Maybe Farming Isn’t the Perfect Job for You (AND THAT’S OK!) (FSFS235)

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A lot of us who go into farming probably had an idealized vision of what farming as a career is supposed to be like and how our lives and lifestyles would just naturally meld into that vision when we start farming: grow some vegetables, sell them, pay the bills, live a quiet life while eating good food.

As simple as it sounds—and many of us have experienced this firsthand, no doubt—it doesn’t happen that way. There’s all the nitty-gritty of designing your operation, ensuring there’s a market for what you grow, and making sure the numbers are enough to keep you on a living wage, among other things.

So, say you’ve started farming for a while, but the lifestyle is leagues away from what you imagined it to be and it just isn’t hitting off. What would you do then?

In this episode, we’re talking to Sam Billings, someone who fell in love with the idea of permaculture and farming, tried it, and decided he was happier working at a company and gardening as a hobby instead of making it his full-time job.

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FSFS233 - Sam Billings

Diego: [00:00:00] All right. So Sam, can you go back to the day when you decided that you wanted to pursue farming as a career?

Sam Billings: [00:00:07] Yeah. So I guess it would have come some point after college, or maybe even some point during college. I was, undeclared in, at UMass for a while, figuring out what I wanted to do. And then I was actually a philosophy major for a little bit.

And the thing I kept coming back to, with all of our existential thinking was, I want to spend my life, what is it that I want to do? What's important to me, what am I good at? What does the world, and what is something that's good for a long time? And food was more the answer.

I think, first than farming, I had worked in kitchen growing up all throughout high school. Then I started to realize that like the best fresh food came from local farms and got to switch my major to plant and soil science and sustainable agriculture, and started taking a lot of classes about, medicinal herbs and everything started to click.

Yeah. So I guess, I was introduced to permaculture through college class. I think it was 2008. And I remember leaving that class being like, yes, like it was very real and dove into it from there. And I want to give a little disclaimer maybe, before we get too far into it. Cause I think probably at some point in our conversation, it'll sound like I'm bashing permaculture in a way, and that's not really my intent, but I went down that rabbit hole and the books and taught all the people and went to all the seminars and came to permaculture voices and did all so many different, I tried to absorb as much permaculture and stuff as I could totally see where I could get lost at the bottom of it for a little while. I think, the goal or one of the reasons that I tell my story is that I think there's a lot of pitfalls in there that maybe could be avoided by someone else or, that I could see.

You're making again, put in the same situation and from other people who have been in a similar situation who have made similar missteps in just an understanding of what permaculture is and what it isn't.

Diego: [00:02:27] So thinking about your initial foray, thinking about you getting into permaculture, you find yourself at the bottom of that rabbit hole. And there's pitfalls down there. What are some of the pitfalls that you became aware of that you think other people need to be aware of?

Sam Billings: [00:02:48] Yeah, there's some big ones in there for sure. and I guess, continuing to tell my story part of like in tandem, how, it happened for me anyways, all I can go off.

I got really lucky out of college, and got a job. Working at a, an a, an estate of a wealthy family. And I used my senior thesis project, which was a design of two acres of their land as a way to get myself into a job. So it had a friend of a friend who connected me with this family and that designed their, two of their 20 acres into, from grass to permaculture gardens.

And then when I graduated, I said, look, I got a good grade, in here as a three-year plan and a budget and a salary. And they said, go for it. So it was great in a lot of ways, I was like a kid in a candy store. I can make a lot of mistakes while someone else was paying for it. but. Part of that enabled me in a way to, maybe consider things that are, do things that wouldn't make sense in any other situation.

So I was able to learn a lot, which I desperately needed, and I think I probably still, need, we all do, working in a garden, you always learn something every year that you didn't know that year before, but I guess the pitfalls for me were that. Like that realistic life lesson of, being able to financially support what you're doing.

I had someone footing the bill for this project and I wasn't necessarily I was going by the budget and I was, but it wasn't, I can't see another situation where it would make sense for someone else to put in a project like that, it doesn't. It wouldn't have never paid for itself.

Like the fruits of the trees would never pay the bill of the cost of the fencing or something like that. So I think the business aspect of it was something that I really needed to learn the hard way. And I think, if you're thinking about farming and you're thinking about permaculture, you really, I got my trial by fire and business when I started, actually trying to.

To pay myself, with some of these projects. And I think that scale was a big piece of that issue for me. A lot of times when people are thinking about permaculture, maybe you're new to permaculture. Maybe you've got a year or two of experience in gardening is really the scale at which farming becomes a financially viable, or at least each piece becomes financially viable.

Like when I started the farm, we were renting already. Acres. but only maybe two of those acres were really tillable and I realistically only fenced in maybe three quarters of an acre. And we had some blueberries off in a different corner and I had another field access to a field across the street that didn't have any irrigation or any fencing or any infrastructure that I could do some potatoes or maybe some winter squash on.

and this was all after I had finished that project. And. out of college, I started the farm afterwards, but I didn't understand. I knew that I was not going to be rich from farming. And then that was never my intention, but because I didn't. Grasp. I gave myself a break on understanding the financial piece of it, because I just figured Oh, it's the lifestyle that I want.

I want to be surrounded by a beautiful place. I want to eat good food. I want to live in a simple life with my wife and, I didn't, I just accepted, not having a lot of money. And I think that was a huge problem for me. since then I've. I have read every book I can find on finance and, retirement and investment and budgeting.

And I've gotten pretty good at it now. And I don't think I, we did fail in farming at all. We definitely paid the bills. I was able to pay off my student loans over those five years that we had the farm. And, I think it was a success. But it was definitely trial by fire. So I think part of it, for me, was understanding which pieces to put in place first and separating the diversity, the goal of diversity and the realistic piece of you need to have one or two pieces that are marketable, that you can produce efficiently.

That. Or the backbone of everything else that you do. I think I've put in our first year, I probably had 40 crops or something like that on, half an acre to three quarters of an acre. And, by the time I harvested, three or four handfuls of, whatever barrier Bush I'd put in, it was like not worth my time and being there,

Diego: [00:07:45] if you look back now and you go back over.

The farm's history. Are there a few big, I don't want to say mistakes, but let's call them learning exercises that if you had to do them over, you would definitely change.

Sam Billings: [00:08:04] Yeah, absolutely. the first would be the agreement that we made with the land owner, and how that was structured. It worked for what it was, but I definitely learned a lot the hard way.

So it was, I paid 10 bucks a year to be on the new England, small farm Institute, land link listserv. It's a mouthful, but essentially they sent out. Emails of listings of farms or farmers who were selling land or needed help on the land. And eventually this, something popped up. That was in an area that was near where I was looking to be and seemed like a nice opportunity.

And it was actually, it's owned by a nonprofit and the nonprofit, is. run by people who have, affiliation to the Catholic church, for lack of a more concise way to put it. our landlords were nuns, I guess it's the short of it. Very sweet ladies, but they were looking for someone to come in and revive old farmland and take care of what they had been building for 30 years.

but also to bring new life to it and bring a farm there. And I think the. Between the lines text of it was that there's no real, there's not a lot of new nuns at this point. So their way of passing the land on or keeping up with that land was to try to bring a farmer there in the misstep that they didn't see in that I didn't see your understand was that there was no way that a farm was going to ever be able to.

Support the value of that land to the church. The property was probably worth, likely at least $2 million, big, old, No, it's not a convent. It was a postulate where people would go to learn to become nuns, had a school house. They rented out to another business in there. So the idea of a fi, and I don't think that we were ever supposed to fully financially support it.

but us being the next generation was never really. A realistic thing, when I look back at it. so the longterm vision of the project itself was never right in the first place, coming there and building a farm for a couple of years. Great. Totally. Could've made it happen till we did make it happen, but I wouldn't have been, I wouldn't have bought trees.

I wouldn't, put in some systems, like I built a big compost system that costs a lot of money worked really well. ran it with a tractor, like a, I put a PVC pipes, jump host blower and aerated it and, Four by four posts, sunk four feet into the ground. So I could run it over with the tractor.

It was a big system. It worked really well, but all these pieces that took so much time and effort that really benefited me, but would have only paid for themselves over the 15 to 20 years, not a farmer. Who's only going to be there for a shorter period of time. So that's probably the first mistake is really understanding what I could do.

In the timeframe that I really had there spreading myself too thin. So I had a interest in all the different ways to grow unique fruits and vegetables that cut it small enough, And I spent myself within a group, too many things at once, which I changed, but wouldn't have wasted so much time and money on the first couple of years.

And then the third one would have been market research. I think I didn't realize that. While I was in an area that was close to my family and, what's comfortable for me was saturated with other businesses there's microgreens operation. And the city acts to me do a ton of volume. There were three market gardens probably within.

10 miles, 20 minutes, 25 minutes, Providence, 40 minutes from Boston. And there's just a million people trying to do it there. And a lot of them are doing a really good job and a lot have been there probably for five or 10 years. And some of them were starting at the same time as me. So it was definitely not the type of market where I could just go out and sell.

a hundred pounds of radishes. So I guess I learned that afterwards was like, what can I sell? Who are, we were small enough that we were able to sell pretty much everything we had, but had I decided to really step into it and grow more food rather than grow less food smarter. I don't know if I would have been able to get to a point where I was ever.

Hiring more than one or two full-time workers. So I think there was probably a real limit to the size of the farm that I could realistically support there, given the market.

Diego: [00:13:08] There's a different way to ask that same question and probably get a different answer or a different spin on those answers, knowing what you know, now, hearing those three big things that stick out that.

You would have changed if you were starting the farm today, what would you do different?

Sam Billings: [00:13:35] that's a great question that does put a different spin on it for me. So thank you that, I would pick one or two crops. I would grow them efficiently and, I know that you've done a fair of talking about, lean farm on your podcast and Ben Hartman's work.

And I think I would've loved to have known that stuff, not in my fourth or fifth year, but in my first year and setting things up in such a way that they were efficient, that my time, was built into the product. And knowing that I could scale and sell one or two, maybe three items. And then once those are successful and running themselves and enough that I have enough free time and bandwidth to set up the next piece of diversity or the next, enterprise that I could do it from that.

So I think that's probably where I would go. I might've been better to just build a mushroom farm. Or just have, medicinal herbs and, edible flowers and just really be the name of that one or two specific niche products and really build it up from there and just own those things rather than trying to be a small diversified permaculture farm, because most of the audience are most of my customers.

Didn't know exactly what permaculture was. Didn't really care. It's not like the best marketing piece for someone who just wants to buy a tomato. So it was overkill in a way. And I was deriving the value of what I was farming for me and not letting the customer decide that's what they valued.

So I think I would've been able to do a little bit better and make some more money to start and value that. Business and the efficiency end of it. And then use the money that I was making to create the lifestyle that I wanted instead of having the lifestyle that I wanted and using bill trying to build a business into that.


Diego: [00:15:44] think that's a key point. I actually just recorded a solo podcast on this topic today. Ironically, that talks about this. What would you say to somebody who is. Got that itch to explore whatever it is. And there's a whole bunch of these things. These rabbit holes that people we'll go down when they get into farming, whether that's permaculture, whether that's no till and composting, like really advanced methods of composting.

And you can take these things to an extreme, which can be a problem. If you're not. Building a functional business first and then layering that stuff on, which is what I hear you say, you should have done overs, get the business going, and then you can work to make it quote more perfect down the road.

My thoughts around this and I try and employ this in my life is you get the business going. You do that. But that curiosity, you have to push it to the side, compartmentalize it, and then just dabble on it either as part of this very small part of the business or in personal life, as a hobby, without making the whole business about that thing that we're most excited about from day one.

So for somebody that does have that permaculture edge they're in that rabbit hole, or they want to just do these, I'll say they're extreme, but they're. They're not what the average profitable farm does on a day to day basis. How do you keep yourself motivated? Stay curious, make it fun yet. Make the business survive.

Yeah. What do you think about that partial blend of, I'm just going to do a little

Sam Billings: [00:17:39] bit of it. Notice I was like learning about permaculture. Was that like all of the people I was learning from were teaching, or they were maybe designing, but didn't think to look like, where are the people that are doing this full time and how are they doing and how are they making money?

And I think there's a lot of maybe it's my own, me putting my own. Work versus blaming permaculture as a whole. It's not really what I mean to be, I'm sure. home-office missteps where my own missteps, misconceptions anyway, but I had this feeling that once I learned a lot in permaculture, the idea that, Oh, he should be trying to close that loop by adding this system.

Yeah, that there was something missing in farming and that I knew something or that there was something to be known that conventional ag just didn't do that to an extent, maybe that's true, but there is a lot that they do now, and there's a reason why they do those things. And that reason is money and English.

your financial goals and being realistic about your personal goals and actually having those things on paper, about how much time you're willing to spend on your business about how much money you would need to, you can spend on your business this year, how you can invest in it, or what are the pieces of the business that actually make you happy?

Like, why are you in business at all in the first place? So for me, it wasn't necessarily that I could have. Seen something different or done something different, but that being a farmer has a slew of things that you have to do as a business owner that just aren't me, or I'm just not great at them. And I didn't put that together.

When I started the business, it had to be at least the start and I had no experience accounting. I had no experience marketing. I had no experience. and food safe. that's not true. I didn't have an as not in farm food safety, I had kitchen food safety, and I wasn't doing anything dangerous, but I had to learn a lot of things about washing and packing and, putting the.

Pieces together in such a way that it met it, followed the rules, essentially time sucks that I just didn't really always enjoy and they had to be done. So being someone that lived on the farm too, which was part of the reason we were able to afford to do what we did and put in as much time as we did was that I was never off and I never, I could never turn it off.

I was always, you woke up and you were at work. You went to bed, you're at work. And it was a lot of ways. That's great. And then a lot of ways, I wasn't able to separate that from myself. And after a few seasons of, a hundred hours a week, for some points in the busy season, it beats the fun out of it.

It takes away the part of the gardening that you really enjoy, producing vegetable units versus, growing a couple tomatoes for yourself or enjoying the smell of the flowers or whatever it is a very. Very different than so I think part of it is, I was willing to do the work.

It wasn't, it stopped being fun after I stopped being able to do it efficiently or until I was able to do it efficiently, I didn't get any, I didn't get the pleasure out of it that I thought I would, I was sore. I was sunburned or poison Ivy. It just some days it was just it's it beats the crap out of you.

And it was one of those things where I just, I wasn't sure that. I was, even though I had the entrepreneurial spirit that I didn't have the organization to really do it in a way that sustained me, we made enough money. We paid the bills, I was able to be successful at least in that way, but it was only because I put so, so much into it.

and it was not something that worked for me. and I took a lot of. It was really hard for me to admit that I think it was like one of, I had so much pride in it and so much that I had preached about that. I was so devoted to this piece of land and to making it work and to making it profitable, to making it beautiful and to making it a showcase that lost the sparkle a certain point.

And it just became too much. Sorry. I don't know if I went on a tangent there. I'm not sure if that's really answered your question or not.

Diego: [00:22:08] When you got to the point where you started to question, is this right for me? And you said it was hard to admit to yourself

Sam Billings: [00:22:20] what was

Diego: [00:22:21] there some trigger that like, was it just the constant.

I don't wanna say the concept, but the long-term beat downs. As you said that eventually, your brain just starts asking yourself, do I really want to do this

Sam Billings: [00:22:38] for the long-term? So in 19. And we got plenty of notice. It was about within the terms of our lease. We had eight months to finish the season and find, the next thing, the church had decided that the land was more valuable being sold than it was trying to keep all of us there, keeping and, trying to create something new there that just wasn't.

It wasn't valuable enough for the church who, the average in their seventies. And they had a lot of other costs too, a real hard decision for them to let go. But ultimately it's more than I was ever going to be able to help with. And yeah. I was faced with this choice of a lot of these, the area we, where land is very expensive, but land was not really an option.

and renting land is hard to come by. Like most of those places are, this is a real unique situation for the area that we were. we didn't really want to get far away from our families. And it was really hard to picture the idea of starting over. I had built a lot of stuff on the land and spent a lot of money that things that I probably couldn't take with me, like trees and that compost system that was built into a Hill a certain way.

And the walk-in fridge was like part of a building that was already there air and all these things I would have to put in a lot of big expenses. Just in moving their mind in setting up and starting a farm again. And could I really justify what that income might look like on land? And I don't know where it is or if it exists or, is it really providing that much joy for me?

Am I giving that much benefit to my community to continue to do this? And I just couldn't say that I was, and I was pretty ready at that point to just Have health insurance that accompany paid for, or have nights and weekends off or something like that, or at least be able to turn my brain off if they all of the little.

Little pieces that I didn't want when I was on the other side were pieces that the, the grass started looking a little bit greener after awhile. I, when I really sat down with my wife and figure it out, like what is important to us? What are the pieces of this that we thought we wanted? And it was pretty doable without being a business owner.

So we, I was able to actually, the first job I took was back at a restaurant again, as I worked at a shift before, and I knew that I didn't want to work in a restaurant for a long time, but one of the, I had the chef call me who I'd worked with before selling produce. And he said, Hey, we got a new restaurant.

what do you have? I'll buy it all. And he left me in a high and dry a little bit before. So I think he was trying to make up for that in a way. And he said, whenever you have a buy everything you have. I said, that's great. most of our stuff is through a CSA this year and we're sold out and, I just got word that we're not going to have a farmer again next season.

So I really don't have that much to offer you. I had a couple of odds and ends and he said, if your farm is closing, I ha we have plenty of mutual friends. I know that you've worked as a chef. Why don't you just come be my sous chef at this restaurant and I'll buy whatever I can buy and you can come work with me.

And, that's, I decided to go back to the restaurant and start working with him. and very quickly remembered that I don't like working in restaurants and, the lifestyle was still not what I wanted. It's still a ton of hours. You still get beat up the same. and I was salary, which is great in some ways, but terrible and others, it means that, sometimes when it's slow and all the hourly people go home, that you're the one who's there cooking.

And my wife works at a school. And so she would leave for work at 6:00 AM and get back at two. And I would leave at noon and get back at midnight and at night and we'd even holiday. And it was, so it was pretty quickly not where we want it to be. And I started looking for something else and to get back into the world of plants and food and found, where I am now, which I absolutely love.

It really checks a lot of the boxes, which is a landscaping company. That does a ton of really high-end clients. It pays me and gives me insurance and I can clock in and I can go out and I have the ability to learn. And I'm still working with Simon and I, but not necessarily growing food all the time.

A lot of is the tool. there's so much in that world that. I had forgotten about, because I focused on producing vegetable units that it's gotten, I've gotten to back to my roots and learn new stuff that is all available to me. And one of the things that I started with pot farm is if I was learning something, I was learning it out of a book or I was learning it off of a Facebook group, or I was learning it, By calling a friend or going to see some other farmer or by making mistakes. Now I have people who are experts. there are people who know trees better than I will probably ever know trees in this area and lawn and soil and, annual decor plants, like all these things that I just didn't know that I didn't know.

And now I can learn them from other people and I can learn them. Without having to make the mistake myself the first time. So that's actually been really nice and I can have the time to focus on during the rest of my life. So

Diego: [00:28:28] you're saying it's okay. Not to

Sam Billings: [00:28:29] farm. For me. Yeah. Or at least for now, it really is.

I think, for me, I can still have my gardens. I can still grow food for me. I can still share it with my friends and neighbors. I can still get dirty. I can still have the sunlight. I can, experiment on growing, whatever. I feel like it on my own terms. And then. Continue to work outside, continue to work in the plant world and grow and learn.

And to me, I haven't lost anything. I thought there was some compromise that I would have to make in going to work for a company. some, but I found that I've actually been able to make more money, been able to be more comfortable, be able to learn more and not feel as.

Attached and unable to leave and unable to, work on the business instead of in the business. now I can help a business that I really believe in and continue to grow personally. So I guess, yeah, for me, it is okay. Not department doesn't mean I wouldn't never farm again, but I would need to know ahead of time.

And really do the research on why and what and where and how much and whose money and what are the, I very clearly could draw out things that I would not do again. And so unless the farming opportunity was so perfect in Playtone that I knew that I could make it successful from the beginning.

I can't see it being something that I do again, maybe as like a side business, I might grow, one or two certain things for sure. Or, a chef or a, okay. So what I think I might do it. I have a couple of greenhouses still, and maybe I'll be able to grow with some of the vegetable plants for the landscaping company to bring to the client's houses that.

Or buying them anyway, like they're buying them from a nursery when I could just grow them myself. So I think there's a lot of opportunities there where I can do it on a small scale and not be too beholden to it. Or I can still scratch that itch. But at the same time, not be so volatile or dependent on it.

Diego: [00:30:50] You got to this point in your. Career where and impetus made you really think about what do I want to do for the future? Cause you had to either put your name on the lease and keep doing this or move on, which meant giving up the business and probably taken on another career in the beginning you got into it because there was a lot of excitement around it.

It was interesting. I think. It sounds like in the beginning, and this is not just you. I've been there. I think a lot of people, Been there you go, along in these businesses, ignorant about a lot of things, like you said, accounting and the business side of things, and you focus on what you're really into.

And sometimes you lose sight of what you should be doing, or what you should know, or is this the direction you want your life to actually go in. And one day you look up and you're like, Whoa, Where am I going? Why am I here? Are there questions that you think that people should check in with themselves on say an annual basis to see if they are doing things right, or how do you avoid going too deep down the rabbit hole too far down the wrong path.

Okay. If you don't know any better.

Sam Billings: [00:32:19] Yeah. It's hard to say. I think part of it is being real honest with yourself about your goals and what you really love to do. And if the path you're on is ultimately going to lead you there, or if it's already led you there, how do you sustain that? And. For me, I think I couldn't see.

Okay. I couldn't see another way to get what I wanted. I didn't have any money at all when I started, I think I started off the business at about five to 10 grade. Yeah, the first few. You're just trying to make enough to pay that off and then start to figure out, how to actually put something in my pocket.

Okay. But I think it's just being like really clear with your intentions and with your goals and with your family members about, this is what I'm committing to. This is how much time it's going to take. This is how much investment it's going to take. And these are the side benefits we'll get from it. if you're wanting to start farming because you want.

A certain lifestyle, like you want to be on the land. Do you want to be out in the sun? You want to be working with your hands. You want to have fresh food in your life. It's not the only way to get that stuff and is starting a. Business like, a farm is a factory. It is a beautiful, sunny, happy outdoor factory that needs to run efficiently and smoothly.

And unless you know how to make that happen, like really, truly how to make $1 turn into $2 worth of vegetables. It's you have to be real honest with yourself. If you're. Able to commit to that. And if you're willing to necessarily, if you're willing, maybe in the winter, you have to be there.

You have to be there every day. You have to like, we had chickens and I would let the morning and put them in there every single night. We didn't go on vacation and we didn't have, every money, every dollar we had that was extra, went back into the business or off to pay off debt. And that was like, That's your whole life, So that's not, that's a bad thing. It's a great thing. If you love it. And I do love it. It did love it, but if it's, you have to really want that lifestyle.

That's what makes you happy in the first place? for me, I could get all the benefits that I wanted and still practice permaculture in my life. Without being so dark, I felt stuck, I think. And that was the point. I was like, if I don't grow these vegetables, I already have so much money invested that I'm out.

unless I can make my money back by the end of the year in each winter, that was where we lived. So it was unless I want to pick everything up and move it and sell it. It was like the, you have to leave. That was the only way that I was like, I guess we got to figure this out.

it was not, I don't think it would've ever happened otherwise.

Diego: [00:35:43] Yeah. I love that view that you've you have on this? I think it's honest. I think it's real. And I appreciate you sharing. cause I don't think it's the easiest realization to come through for someone. I think it could be construed as. I failed. And I don't hear that. And the way you're talking about this, it's more, Hey, it just

Sam Billings: [00:36:09] takes a couple of minutes then a few days.

yeah. I've certainly had that feeling before, feelings of failure between then and now.

Diego: [00:36:16] one of the things I wanted to touch on is you said since you started. You've read a lot of books on finance, on business, on retirement, all those types of things. Similar question to something that I asked before, what are some, say, three big things you've learned doing that, reading, doing that research that you wished you had known at day one.

Sam Billings: [00:36:45] Sure. that's a good question. First is starting a business cost money. costs a lot of money and you have to be very clear on what you're going to spend, what your return is on that right away. I had some version of a business plan, but it was not good enough. and in most of the books that I have read anyway, most debt is the enemy.

there are some versions of good debt and I won't go too deep into that right now in that I'm sure. Have some other folks that might be able to speak to it better, but debt is what kills farmers. I think in a lot of ways, but the rate, which you'd need to pay it back for it to be worth it, you have to have a clear vision.

So for me, I did have credit card. just putting farm stuff on. And I had an idea of what I was doing. I wasn't completely gone, but it wasn't like I'm going to spend $2,000 on tools. There are these specific tools. I'm going to use these tools to grow these crops and sell these crops to those people for this much money.

I'm going to do this many of them per year. And it's going to pay for itself in this many months. It wasn't that clear and it has to be, I couldn't. I didn't. So one example is the farmer bucks, not like the most expensive thing in the world, but not one, probably like first thing and quickly, I think two seasons probably realized that I'm only using it for radishes and carrots.

most of the lettuce that I was doing was transplanted. Pretty much everything I was doing was transplanted that wasn't microgreens or like we had so many weeds that I had to be using weed tarp, at least for the first few years. And the Jang seeder was useless for most of the time. It was like 400 bucks.

I just sat there and the, in the ship. And I could have seated those carrots with, by hand or with a, Earthway seeder. So it was just not being clear enough with my process of what tool that's going to take to make the things that I need to be able to financially make and to not get into debt. So I think, yeah, avoiding debt by not having a clear.

Plan or a clear goal was, is crucial. and knowing, I guess that I really didn't have enough money to start a business. I really wasn't in a strong enough vision. I still had student loans. I was, it didn't have very much in savings and I was winging it. Like I knew how to grow food. I knew gardening.

I knew permaculture, but I didn't. Have enough money, I guess that's really the short of it is I think Curtis stone has, is, thing where, you can start up farm on whatever it is, like seven grand a year or seven grand to start or something, and he's not wrong, but it was not, you have to have a very.

Successful first year, I think, to pay that stuff off pretty quickly. so saving as much as you can being really diligent about where you spend your money and just not having luxuries. for me, it was like, I can't be drinking every other weekend and paying for a bunch of beer or going to a party or buying a car that's more expensive than I need or.

Go out to dinner, going to the restaurant. It was pretty much tapped to

because every dollar I spend could be a dollar I spend on seed. And if I spend a dollar on seed, that dollar turned into, $20 because I can grow those seeds into vegetables and sell them. And that value is so exponential that burning it on. a pack of gum or whatever it is, it just seems so silly.

you have to view, it's not the dollar today is not the dollar you're spending. It's the dollar that you could invest and it could become in five or 10 years. So it's not like $1 is $1 later. It's $1 as a hundred dollars later. And how to, and the opposite is true when you're talking about debt so that the compound interest works both ways.

So it was really just understanding that, it's not the same, it's not the same today as it is down the line. So for me, it was just being able to put my money in a place that worked for itself from the beginning and not having to start with a whole, a big out of,

Diego: [00:41:35] I think those are wise words, thinking about this concept of right livelihood, meaning.

Make a living doing something that you believe in something that fulfills you

questions. Do you think somebody should ask yourself when pursuing an interest, trying to turn it into a career to really try and separate out? Do I like

Sam Billings: [00:42:09] this wood?

Diego: [00:42:12] Try and I guess, separate out the difference between do I like this or do I like this enough to do it every day while getting poison Ivy while getting sunburned while not making that much money?

how do you distill down

kind of lust for and seriousness?

Sam Billings: [00:42:40] Pretty quickly ask yourself, are you willing to stop enjoying that to stop enjoying it, to not enjoy this? Yeah, absolutely. Do you love to be planting vegetables so much that after a 12 hour day is still have three beds of lettuce left to put in and you have to eat you only love it when it's not. A job for me anyway.

I only loved it when it was when it's easy. You love it for a like again, when it's easy. even, not even when it's a little difficult, it's fine. Even when it's challenging and it's great. That's how we learn it. But when it's repetitive and. Strenuous it stopped. Anything stops, being fun at that point, like it's growing some lettuce is great growing a hundred thousand plants a year or something is when you're the one put in those that shoveled on the soil.

Every time you get jaded or maybe I did, maybe I just didn't. I don't know. Maybe it was just me, but I think it's R do you love it because it's a hobby or do you think it's a viable. Business that you could run or not the same question. And honestly, I think the big thing is, do you think it would still be enjoyable when you do it all day, every day and you do nothing else, but that, and I really do love it.

I could do like a garden a lot. I do garden a lot, but I don't like to do it when I have to do it. Cause I want to do it. And I guess that's the thing is are you willing to lose that? Are you willing to lose that hobby because it becomes a business or is it better as a hobby and you can do something else as a business that maybe you're good at that maybe I guess I think part of what goes to me was like the needing to have.

To not have some other jobs that would be perfect for me. It was like, I couldn't go work for the man because that was against what I was trying to accomplish in the first place. But it's not, I'd rather use the money from a company that I could put it into my own life to do the things I want to do versus having to make the money to put into trying to get.

Time back for myself, is just, are you willing to give up your hobby? I think is part of it.

Diego: [00:45:12] Yeah. Yeah. Really wise words. And I think you've, you figured out who you are along the way. So looking back, no regrets.

Sam Billings: [00:45:25] No, I don't think so. like I said, I learned an awful lot about farming, about business, and if I were to ever start with again, I would certainly know what not to do.

we did make money. It wasn't like it was a financial failure, that it paid off my student loans. In those five years, we were able to save some money. It wasn't like I got out of there, in debt at all, so that I was successful enough. And I consider it a learning experience, and when now I have a clear idea of who I am and what I need in my life and how I can get to that idea of that farmer, sitting on a hammock somewhere with the Apple tree, that same picture is still there for me, but I realized that it takes money to sustain those things and to get to that point where you feel like you can breathe.

And have that space was a financial thing for me. And that didn't occur to me until too late, that you can, money doesn't buy happiness, but it certainly will buy us some peace of mind at least to a certain point. So I think that was part of it for me. It was just being realistic about how do I create a life that pays me and I can still.

Do what is meaningful for me? Yeah.

Diego: [00:46:45] So maybe that vision of the farmer sitting in a hammock under the Apple tree can give you the same, if not more fulfillment, just being the gardener, sitting on the hammock under the Apple tree.

Sam Billings: [00:47:00] Absolutely. And part of it is, the, at that picture for me, when I first had it.

I thought that you could grow food with no effort. And somehow there's this idea floating on a permaculture that if you plant it the right way, it becomes less work and, or no, almost approaching no work. And that's just never been the case for me, at least. I've never seen that be true. there's always weeds to pull.

Even if you go, even if you do things perfectly, there's always a plant that dies that used to spend time. I'm very important. There's always an irrigation hose that pops when you don't need it to. And there's always so much to do and I've never met someone who's in permaculture. Who's like a lazy person, it just doesn't go hand in hand.

and for me, it's not that I want to be lazy, but it just. It's not the type of person that I was. I'm always up doing something like having a garden, people who garden, generally people generally out to work and to find something that they want to do. So I guess for me, the picture was never clear. It was never the thing that I thought I wanted never really existed in the first place.

Diego: [00:48:15] thanks for sharing your journey today, Sam. I really appreciate it and I hope this helped others out there. Thanks again.

Sam Billings: [00:48:23] Yeah, thanks to you guys. I appreciate you having me on, I've been a big fan for a long time, and I hope that, someone can be a little bit more critical of their decision to go into or to continue farming, knowing that it's not the, it's not a cop out to say that, Hey, this isn't for me.

I can still do great things and still live the life I want to live and be the change I want to see in the world by not owning a business.

Diego: [00:48:51] Perfect. All right, there we go. Right on.

Sam Billings: [00:48:57] Great. Thanks Diego. Thank you. I hope that was.


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