By Suzanne Cox
My name is Suzanne Cox. My husband Andrew and I met in high
school. We were friends from freshman year, and high school sweethearts by our junior year. Andrew was raised with chickens and cattle helping his Dad on
their TN farm in Putnam County. Just a few minutes up the road, I grew up with chickens, horses, and in my teen year’s alpacas. Andrew and I didn’t have to
work at a relationship, it just came naturally. We shared common interests, beliefs, and dreams for the future. At the top of that dream list, has always
been a family farm with children to share it with.
When we were married in 2003, that dream was still very much alive. However, like most young and newly married couples we were only able to afford a
rental in the country. We spent the next several years living in rentals and hoping, saving, and praying for a way to make our dream a reality. In November
of 2005, after two miscarriages and pregnancy complications, we were blessed with a beautiful baby girl we named Macey. Much to our surprise, we found
ourselves expecting another child just a few months later. William was born in February 2007 with a hole in his lung which quickly collapsed. After being
transferred to the NICU at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital he made a full recovery, and one week later was able to join our family at home. Having two new
babies in 16 months was exciting, challenging, and a real blessing. However, it was also a serious drain on the savings we had built up. We struggled with
just the basics that year, as well as the next. Doubts began to creep up that we would never be able to make progress towards our family farm, and the future
that we had hoped for our children.
In the summer of 2008 we found ourselves still in a rental home, in the middle of the city limits, and not very happy with our circumstances. My parents
asked us if we might consider purchasing a doublewide, and move it onto their land for a while until we could find some land of our own in a few years. While
not ideal, and nowhere close to our dream situation, it would at least get us in our own home and out of the city. In January 2009 we moved into our new home
on a 1/3 acre corner lot of my parents property. Here we were able to reduce our housing cost, pay off some bills, and once again contribute to our savings.
We were back on track!
In August 2010 we decided to take a road trip with the kids and headed out towards the lake in Dekalb County, TN. The previous day we had talked with a
man who had property in that area for sale. It was a 24 acre farm which was just out of our price range. He was not willing to divide, and it didn’t sound
very promising. Still, we had no other plans for the day and thought we would spend the day at the lake and maybe go check the place out. What we found
made us smile and want to cry at the same time. It was exactly what we had described as our dream farm! But, it was out of our price range since we didn’t
have enough savings to qualify for a traditional loan, and it was over an hour from our family! After several days at home pondering how we could possibly
pull this off, we made a phone call to the local FSA office. That next week, we headed out to meet with the FSA loan officer. We left that day with a
completed loan application and renewed hope that maybe we could live our dream! To celebrate, we headed over to the farm to take pictures. This was the view
that made us fall in love!
Much to our surprise, the loan officer was very helpful and supportive of our plans for this property. After 12 weeks of paperwork, interviews, and
anxious waiting we were APPROVED! This would soon be the view from our front porch.
What happened those next few weeks is now a blur. Things moved so quickly for us. There were trees to cut down, utilities to secure, contractors to deal
with, gravel to move, and the actual house to move. While we knew from the beginning we would have to relocate our home, we had no idea exactly what all that
involved until it actually happened! Our initial plan was to be displaced for roughly a week. Due to weather and some hiccups with the movers we were out of
our home for over a month. We spent this time in my parents home, which put us there for the Thanksgiving holiday. It was a wonderful way to spend our last
few weeks in our hometown! When we weren’t celebrating with family that weekend, Andrew was busy manning the ditch witch digging ditches while Russell (his
Dad) laid water pipe. They got 1350 ft. of water line done that weekend!
Seven weeks after closing on our farm loan, we were moving in! It was the week before Christmas. On Christmas morning, we woke to a light snow with our
presents wrapped the night before under our hastily thrown together tree sitting next to a stack of un-packed boxes. We had managed to miss the entire
festivities of the holiday season in our rush to relocate. Still, it was our sweetest Christmas ever! It wasn’t about the gifts under the tree this year, the
biggest gift of all lay right outside the front door!
We celebrated the New Year in our own home, on our dream farm, with our healthy and happy children dancing in the living room. We could never have
imagined being here just a year ago. It was a new beginning, and the start of a new way of life for the Cox family! Welcome to ANS Farms.
Every New Beginning comes from Some Other Beginning's End
As I was preparing to write this monumental blog post, I toyed with different titles. The one above came to me just now and I realized there could be no other. It is a line from a song that was popular when I was in high school, “Closing Time” by SemiSonic. The context of the song is completely unrelated to our lives here, but the line itself is universally true.
Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.
And so, Andrew and my time at Foxwood Farm has ended. Our beginning, just a scant two years ago, has taught us more than any university or master’s program could have hoped. With the grace of God, we have built a thriving business out of nothing. We have expanded our family from three to (going on) five. And we have met so many wonderful people both in person and online; blessings beyond comprehension; life lessons, horrible mistakes, amazing accomplishments and satisfying evenings of exhaustion.
This blog will be in two parts: What happens to us? and What happens to the farm? Let’s start with us.
As you well know, we have been working with my parents to come to a smooth transition for ownership of this land. We were up against a lot of hurdles as we had no equity, no savings and some college debt. My parents graciously worked with us as we transitioned from an outside income to direct consumer sales. Still, with fresh milk being outlawed like cocaine, we found that our sales reached a certain level and plateaued (as we could not advertise). We could not get past a certain income level and therefore, our plans of ramping up our rental payments to my folks were in a holding pattern.
Time grew long and patience grew thin. We began exploring options with financing a loan and land contracts but kept returning to the fact that our income stream would not support those plans without supplemental income (read: Off-farm job). With the workload mainly on Andy, and the childrearing mostly on me, loans and other jobs didn’t seem very possible.
Four weeks ago, we sent out a sort of SOS email to a select group of friends with varying backgrounds who would be able to offer wisdom and advice. We felt most certainly the farm slipping from our hands and needed to make some proactive decisions. Both families deserved some closure, and soon. There were several viable suggestions that came back to us and we began researching all of them.
A few days later our friend Brian from across the state mentioned in a voicemail that he knew of a farmer looking for a young family to take over his gardens on his farm. We were unsure what this offer meant, so we asked for more details. It turns out this farmer (Vince) was a part of our fresh milk producers group, and we had briefly met him at the Eau Claire hearings in March. He runs a certified organic farm with two farms under the name. One runs grassfed beef and organic hogs. The other runs an organic dairy and pastured poultry. The farms are about two miles from each other, and, while Vince owns it all, the dairy is run by a young couple out of UW-Madison. Across the street from the dairy is a small home and about 50 acres of certified organic crop land. This is where the gardens would be.
You see, Vince has a dream for a completely sustainable farmstead. All they are lacking is a large scale market garden, and the family he wanted to bring on would take care of building that market. Well, we had to go check this out. We saw it was a three hour drive, coordinated to have childcare and took off. We actually got a hold of Vince about an hour into the drive where we asked if we could come see his operation. He laughed and said yes. When we arrived, we got to know Vince and his background, see the farms and meet the other people who lived and worked there. We then shared our story and our visions for Foxwood Farm. He had many of the same goals that we have here. In fact, many of them are already in place and working profitably at Vince’s farm. They sell everything direct and work with a food co-op in La Crosse to market the grassfed beef. We also learned that the responsibility of the “gardener family” would be to market and expand the farm and bring in new sales.
For those of you that know us and know Andy, this was right up our alley. We agreed to give Vince our resumes, a business plan for the gardens, and a marketing portfolio. In the meantime, I directed him to our website and blog, which he quickly dove into. We left that night in awe and wonder at the possibilities.
This farm would not only pay us a salary, but if we were the right fit, allow us to become part-owners and build up equity in the farm itself. Seriously, we were looking for the catch, the rub. I mean, it was like a gift from God himself.
That was Thursday, the 8th of July. The following week we spent getting our stuff together in a nice portfolio presentation. On Friday, July 16th, Vince and Kristin came to our farm to see what we were doing here. Kristin helps run the dairy with her husband. We had a nice lunch and farm tour, and we went over the portfolio. We felt like we had made a good impression the first time, and this solidified it. The kids even responded really well to them! When they left, we knew the next time we heard from Vince would be the decision. There were three other families that we knew of who were interested in the same position. Who wouldn’t be?
It wasn’t long. Tuesday the 20th, the email came in.
We had gotten the job!
And suddenly, in the course of a week and a half, our entire lives had changed. In such a short amount of time, we were heading a direction we couldn’t have even fathomed beforehand. It was mind-boggling and overwhelming and exciting and daunting all at once.
And we have a start date of September 1st, this year! There is much to be done in a scant month. But we feel confident we can wrap things up in a timely and efficient manner.
We are leaving home, only to make a new one. The goals of Vince’s farm are right in line with ours. It’s uncanny; we feel as though our plans for Foxwood are simply being transferred to another location in the state.
Here is our new home: St. Brigid’s Meadows
Check it out. Take some time to peruse what they do and offer. We will be taking over that website, and I will be taking over their blog.
So, our time with you is not ended. We are still here, just not in the same place. We look forward to sending our newsletters with the St. Brigid’s Meadows logo as the header. We relish the idea of customer relations with new folks, as well as keeping up with you.
And we don’t regret anything about our past three years here. The three years at Foxwood caused us to be qualified enough to leave. Without those years of intense learning, we would never have been able to take this position. Without the strife of familial transactions, we never would have considered leaving. To be sure, both our parents are very supportive of this decision.
* * * * *
And now you wonder, what happens to Foxwood Farm here in Omro, WI? What happens to the animals, the gardens, the products? Many people have come to depend on the food here.
We don’t intend to leave them out in the cold. We are working on an effective exit strategy with my parents. And that brings us to part two: What happens to the Farm?
I will post on that soon. In the mean time, take care and God Bless you all. He is capable of so many things, beyond our scope of understanding. We are in awe of his greatness this day.
Becky, Andy, Elly, Ethan and ??
Rebekah Sell lives on a small plot of land with her husband, Andy, on which they are hoping to build a sustainable homestead. With a small business and four kids, life is always interesting as Becky and Andy live fully the idea that the journey is the reward. Find her on Google+.
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