23 March 2021

Lance Gillespie: Finding my new happy place

Lance Gilliespie
NB: This is a follow-up story to my earlier blog on Farmer Tom.

After my 88-year-old father read my last blog story, he said in true blunt fashion, “I’ll be looking forward to the next story son.”

So, here it is Dad.

Yes Dad. We have done the unthinkable and listed the farm for sale (although for Dad, and many others, the idea of selling the farm was incomprehensible).

Let’s backtrack some years into our early farming life. My wife Katherine and I purchased a dairy farm in partnership with family. As the hammer fell at auction Katherine said, “Oh crap”. I wasn’t a dairy farmer, for several reasons. I enjoyed the seasonal changes that came with growing crops and running machinery and livestock, and I had spent several years driving machinery and farming cattle, working on farms in the UK and USA. What I didn’t enjoy about dairy farming was the nature of doing the same thing on different days – the routine was constant, day in and day out. However, I did see this as an opportunity to grow our business and create something for ourselves, so we needed to run with it.

Two years on we bought the partners out and moved on-farm. So, at the age of 32, we were farm owners in our own right. Fast forward several years. I was starting to get bored with the repetitive native of the industry. I was working harder than ever. I was sometimes a grumpy father and husband and generally stressed with the relentless nature of the job. I was fortunate to have a life outside the farm gate, although it was always rush-rush-rush. I will always be grateful and blessed to have a supportive staffing team that allowed me to be off the farm. Being involved in industry activities, off-farming interests, family, and the kids’ sporting endeavors have kept me going.

Cows on the farm

Now let’s back up the horse a little to 2012, which is when I started taking an active interest in biological farming, or what was the beginning of what we today call ‘regenerative agriculture’. Reflecting over the last 40 years, not having a farming father has been both a positive and a negative. How’s that? The positive is that I have been able to farm on my own, progressing, making mistakes, and learning on my own. The negative has been, not having a farming father figure to toss my ideas around with. I will add though that I am very grateful for a supportive family allowing me to create my destiny.

For parts of the last five years, I’ve been unsettled and restless and have spent considerable energy and time looking at the “what next”. Searching for that something that will relight my fire from within, which has been both time consuming and mentally very draining. Life has been busy with many things consuming my energy, from the outside it may have looked pretty good, but the inner me was lacking a contentedness.

In 2018 while attending a three-day soil health masterclass, Nicole Masters and I were talking. She said, “Lance that doesn’t sound very regenerative”. I didn’t think much about that at the time, although on later reflection it kept coming back and this started playing on my mind. I started to question the comment in my head, using that as the beginning of what was to follow next.

So, what were my thoughts about why a change was needed?

  • Every day was still a constant challenge to this under-achieving overachiever, and the work had become boring and predictable.
  • The way I was farming was no longer aligning with my values and how I wanted my holistic farming model to be.
  • Our kids had attended boarding school, which has served us well, but it had saddened me to miss parts of their growing-up years.
  • I was searching for something for both Katherine and I that we could call our own.
  • A lifestyle change was calling.
  • I had been so busy in life that I had forgotten just how to live ‘in peace’ with the world.
  • I felt a real lack of good friendships and meaningful relationships, which was a time-related issue.

Over the years I’d read and studied plenty and I should have learned how to deal with what was going on. The desire for a reset was calling. So, in September 2020 we pushed the start button to sell the farm, not sure how this was going to unfold or what the outcome was going to be. Some tough conversations and decisions that we had to make followed. Seeing a tear in a staff member’s eye when telling them of our future plans, and that redundancy was on the cards was one of the hardest conversations to have – and one I will never forget.

We proceeded towards our farm tender date and the following day tendered on another property. The outcomes of the days and following weeks I wasn’t prepared for. We won the tender and lost it the next day. Talk about an emotional roller coaster (boy was I gutted and disappointed!).

What I have learned over these past months is that there is only so much we can control. I have been so used to making all the plans and decisions and running with them. I’ve been learning that the reality is I can’t always line all the ducks up in a row, and that there is a need to trust the process and take one step at a time. I cannot always control the outcome. There is a need to execute the first phase well and then focus on the next challenge with a clearer picture of the “what next”. I am learning that it’s okay to not have the “what next” nailed down.

Wow. What a difference it makes if we can create the space, create a plan (flexible), use wise counsel, and then proceed.

So, what are we looking for in the “next thing”? What are our dreams for the future? Our vision and ideas we’ve shared with family while enjoying together time over the Christmas holiday has been quite a talking point.

We still want to farm livestock with happy pasture-raised chickens. I could potentially do some soil coaching or provide a liquid fertiliser application service, or maybe grow some alternative crops. We have a vision of creating something collaborative in the community. Somewhere that we can put a holistic regenerative agriculture model into place, including and allowing people to work to their strengths, it may include accommodation cabins, an area for tiny homes, a conference venue, commercial kitchen, orchard, and large vegetable garden.

A book I read last year came from a conversation I had standing in an engineering workshop in our local community. In the book by Charles Handy, “The Empty Raincoat” – Making Sense of the Future, Charles talks about several things that resonated with me:

  1. Sigmoid Curve – seek out the next opportunity on the rise of the curve before the current one starts declining.
  2. The Discovery Process – have an inquisitive mind and learn new things all the time.
  3. The Donut Principle – the concept of balancing the core of the must-do’s in life and what our shortfalls and overshoots are.

Handy went on to talk about the three senses:

  1. A sense of Continuity – don’t assume you can change the world. Change comes from small initiatives over a long period.
  2. A sense of Connection – scientific evidence strongly suggests that this is a core psychological need essential to feeling satisfied with your life.
  3. A sense of Direction – life needs “a cause” beyond oneself. We discover ourselves through others.

My current reading is a book by Vandana Shiva entitled, Oneness versus the one %. She looks at the large corporate 1% that rule the world and talks about how to break free from that 1%. To quote Vandana, “It is a human necessity because participating in the world of limitless greed, profit, violence and powder robs us of our humanity.”

The Gillespie family in 2021 all face new beginnings, two off to university, one to a new school, and Katherine and I with family, finding somewhere new to live on this journey of finding my new happy place.

I question myself and still haven’t got it nailed. Is it too safe to be farming? Or what else could I be achieving in our next phase of life?

I look back at my Farmer Tom story I shared last year and now see no failures – these were opportunities and learnings that helped shape the next adventure.

To quote Albert Einstein,

“The world we have created is a product of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.

So where to from here? It’s now time to attend to some livestock and maybe a follow-up story down the track. I will leave you with the below to finish.

As I stop and reflect over the summer holiday on the past, present, and dream into the future, this comes to mind,

“We are all living beings we must evolve, adapt and diversify, that is the nature of who we are meant to be.”


Lance Gillespie – March 2021
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