Friday, June 29, 2012

Loving the Journey

In the spring of 2009 I picked up a copy of Local Table, a fabulous Nashville magazine about local food and farming. Reading that issue sparked an interest in me to learn about sustainable farming. Three years later, in March of 2012, that interest was actualized as Josh and I bought our own little parcel of land: 7.6 acres of woods and pasture in Ardmore, Alabama, perched on the state line of Tennessee.

When I first got into farming, I immediately wanted to get land and start growing things, raising livestock. I am so glad I waited - sometimes willingly, often unwillingly. In the time between that first spark and the reality of owning land, I:

1. Worked in a community garden (4 months)
2. Worked on a biodynamic farm, Bells Bend (2 months)
3. Attended an organic farming conference, TOGA
4. Worked on a sustainable farm, Paradise Produce (6 months)
5. Sold organic meat products for West Wind Farms at the West Nashville Farmers Market (4 months)
6. "Farmsat" for a friend's chickens, pigs, cow, and dogs on Ecotone Farm
7. Took an Organic Production class at UT Knoxville (3 months)
8. Worked on UT Knoxville's organic farm (3 months)
9. Visited / met different farmers, heard their stories, listened to their advice, visited their farms:
     -- Clover Bell Farm (Dexter cattle)
     -- Jem Farms (produce, eggs, pastured meats)
(The above farm folks are invaluable Facebook friends when I have a question about anything farm-related. Find them and friend them, they are great at knowing stuff!)
     -- Wisner Farm (produce, eggs, pastured meats)
     -- Shekinah Farm (raw dairy, eggs, produce)
10. Worked at an urban demonstration farm, Beardsley (a seriously amazing place)
10. Read about a billion books / blogs / online articles about farming / homesteading
11. Took a beekeeping class through the Madison County Beekeepers Association (January/February 2012)

The point of telling you all this stuff I did? Not to brag, because honestly at times I hated working on farms - I was not the best UT intern because I rebelled against the lack of good structure and sometimes just didn't show up. Even at the farm job I am the proudest of, where I actually worked my butt off from 8 a.m. often past 8 p.m., I remember whining to Farmer Stacy one hot, humid afternoon about having to weed the cucumber beds. 

In amongst all this knowledge-seeking, at different points I wanted real bad to do the following:

1. Buy land in Vanleer, Tennessee - I even looked at a spot of land with my amazing farmer pals Linda and Mayor Larry of Clover Bell Farm
2. Grow vegetables on Ecotone Farm
3. Buy land in Joelton, outside Nashville, and grow produce
4. Apply to be a farm manager at a community farm in Chattanooga

Thankfully, none of those temporary hopes came to fruition. Instead, I got to move to Huntsville to marry my love, who had been so smart with his finances that we were able to find the perfect piece of land for my dreams.

This was not an overnight journey. Despite now having years of assorted farm experience under my belt, I feel far from knowing anything. I have already made mistakes on my own land (just ask my poor, crispy garden that is overrun with Bermuda grass). But I am so thankful for not rushing into anything. I have seen good friends do just that and be devastated when they have to walk away from everything. I also have watched friends start small with gardens and chickens in their backyard, only to realize that even that small dream can be extremely hard to handle. 

At least with starting small, as we have been striving to do, our losses can also stay small. Better to let a 100 square foot garden go neglected than to let 5 acres of crops get ruined. Better to suffer the loss of a chicken or two due to dog attacks than to have dozens of them killed by a neighbor dog  (this happened to Farmer Stacy).

And as we suffer the small losses, the hope is to become more resilient and prepared for the big ones. Farming is always, always a gamble. Drought, predators, pests, cold snaps - all of these can destroy months of hard work without warning. There are things to be wise about, but you can never prepare against everything. Just ask the Nashville farmers who lost acres of freshly planted crops in the floods of 2010 or the Alabama / Tennessee farmers right now who are dealing with no rain and a heat wave.

The best you can do is learn from your mistakes and accept everything with an open hand, knowing it could be taken away the next day.

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