In the comments of my post Building Fences and Wondering What Might Have Been, Pat asked about the long version of how I got from just thinking about farming and actually farming.
My great-grandparents bought the quarter-section (160 ac.) of land that's called the Home Place in about 1925, which makes up part of the land I'm farming.
A few years later, my great-grandfather died and my great-grandmother was left a widow with 6 young children, of which my grandfather was the oldest at about 11 years old. Somehow they managed to hold onto the farm through the Great Depression, and the drought years of the Thirties (I don't think the Dust Bowl actually happened around here, but it was dry).
I have no way of knowing how or what they were farming in that time period, but I happen to have a farm ledger from 1937, (which must have been saved because it was supposedly the worst of the drought years) when they were growing cotton, wheat, oats, grain sorghum, and also baling sudangrass/pea and oats for hay. They mainly had dairy cows (about 8), broiler chickens (I'm not sure if they sold any of those), layer chickens, and six horses rounded out the rest of the livestock on the farm. I'd guess that the farm was about the same more or less in 1927 as it was in 1937 (although they might have scaled back in 1937 due to the droughts).
After World War II, Grandpa and a couple of his brothers were still farming in the area, and that's about the time they started buying their own land, which was when Grandpa bought the other quarter-section I'm farming right now.
Then, the droughts in the fifties started, and according to Dad, they almost lost everything because back then almost all that they owned was put up as collateral to mortgage any new farmland (I'm not sure if that's entirely true, but I've looked at the deeds and all the land Grandpa owned was used as collateral to mortgage that quarter-section).
The droughts in the fifties were supposed to have been worse than the Dirty Thirties, and Dad said that they were so desperate that they were baling the ditches along the roads trying to get enough hay to make it through the winter, and the hay was so thin that the baler had to follow right behind the rake so it could be baled before it blew away. It finally started raining in the late-50's and the worst of the droughts were over.
When my great-grandmother died, my grandfather inherited 1/6 of the Home Place and then he bought the rest from his brothers and sisters. At that point, he owned 800 acres and was renting at least 320 more acres.
We lived close to the farm until I was about 8 years old, with Dad still helping around the farm, then we moved about 25 miles away when he got a new job. Dad still helped on the farm even after we moved, but by the late-70's, Grandpa was starting to think about retiring due to health reasons (his knees were going out, etc.), the price of cattle and grain had been going down for awhile, his equipment was starting to wear out, and he didn't want to spend a bunch of money at that stage of his life replacing everything.
He semi-retired in about 1980, renting out most of the farm, but keeping a small herd of cattle, which were the cattle I was mostly exposed to as a kid on a hands on basis. Then his health got worse, and he sold the last of the cattle about 4-5 years later.
He and Grandma still lived on the farm, so I was still around the farm even after he retired, but I was mainly interested in hunting and fishing instead of farming. I was more interested in managing land for wildlife, planting food plots for deer and turkey, leaving wheat stubble for dove hunting and quail habitat, planting a field of alfalfa so I could grow big deer instead of baling piles of hay, etc. One of my life goals at the time was to own my own piece of land and manage it for deer, turkey, quail, and whatever else I could hunt.
I went to college, then Grandpa died soon after I graduated, and Grandma still lived on the farm.
I liked college and engineering, but always had a nagging feeling that I was somehow getting farther and farther away from owning any of my own land, or just being able to just go outdoors any time I wanted to.
I graduated with a Mechanical Engineering degree, wasn't really satisfied with the type of work that was available, so I went back to get a Master's Degree. Then at the start of my second semester, I decided working the rest of my life as an engineer didn't really suit me, so I just quit college and engineering completely. One of the happiest days of my life was the day I walked off of that campus, never to return (I swear the sun shone brighter, I had a bounce in my step, and I was grinning ear to ear on that day).
I burned every bridge in sight, salted the earth, and never looked back (well, I might have questioned my sanity a few times), then I started trying to figure out once again what I was going to do with my life. It was both one of the stupidest and smartest things I've ever done in my life. Take my advice and don't try this at home, I'm not a professional.
By that time, I had a vague idea that I wanted to be self-employed, and I began to think that I might be able to make a living raising cattle and farming, so that I could be self-employed and could also still do all the things outdoors that I wanted to do. But, for whatever reason, it never occurred to me to try renting land from my Grandma because as much of a screw-up as I was at the time, I didn't want to screw-up her life by failing at farming and also failing her. So, I continued to stumble through life, doing this and that to make a little money, stayed out of debt, somehow managed to save some money, and started to think more and more that maybe I should have toughed it out as an engineer (after all, you gotta do what you gotta do and all that).
About this time a tornado hit the farm, which was at least a half-mile wide and it destroyed every building on my grandmother's farm, including her house, two hay barns, three equipment sheds, loafing sheds, a lot of the trees, and most of the fences in its path. I spent almost a year off and on cleaning up the debris, fixing fences, and finally figuring out that I might actually be able to make a life for myself as a farmer. That was easier said than done, so for a few years, I spent a lot of time observing, reading, saving, and learning how to do as much as I could.
A number of years later, my grandmother died. All the land was divided up among my father and his sisters, and after my father bought part of the land from his sisters he owned 400 acres of the original farm. At this point, I was almost desperate since I thought that any chance I might of had of ever farming was slipping away, and then I actually talked to my family about farming this land (which I hadn't really done up until this point).
It was harder than I would have guessed to ask for that help, but with some probably undeserved help and some work, I eventually went from thinking about farming to being a farmer. Although I still don't know if I should call myself a farmer, rancher, stockman, gamekeeper, or something else (which is a whole other story).
The ending to this long rambling post and this part of the story is that I'm able to farm because I'm leasing the land from my parents (FWIW, I'm also renting another quarter-section down the road).
Some people might argue with me, but farming either inherited or family-owned land has certain disadvantages from my experience. My great-grandparents, grandparents, great-uncles, and parents all had to struggle through farm-ending droughts and some of them spent a lot of money to keep the farm intact so that I can have a chance at farming it today.
Sometimes there's a lot of pressure to live up to the unprovable expectations of people long gone.
When I get around to it, I'll try to explain how I went from having access to some land and actually farming it.