Schoharie County

Schoharie County farmer, entrepreneur reexamines wealth in new book

Shannon Hayes and her new book, “Redefining Rich: Achieving True Wealth with Small Business, Side Hustles & Smart Living.” (photos provided)
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Shannon Hayes and her new book, “Redefining Rich: Achieving True Wealth with Small Business, Side Hustles & Smart Living.” (photos provided)

The Great Resignation has been a headache for many employers, but for author, farmer and entrepreneur Shannon Hayes, it’s a positive thing.

“I consider the Great Resignation a sign of hope that people can make a transition to really start actively building a more sustainable life-serving economy,” Hayes said.

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4 million Americans quit their jobs in July alone. This spring also saw record numbers of people quitting their jobs.

“People are asking a lot, coming through a pandemic, about what they want their lives to be, and to me, this is an opportunity to make your life count,” Hayes said.

She challenges traditional ideas about success in her latest book, “Redefining Rich: Achieving True Wealth with Small Business, Side Hustles & Smart Living.”

Hayes is a third-generation farmer who runs Sap Bush Hollow Farm in West Fulton with her husband, Bob Hooper, and is the author of “Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture,” as well as cookbooks and other books.

“Redefining Rich” was published this summer and is a guide to balancing work and family and prioritizing the pleasures in life, taking readers through lessons that Hayes has learned throughout her perhaps untraditional career.

Hayes received her Ph.D. at Cornell University in sustainable agriculture and community development. She expected to teach at the university level but soon found that a conventional career came with some trade-offs.

The book opens with some of those trade-offs. “Professional growth or nurturing our roots? Financial gain or more time with family?. . For too many of us, working life is rife with a lot of tough choices,” Hayes writes.

Changing careers

After trying conventional jobs, both Hayes and Hooper left their careers years ago to help run Sap Hollow Bush Farm, which Hayes’ family had started in 1979. It started as a sheep farm but has diversified over the years to include grass-fed beef, chicken, eggs and more.

While helping run the farm, Hayes also wrote several books and homeschooled her two daughters, Saoirse Hayes Hooper and Ula Hayes Hooper.

She wrote “Redefining Rich” after taking the helm of the family farm in 2017, which at first was an overwhelming prospect.

“You grow up knowing this is coming your whole life and never feeling up to the task,” Hayes said. “It’s a hard business. Nearly all the farms in this country are losing money. They don’t have conventional income wealth like a standard business might.”

Around that time, partly to diversify the farm’s income, they opened the Sap Bush Hollow Farm Store and Cafe, which has become a community hub of sorts. Only open on Saturdays, it’s run by the entire family, with Hayes and her husband cooking and their daughters helping customers.

“We opened up this cafe and we’re still behind the scenes cooking and washing dishes and our daughters are up front working the espresso bar and waiting tables and talking to customers and people are coming to Sap Bush now and it’s also a community gathering space where people can talk to each other,” Hayes said.

The family also runs some rental properties on Airbnb to support the farm.

Needless to say, running each of the businesses was (and remains) a lot to juggle, and Hayes struggled at first with what she calls the overwork ethic of farmers.

“When you look at how impoverished our industry is with the new generation; you hear about young people getting into it, and then five or 10 years later once their bodies are tired and they’re burned out then they leave again, and I think part of that is we haven’t answered the question about the need for rest and recharging and restoration,” Hayes said.

As she writes in her book, this ethic can be found in the entrepreneurial community and academia.

“Bragging rights came from whoever logged the most hours, had the most skin in the game, put the most on the line . . . marriages were lost, children were estranged, illness was normal, and . . . financial ruin was common. And yet, no one dared to ask if those overwork values were just plain wrong,” Hayes writes.

It was difficult at first to shed that overworking mindset but she realized that not taking the time to enjoy the quality of life that she worked to create on the farm was akin to not paying herself.

“I somehow hadn’t really plugged into the fact that I needed to . . . take my pay and my pay was the streams, the swimming holes, the wonderful food,” Hayes said. “That’s when I started seeing this is the true wealth.”

In the book, she writes about another important part of that true wealth: time.

“The family business offers us time: Time to be together. Time to drink coffee while the rest of the world fights traffic on the way to work. Time to go for a walk. Time to linger over a meal. But the reality, as I pointed out in the introduction, is that most of us don’t take the offer of time,”
Hayes writes.

Through personal narrative, as well as workbook-style questions, she delves into how to carve out time for rest and for the things that one values. She also highlights the importance of challenges.

“We always think we want to solve our problems and make them go away. But I think in truth we’re always going to have them, so why not choose the ones that are the most fascinating to work on? That’s what I realized, [that farming] was for me. It was a scary problem, yes. But I was fascinated by it. I couldn’t let it go,” Hayes said, “And I was wasting my life if I didn’t let myself enjoy that process.”

The right time?

“Redefining Rich” is a wide-ranging, yet succinct book, one that’s perhaps unintentionally timely.

“I feel like this is one of the rare times when the book is where it should be at the right time,” Hayes said.

Though she’d originally written it for herself, as a way of discovering and tracking her course through leading the family farm, she thinks it might resonate with people who are part of the Great Resignation and are looking for more fulfilling and sustainable lifestyles.

“[This book] is giving them the financial understanding on how to do that without going bankrupt,” Hayes said. “I want people to know that there is a choice out there. It’s not just ‘have a job, go to a job, do whatever the job tells you.’ You can build a life centered around community and life and planet and family.”

“Redefining Rich” is published by BenBella Books, Inc. For more information visit benbellabooks.com or theradicalhomemaker.net.

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