“Why farming?” is everyone’s first question when they find out what I’m doing.
It’s a valid one. Farming isn’t the typical career choice for a college educated female. Yet here I am. I never would have predicted my life would go in this direction, but I’m glad it has.
Farming has always been a part of my life in small ways. We spent many holidays and vacations at my grandparents’ farm in Virginia. When my sister and I were little we used to ride around on the lawn mower and sell produce from dad’s garden to our neighbors. In high school, I worked at a roadside produce stand during the summer selling fresh New Jersey sweet corn, tomatoes, and peaches. I used to say that my career satisfaction peaked at age 16. I was only ever half joking.
Fast forward to Brooklyn.
Before I moved to Brooklyn, life in NYC had been stressful to say the least. I wasn’t crazy about my job. Grad school hadn’t worked out. Working full time and going to school part time didn’t lend itself to a stellar social life. I was stressed and unhappy and wanted to leave the city altogether.
I am not one to argue with fate and when a family friend offered me her apartment in Park Slope, I couldn’t refuse. It seemed obvious that God still had plans for me in the city so I made the move. One of my first discoveries was the Grand Army Greenmarket. It became my Saturday morning ritual to wake up, grab a cup of coffee and meander about the market. I found myself envying the men and women who worked the stalls, remembering how happy I’d been back in high school.
Around the same time I read The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. They say ignorance is bliss and after reading this book, I could no longer plead ignorance. My eyes were opened to the chaos that is our industrialized food system. I knew I had to make a change. I couldn’t keep eating the way I always had knowing what I now knew.
I started cutting processed foods from my diet. My skin cleared up. My energy levels skyrocketed. My moods stabilized. The positive changes I saw in my life blew me away. They were things I never would have connected to my diet. And so began my obsession with real food. I wanted to tell everyone about the amazing benefits of changing the way they eat! (To anyone I harassed or annoyed with it all, I apologize.)
I also kept reading. I read a lot of Joel Salatin and Wendell Barry and New York Times articles. Work had me sitting at a computer without a lot to do so I spent my days researching the industrial food system and its alternatives. I’d also wistfully browse WWOOF’s website, fantasizing about moving to Australia to work on a sheep ranch, but never imagining I’d actually do something like that.
I mean, what kind of crazy person quits a secure job in this economy to go volunteer on a farm?
For all the knowledge I was amassing, food was still just a hobby. I didn’t see it as a career. My career dream was to go overseas with an NGO or non-profit to do 3rd world development. I was constantly looking for jobs, but was completely unqualified. My education was irrelevant to what I wanted to do and my job as an office manager didn’t provide useful practical experience. I couldn’t get the experience I needed without school, but school requires loans and I wouldn’t be able to pay them off working for an NGO in Southeast Asia. Catch 22. I’d actually started a grad program at NYU, but left after the first semester because it was too expensive.
Then it hit me: What could be more practical to development work than sustainable agriculture? What could be more beneficial to the world than providing people with the knowledge and skills needed to feed themselves? With that vision guiding me, taking a year or two off to volunteer on a farm no longer seemed like a silly fantasy. It suddenly became a wise career move. A way to gain practical knowledge and experience without saddling myself with debt.
That’s the dream. I won’t call it a plan yet because there’s still a lot I need to work out. Plus, if you had asked me five years ago what my five-year plan was, I can assure you it wouldn’t have involved farming in Honey Brook, PA. I don’t want to set myself up for disappointment by saddling my future with goals and expectations over which I have no control. I am here, I am learning, I am chasing a dream. And for now that is enough.