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Dream Job: Homestead Farmer

Reaping the Benefits

Every morning Jay Fox wakes up at 4:30 to tend his 20-acre farm. Cleaning chicken coops, tilling fields, and hand-weeding three large gardens can't wait for the sunrise. There's no snooze button and hardly any sick or vacation days when it comes to working with nature. "It's all seasonal work. What you do on the farm depends on the season," said Fox. "You can be doing anything from spreading manure to weeding a garden to baling hay depending on the time of the year."

Although Fox works long hours practically every day, he gets to enjoy the many perks of tilling the beautiful Wisconsin countryside - as opposed to stewing in a cubicle from 9 to 5. "The bay window in our living room faces west and we get to see some fantastic sunsets," he said. "It's a good life, and you get out of it what you put into it."

Which means that when you're busy, you're busy. "It's hard work," he continued. "But not having to answer to anyone has a real allure." And not only does Fox enjoy autonomy and the prettiest office on Earth, but at the end of the day, the organic grub on his dinner table tickles his palate. "I mean, we can go out in the summer and pick a fresh salad right out of the garden."

Tilling the Soil Instead of Toiling at the Office
It's never too late to trade your laptop for a hoe and become a farmer. "I made a conscious choice to become a farmer because I really wanted a different lifestyle from the daily grind of being a corporate executive," said Fox, who moved to the Wisconsin countryside with his wife to take up homesteading more than seven years ago. Homesteading is farming on a small scale, much different from agribusinesses, which produce food for mass consumption.

"My wife works off the farm because she still enjoys the corporate life and we need her income for now," Fox said. But don't think the wife gets off easy just for bringing in the bacon - she helps on the farm after work and on weekends.

While farming takes a certain amount of skill and a wide array of knowledge, you don't need to be a 4-H Club alum to till soil and tend herds on a small scale. "I had no formal education as a farmer," said Fox. "When I decided to change jobs, I had to rely on mentors - men who were friends and who had been farming for years - to help educate me." Don't have any connections to the farm life? Then check out your local library. "My biggest advice for hobby farming or homesteading is to really educate yourself on the idea before you venture into it," said Fox. "A lot of book learning got me through."

Nature Takes Its Course
"As in any case of being self-employed, you're your own boss and you set your own hours," said Fox. However, farmers do have to answer to a bigger cheese than the traditional office worker, as well as the oldest alarm clock around - nature. "Weather is the single most quixotic factor in farming and the one thing that makes it either a joy or a disaster," said Fox.

Not only do farmers have to take into account the weather and the land's natural behavior, they also have to protect their farm's encroachment into other species' habitats. "Last summer a fox came through and went after my chickens," said Fox, who is apparently not a big fan of his namesake. "In one day, that blasted thing took five hens in quick succession." Ultimately, the farm's rooster, a hard fellow named Smoker, saved the day by chasing off the crafty quadruped. "That's one valiant rooster and he'll never get the stew pot," said Fox. "When it's his time, he'll get a burial of honor on the property for defending his hens."

But nature cuts Fox and his fellow farmers a break now and then. Although spring and fall are hectic seasons, Fox usually gets some time to himself come summer and winter. "Winter is more slack time and summer isn't quite as busy because everything's in the ground and growing at the point," said Fox. "Since I like to write, I appreciate the downtime so that I can practice that hobby."

So, if you don't mind getting your hands dirty and waking up before the sun, pull on a pair of work boots…and dream on!