We had the good fortune of connecting with Megan Raff and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Megan, have there been any changes in how you think about work-life balance?
Work-life balance is an extraordinary feat for farmers, akin to winning a 100-yard dash in a potato sack, blindfolded, with a hand tied behind you. Plants and animals don’t take days off. U.S. and foreign policies, and trade wars set consumer expectations for the value of food that is barely above or well below the cost to produce it. Climate change and years of drought have created difficulty in several states. Expectations have risen for humane standards of farming practices yet most consumers still balk at the higher cost of farming with care. Farmers suffer extreme burnout and have the fourth-highest rate of death by suicide of all industries based on data from a 2012 report by the CDC, and health care workers addressing the issue report that the problem is worsening. Achieving the pipe-dream of work-life balance for farmers requires either incredible luck, privilege, or both. Our farm began with a commitment to care for Jeremy’s Grandfather to avoid shuttling him off to a nursing facility. We started with twelve chickens on family-owned land, and in just a few short years with personal funding and long hours of building, learning, and improving, we had a full-fledged farm. Burning the candles at both ends, and with no days off, I remember coming to the realization I might have to forgo my dream of raising a family. Mondays on any given week we cared for the animals, mucked out the chicken coops and baby chick brooders, helped customers pick out chickens, led farm tours, collected and washed eggs by hand until well past midnight, prepared orders for delivery, and then awoke at 6:00 AM Tuesdays to feed animals and take eggs and backyard chickens on a 14–18-hour delivery to Los Angeles. Our other two delivery routes were to San Francisco and Orange County/San Diego: much longer days by comparison. We traded delivery routes, so while one person took on extra-long delivery days, the other stayed back to care for Grandpa, tend to the farm, and help customers. Yet the farm was still not an outright success, as most farms aren’t projected to turn a profit until at least the 7th year in business (say what!?), so we diversified our business by building chicken coops, selling poultry supplies, and teaching farm classes. We married in 2012 and, thankfully, started a family in 2014. Not once have either of us taken a day of maternity or paternity leave, including the day we returned home with our daughter from the hospital to find a 12,000-acre fire bearing down on our farm.
As our children grew, panic set in regularly during the wee hours of the morning before chickens crow, or even farmers or parents awaken. We were missing out on truly enjoying them grow up, and failing at fulfilling our roles as loving parents, spouses, and friends. There just weren’t enough hours in the week. In addition to a family, we had also chosen to host work-stay guests through WWOOF-USA in 2013 anticipating that their help would free up our time. In exchange for room and board and an education in farming, they provided us with hours of help on the farm, which relieved some of our simplest duties, but required running a larger household, training interns, fixing mistakes, mending tools and vehicles broken by inexperience or carelessness, caring for their facilities, and affording higher utility bills; all of which ultimately caused us to diversify further to make up for our increased operating costs. We began growing an acre of garden space for CSA farm boxes and farmer’s markets, raising dairy goats and cows, hosting farm events and even farm stay guests through Airbnb. In 2016 we had to hire help for our children, and we hired on a few of our work-stay guests by offering them a weekly stipend. In all, we still weren’t turning a profit large enough to sustain the business through the winters.
The global pandemic crisis of 2020 brought the first year that our farm turned a profit: 11 years after we began farming, and 9 years after we incorporated. An unprecedented number of people chose to begin keeping chickens for a reliable source of protein and leaned on local farms for food that was unaffected by the collapse of industrial food systems. We averaged 80-hour work weeks from March through November. Jeremy was away on 16-20-hour deliveries for chickens or coops between three and five days a week, and, when home, was needed to repair tools, rethink processes, or give direction. The profitability of the farm was not worth the toll that it took on our family.
To be clear, Jeremy and I recognize our privilege. We now own the land we started the farm on as it was passed down to Jeremy by his late grandfather: we don’t pay rent or a mortgage, just property taxes. Land access is one of the largest barriers for first-generation farmers. Secondly, we both earned bachelor’s degrees and can change careers should it become necessary; but we choose farming. For these advantages, we are extremely grateful. We have taken out loans to improve facilities and processes, hired help, and been blessed with quite a bit of local publicity, praise, and word-of-mouth. There are still struggles, there are still nights that we wake with anxiety or depression. However, should the farm fail, we still have a roof over our head.
We’ve learned to ask for help and leverage technology. We understand that despite our job requiring physical exertion and manual labor, we still must make time for fitness, which makes the daily tasks easier, and improves our mental health. We encourage each other to end work at a reasonable time even though we feel like we could continue working forever and never catch up with the endless to-do list. We accept days off and take vacation. We still certainly work more than the average 40 hours per week, for far less profit than most; however, we love our purpose, and firmly believe in the value of what we create with our time.
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
Dare 2 Dream Farms exists to connect people with their food and their farmers under the motto “Know it. Grow it. Love it.” We utilize biodynamic and regenerative farming practices and partner with other local, organic farms to provide our community with the freshest local foods. Our backyard chickens, chicken coops, vegetable starts, and classes empower people to grow food for their households. Farm stays, farm-to-table dinners and farm tours increase farm exposure and education and foster loyalty to small, local farmers and producers that spark change in our food systems.
Farming is truly community service, and the long hours can make it difficult to earn a decent living wage and find a work-life balance. Leveraging technology, creativity, and continuous learning we operate a dynamic agricultural business. We are particularly proud of our exceptional customer reviews, brand identity, and community engagement. Lastly, we are passionate about Lompoc and seeking opportunities to create support, growth, and pride in the community.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
This area of Santa Barbara County is particularly beautiful and offers such an incredible variety of experiences for visitors of all kinds. If we were able to craft the perfect week in the Lompoc area for a friend, we would start with a visit to the famous Lompoc Wine Ghetto for a taste of the world-class wines from our local Santa Rita Hills AVA: Fiddlehead Cellars, Palmina Wines, Flying Goat Cellars, or Transcendence Wines. We would grab a bite to eat at Eye on I and head back to the farm to tuck them in for a stay at the Dare 2 Dream Farm House, where they would be able to watch the cows graze, see them milked, enjoy the wild turkeys and deer, feed the goats, and collect eggs from the chickens. We would have to spend a sunny day at Jalama Beach eating a Jalama Burger, flying kites, and enjoying the surf and then hit up the Food Truck Friday event in downtown Lompoc. They’d light up at the launch of one of the Atlas 5 or Falcon 9 rockets launching from Vandenberg Air Force base, and afterward, we might head over to Hangar 7 for a cocktail and an appetizer, live music, and perhaps an appearance from Elon Musk. They would have a great time hiking Gaviota Peak or the Wind Caves for the morning and getting a view of the incredible coastline above Santa Barbara. After a long day of movement and sun, we’d relax at Valle Fresh Eatery in the Hilton Garden Inn of Lompoc. To finish off their time here, we would host a farm-to-table winemaker dinner that begins with a farm tour and features four courses from Blooming Energy and Ryan Shepard Private Chef harvested directly from the garden they’re seated in, and paired with wines from the lovely Sonja Magdevski.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
We are immensely grateful for Grandpa Mike Raff who believed in us and bestowed us with the land on which we grow, for Cindy Andrade who was the glue that held our family together during the toughest of times, for Jeremy’s mother Nina who helped us with the daily efforts in the farm’s beginning, for the WWOOF-USA organization whose mission is to connect people with farms to provide a learn-by-doing experience and assistance for small organic farmers, and for each WWOOF guest and employee who has believed in us and worked tirelessly alongside us.
Danielle Honea Photography