Our Rural Roots

Homegrown Economic Lessons

(Progressive Farmer image by Getty Images)

Seven years ago, my kids begged for a lemonade stand, an ill-fated venture when living in the country. Instead, we settled on growing popcorn. That spring, Bubba-Bug Popcorn was cultivated, and that fall, the entire crop was sold to folks from across the Midwest.

Since then, my kids have expanded the patch to slightly less than an acre. Everything is done by hand -- planting, picking, shucking and shelling, with a hand crank sheller. They've tried to automate the cleaning process. The labor, however, remains intense and time-consuming.

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They thought they had farming figured out until 2019 exploded (or rather, imploded) with agronomic and economic challenges.

What my kids experienced on a small scale happened on many farms across the country. Weather events, down markets, disease and insect pressure, bad pollination ... harvest was beyond depressing. Typically, their harvest would yield dozens of totes filled with ears to shell. This year, just two totes came back to the shed.

The frustration of the season led to grown-up conversations about the future of their business. With their lives full of extracurricular activities, volunteering, farming and friends, how long could they manage Bubba-Bug Popcorn?

Ironically, although the season screamed quit, the opportunities kept rolling in -- sharing their experience with other business-minded kids, selling through a few retail locations, donating on #GivingTuesday to our community college -- the future seems bright.

In his book, "40 Chances," Howard G. Buffett writes that farmers have an average of 40 seasons to get it right. The great years give hope in bad years. Both teach us invaluable lessons.

As the kids review the numbers and workload while attempting to make decisions for this upcoming season, I can't help but be grateful that their 40 chances started early. Whether the crop lives to pop another year has yet to be seen. The experiences, however, will last their lifetime.

> Katie Pratt writes, tweets, farms and "likes" agriculture from north-central Illinois. Find Katie's blog at theillinoisfarmgirl.com, and follow her on Twitter @KatiePratt4.

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