An introduction to the blog…
Welcome! This blog intends to give you — a person who undoubtedly eats, and maybe even grows some food yourself — a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the process of growing healthful produce for market. What’s it really like, in this day and age, to farm the land?
It was definitely my romantic streak that got me into this business in the first place, and I’ll bet you harbor some romantic sentiments about farms, too. Big red barns. Romps in the hay. Fields of sheep baa-ing into the morning. Hens clucking merrily as they wander around in the tall grass, trailing a dozen little fluffy chicks behind them. A big ole John Deere tractor, shiny and green, in the driveway. That sort of thing.
That was my vision, too. And then there’s the reality: early mornings, no weekends, down and dirty, nitty and gritty, besieged by plague, pestilence, drought, fire, and flood. Invasions of cucumber beetles hell-bent on eating every last seedling. Forget the big red barn barn and fields full of sheep — you’ll be cultivating whatever tiny scrap of land you can afford (or are permitted to squat on.)
First and foremost, this is the behind-the-scenes look at the trials and tribulations of a first-year farmer (now a fourth year farmer!). But I’m also going to try and provide you with some information that might be helpful if you choose to “grow your own,” whether your plans involve a full-on farm, medium-sized market garden, a small backyard, or a three-foot windowsill. I’ll offer tips on hardy crops and laying chickens, as well as some “do as I say, not as I did” advice gleaned from any of my many farming disasters.
I hope you enjoy it.
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Want to know how our story started?
[Here's the initial introduction to the blog, written during our first year of farming in 2008.]
I love a farmer.
Well, sort of.
I’m not a farmer’s daughter, not a farmer’s wife–in fact, I’m pretty sure I’m not even a farmer’s first cousin, second cousin, niece, granddaughter, goddaughter, or aunt. Nope: I’m in what seems to be a rather rare category. To identify my class, I prefer to spin off from the more common concept of ‘farmer’s wife’: the ‘aspiring farmer’s girlfriend.’ The awkward tentativeness of the phrase is entirely intentional–because this, as you’ll see, is an entirely awkward business. On our best days we’re tentative; on our worst, we’re confused and helpless, arguing over whether the long skinny white Thing coming out of the flaccid potato is a root or a sprout. (Emmett, the sort-of farmer I love, won that argument. Although it lacked any evidence of chlorophyll or leaf and grew in a decidedly root-like clump, the Thing was indeed a sprout and after two weeks has finally budded leaves, proving Emmett’s theory.)
But before I clue you in on our trials and tribulations (and trials), a little background on the absurdity of our adventure. We’re both twenty-five, with a healthy appreciation for all things environmental. We both like cooking and eating food. Emmett even likes growing things, and has had success doing so in the past. So far, so good. But while he tended beets and radishes on the windowsill of his dorm room, I was busy pulling the last strawberries out of my backyard, thinking them weeds. (What that says about the fate of the royal burgundy pole beans under my care, only time will tell.)
After graduating with similar environmental science Master’s degrees in 2006 and 2007 — his emphasizing urban planning and mine communication — we spent a bit of time testing the waters. I took an internship as an environmental reporter in the farm-friendly town of Port Townsend, Washington. Emmett consulted part-time and spent one day a week at nearby Frog Hill Farms in exchange for a week’s worth of fresh produce. After that, we took our savings (along with a miserable exchange rate) to New Zealand, where we lived out of a van named Boris, backpacked through the Southern Alps, and worked on organic farms through WWOOF (Willing Workers On Organic Farms). As the Southern Hemisphere summer turned to fall and then winter, bringing rain down on our leaky van and frosts through its ill-insulated frame, we returned home to California. Just in time for summer, although not — as you’ll see — quite in time for planting season.
So here we are, feeling a little out of place driving on the right side of the road. (NZ’s a true colony, remember.) While friends — many of whom have come to the conclusion that the economic waters are currently fetid, and should be avoided as much as possible — have headed to PhDs, law school, or just-squeeze-by-for-now jobs, we’ve decided quite the opposite: the time is ripe for a start-up.
Which brings me, finally, to the patch. We’re going one up on Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver. Not only are we going to attempt to provide for ourselves, we’re hoping to provide for a host of other people — and make money doing it. We have a few things going for us: free land, a roof over our heads, and some tools. Emmett’s dad grows grapes, and our veggie patch is a dusty brown anomaly amid acres of startlingly green vineyard. (The vines were ripped out of our 2-acre rectangle post harvest, and won’t be replanted until spring, giving us a window of growing opportunity.) The family business means that there’s never a shortage of hoes, shovels, water, or small farm vehicles to move things around. I admit: we have a bit of a head start, so it’s not a perfect experiment.
But nothing I do is perfect. And if you’ve read any of this blog at all, you’ll know that we’ve definitely got some handicaps when it comes to farming the land. To hear about our successes and disasters, and to learn a bit more about who we are and what we’re up to, read on!
[Editorial note: we successfully finished our first season of market sales in 2008; we improved our crops and our sales every week, built up a regular customer base, and made many new friends in the process. And, well, we liked it enough not only to keep going, but also to expand... and we're now headed into our 4th season of farming, and our 3rd season of running a CSA!]