ledaing to exhaustion and psycholigical breakdown, taken the almost impossible choice of deciding specialty in early school years. Today, at least in the nordic countries, education is accessible when needed. In its institutionalized forms in universities and study circles, as well as less formalized forms online, just a search away. This is a time when people who embraces their full potential are starting to look for lines of occupation where all their areas of expertise are possible to convert into economical and social capital, or possible to let grow into more cultural capital. The small, flexible, affordable and sustainable farm has such endless opportunities in providing cultural growth and capital conversions, that we are likely to see an urban brain drain when mulitskilled individuals needs a place to realize their potential.
Potential for conversions
Cultural to economical: Skills in computer science boosts efficiency of the small farm through data analysis and automation.
Cultural to economical: A global presence catches experiences from successful actors world-wide, not just from the home market. The best suited methods for farming your lands may be developed in Japan, not Germany.
Cultural to social: By providing the community with a necessity like food, the relationships between the farmer and her customers are often reported as joyful.
Cultural to economical: By learning to perform a diversity of task, the costs for hired expertise can be lowered. Either by doing it yourself while enjoying the cultural growth itself, or by trading services outside the market. It may be the nightmare of a socialistic government to watch an untaxed gray market of people helping each other or doing stuff themselves, but since time and skills are harder to control than products and money, the advantages of keeping transactions within the cultural form of capital are obvious. Even if no real conversion is made from cultural to economical by eliminating the conversion costs, the saving is to be taken in the economical form.
Cultural to economical and social: The costs for workplace related illness is rising in Scandinavia, and many employers are struggling with high number of physical as well as mental illness among their employees. In the best cases, the costs are taken as high turnover, when people are able to change job easily on an overheated labour market, and the sick person gets a chance to feel better in a new workplace. In the worst cases, the costs are taken as sick salary and sick leave, and the sick person is trapped in an unsatisfying situation without a possibility to get any change. Even if the sick person has a safety net in Sweden, the trend that people are getting sicker and needs to be provided for, means higher costs for someone, and that reflects either on the taxpayers or the salary levels. Work on a small farm can be hard, but in the long term, the variation in physical exercise, as well as the intellectual challenges in making successful conversions creates a highly adjustable working environment. To be able to adjust your workplace to whatever unique conditions you may seek, is a rarely seen benefit on a regular workplace.
The social perspective
When we first moved to a farm, far out on the countryside, increasing isolation was one of our worries. With no social connections to the area were moving to, except for a handful of friends within a 250 km radius, and all colleagues spread out over the country on remote connections, we expected to be lonlier than in Stockholm. Another aspect we thouht about was isolation from society, since we would se a smaller part of the world, not take part in other peoples everyday struggles citylife and worklife, and quite much create our own parrallell universe.
It turned out to become the opposite. The guest rooms has been frequently occupied, by friends and family, as well as colleagues coming to work from the farm instead of the office. Friends with children always take the detour to our farm when they’re on the road, since missing visiting Claire and Nils’s goats never would be forgotten. Colleagues expresses a sentiment of vacation, even though we may work long days. Maybe due to the mandatory tasting sessions of homebrewed beer.
Moving to the countryside and taking an active role in caring for animals and the environment also means a lot for people, so finding new friends and aquaintancies that share our interests hasn’t been an issue. Actively participating in activites for development of cultural capital, sush as courses at the local makerspace Blekinge uppfinnareverkstad and visits at farms in the vincinity has been a great way to meet both technically and agriculturally skilled peoples, sharing our passions.
Participation in international networks such as World WIde Opportunities on Organic Farms and several magazines coming to our farm to write about our story has also kept us in contact with the world outside, showing us that there’re people out there incredibly interrested in what we are doing.
Social to cultural: Knowing skilled and passionate people that can advice us when things get ungoogleable is worth a lot. Doing interesting stuff on the farm attracts people with skills and passion, and even if they can’t solve a problem directly, they usually have someone in their extended network that knows about stuff.
Social to economical: Investing in social capital when you have a product to sell is an investment also from the economical perspective. By encouraging visits, from old friends as well as from becoming, we establish knowledge about our products. Especiallty, what no marketing activities can do, showing the complete trustable production chain where the origin and production methods of the food can be traced back to a happily smiling goat. More about the importance of trust and the teoretical foundation of our marketing strategy in this article by sociologist Mark Granovetter: The Strength of Weak Ties.
Social to cultural and economical: Beeing a host farm for the WWOF network gives us contact with volunteers helping us with practical tasks, as well as sharing knowledge about things that we never would come to think of ourselves.