Daring Decisions

What more appropriate time than the New Year to reflect upon past experiences and how it can help one grow and develop.  November’s seminar took us to Southside Virginia.  One of our tours took us to Briarview Farms which is owned and operated by Mr. Robert Mills.  Mills tends to rejuvenate and inspire others in agriculture due to his enthusiasm and the fact he is a first generation farmer.  His current farm started with 8 heifers and now runs over 300 cows, 4 different types of tobacco, hemp, hay and grain crops, and poultry.  The visit to Briarview stuck with me the most this seminar due to Mills’ perspective on decision making.

Robert got the itch for farming after taking agriculture classes in high school.  This lead to him growing vegetables for his SAE.  As mentioned previously he has covered many areas of agriculture in production since then.  Obviously he’s had to decide when to diversify – and it’s worked pretty well.  Mills will ask the question “what do we already have?” and seek out what’s missing.  Looking at the numbers helps when things are not as clear cut.

Robert Mills gives his history in front of an old cabin he restored at Briarview

Really my biggest take-away was from a story Mills told about his son running the farm while he was away.  His son was calling and asking questions about the right way to handle things and he finally told him roughly was that “Worst thing he could do was not make a decision.”  His son’s worry about doing things the right way was an echo of all of my life’s choices.  I often worry so much about making the best possible choice that I can’t make a decision at all.  And this is more extreme decision making than where I want to eat supper…

Farm transition of my dad and Uncle Mark’s farm is the single most daunting, terrifying, yet fulfilling and necessary decision that I have (and probably ever will) experienced.  Our family went through farm transition training about 10 years ago.  But we weren’t ready, us “kids” were not working on the farm and going through very extreme changes in our own individual lives.  Now, after the decline of the dairy industry shook our sense of security and we’ve grown up a bit, it’s really time to get something figured out.

Huckleberry Dairy and Beef is a Century Farm in Floyd, Virginia.  This photo shows my dad (upper left) and my brother (kid on the right) in the milking parlor 30 some years ago

A part of VALOR is deciding on and completing a leadership plan based around The Leadership Challenge.  When I tried to think of something related to my current job (High School Career Coach), there wasn’t any inspiration.  The family farm kept coming back to me.  Finally, I realized there it was all along.  I would lead my family’s farm transition plan.

Merry Christmas, ya filthy animals!  Or so I thought…

Luckily there are some great transition resources among the VALOR fellows (Stefanie hooked me up with some Farm Bureau resources, and others in our group if you can’t tell by now – are farmers themselves).  Christmas is the only time that my dad, uncle, brother, sister, and me are ever in the same room.  Especially after meeting with Robert Mills on our last seminar it seemed like a great a great decision to put bows on the transition books and hand them out then.  Dad caught me walking out the door with them and said, “What are you doing with those?”  I gave him my grand plan and he responds with:


“Why not?  We need to get this going.”

“Well Mark’s been in a bad mood, and he’ll want ya’ll do take over the farm now.  It’s just not the right time.”

“When is the right time then?  There’s never a great time.”

“I know.”

So the books stayed un-gifted.  Dad, Mark, and I talk about the farm whenever I’m there.  Bringing the siblings (and their families) into the conversation is the current block.  Hence the main reasoning for gifting the resources. Interestingly enough, a week later Mark tagged us “kids” in a Facebook post about a farm transition webinar coming up.  Leave it to the older generation to use social media to bring us together.  Whatever works, I guess.


Decisions will need to be made about the farm.  If they aren’t our farm will turn out like others that just fall apart between generations.  For the New Year 2020, it seems like baby steps are being made.  But there’s plenty more to make.  Like Robert, I plan to make decisions in a smart way, use resources available, and hopefully be as enthusiastic.

I no longer wear matching pink outerwear or bring stuffed animals to the barn

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