Back in the spring of 2009, my wife asked me to plant a small garden so she could can some salsa for the winter. That first year’s garden was horrendous! The weeds were taller than I was! It was bad! But, there was something in the connection we had with the earth that inspired us, and thus birthed a dream of one day tending the earth full time.
In the summer of 2009 I was laid off from a really good job, leaving us debt-free but no savings to start with. So we had to start with zero, but we were rich with vision and determination for our family to make a go of farming, allowing us to get a sense of what could grow in our punishing humid summers and it also gave us time to figure out where our markets would be.
We were farming insane hours, rarely it seemed was I around for meals or bedtimes for our children. At this time we were farming with a tractor on 2 acres (terribly!), got into chickens, laying hens, pigs, and even a few cows. All in trying to practically find a way to make a living here in our area which was proving to be very difficult! Regulations for raising and selling livestock here caused us numerous hardships, and without consistent clients to buy our meat, it became more of a struggle to maintain a family of 6, keep track of our animals, and keep the Tennessee weed bank under control, which did not even come close to happening!
To top it all, early in the spring of 2015 right at transplant season, our 6-year-old daughter was diagnosed with a very aggressive life-threatening stage 4 cancer.
Life was in chaos.
And we needed a change
By this time in 2015, we had already established some really good methods for growing lettuce, especially in the summer. And after a radical diet and lifestyle change that followed our daughter's health crisis, we started to consume large amounts of vegetables, a lot less meat, and in the fall of 2015 we made a leap of faith to sell our meat business, stop using a tractor, and farm using only one acre. Our farming friends thought we were insane, but we were pretty certain that focusing on just produce would allow us to master the lettuce crop in 2016. We had lettuce for sale every week that season! We were so thrilled to discover that we tripled our income on half the amount of land that year! Excited and inspired, we knew we were heading in the right direction. By focusing on creating better-growing systems in our produce operation, changing our farm practices, we now have year-round production, a near weed-free farm (which makes me thrilled nearly every day), and being really aggressive and creative about our sales outlets for our area, we have been able to live a sustainable and enjoyable life, rarely working in the fields more than 8 hours, which was one of our top goals!
We still keep pushing the limits and boundaries of growing all types of veggies now in our climate, (not just lettuce) we keep climbing and pushing ourselves to excellence!
By doing more on less and refining our system, I have been able to obtain true wealth for us, which is having time, being at peace, and having the freedom of being present with my family.
Our daughter is well and we thank God for every day that he allows us to be with her. At the end of the day, successful business, big houses, and nice cars will not be the thing you'll want close on your deathbed, but rather the people and family in your life that love you. So keep them close.
Love, gratitude, and contentment is true wealth!
- Ray and Ashley Tyler