Hey friends! I am going to talk about myself. Here we go.
What is this super cool life? How did I get here? I was born and raised in Bristol Borough PA. That's the tiny Bristol, where I graduated high school with about 80 kids. It is a cool little riverside blue-collar town (currently undergoing a "Main Street revival") that I would like to live in again. The whole farming thing precludes that right now, but I am about as close as I can get in Morrisville, only 15 minutes away from where I grew up.
The more I learn about the history of the land in our area, the sadder I get that our communities and their leaders were not informed enough/empowered to defend open, productive land against careless developers seeking only to profit. I lived amongst suburbs, and my parents were both raised in Levittown, the first suburb, but I had no idea of the toll that was taken. Rampant development has no regard for the stability and vibrancy that local farms bring.
Hm. That got dark pretty fast. Really, that was to say that I did not grow up with the notion of farming in my mind at all. My grandparents grew veggies in their garden, and my parents dabble, but I did not have much of the proclivity. When I was a teenager, I was interested in social studies- all kinds- and I still am, but I was never quite sure what I wanted to do once I graduated high school.
Going to college seemed to be the thing to do. I had been "on track" for it throughout high school, and though no one in my immediate family had gone or was pressuring me to go, I felt swept up. Later I realized that there was an ideology at work there. I would not recommend college to anyone who is not certain that they need it in order to do what they want, and even then I think it's puffed up. At something like 6 times its price from 30 years ago (far outpacing inflation), it's no secret that it's kind of a scam.
With sizable scholarships, I went from St. Joe's to Bucks County Community College to Temple. I had a good time for a few years, met cool people, expanded my worldview, and I would not thank the institutions for this. I feel like I would have gotten to a very similar place just reading the books and being involved in things I care about. I did not need to spend $800/hr to look at powerpoints. My biggest takeaways were: the school system (I studied History and Secondary Education) has more to do with bureaucracy than I want to deal with, and 18 year-olds should not go thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars into debt as their first adult venture.
I dropped out of college and sort of hung out for a bit, getting into a yoga practice (endless thanks to the folks at Amrita Yoga & Wellness!) and working here and there. I do value a good deal of down-time in my life. I wish I'd taken it immediately after high school. I wish I had known about City Year, or just that a gap year was a thing. I ended up taking a gap year(ish), even as my friends were graduating and asking why I didn't just stick it out, even as I started to feel behind the pack.
It was a slow, but ultimately valuable process. I was questioning what I was going to do with my time. I was carefully observing people and their choices. I wondered why kindhearted, reasonable people spent so much time working for companies that didn't share their values. Even in cases where the money followed, they were working more than doing things they liked. I did not want to do that, but I also wasn't sure if I liked anything or thought it was important enough to do it all the time. I wondered what sorts of things would challenge and fulfill me while also providing a necessary service. I tried to envision what a 'good life' was for me.
At the same time, I was enjoying some occasional work at Three Springs Fruit Farm's stand at the Headhouse Farmer's Market. Generous and enthusiastic as the Wenk family is, I always took home lots of produce and treats from the market. When I laid all that gorgeous food out on the counter and thought about the delicious things I would make, I felt so wealthy.
With that foray into local food culture in my head, I found myself on Coursera, taking a free introductory course on the U.S. food system. It blew my mind. From a very minor time investment came to light the insanity that we not only live with, but physically consume to stay alive every day. The 4 or 5 week-long course covered CAFOs (controlled animal feeding operations), how/why agriculture became industrialized, and directed me to documentaries like Food Inc. (on Netflix and worth a watch). All of this information had been just under my radar, but suddenly it was a the forefront of my thoughts.
The backwards nature of the industrial food system became a reality that I could not ignore. I was shocked by the general disregard for this issue, for it truly affects everyone, and I was ashamed of my previous ignorance. I've had a fair few moments of epiphany like that in my life. Getting close to the truth has always been important to me, and I got to a point where I couldn't learn any more about the messed up policies and trends that weigh on my life without doing something about them. Luckily, there are other people who not only feel exactly the same way, but they're also doing something about it. Those people are organic farmers.
In college I felt just as incensed about economic/racial/gender (etc!) disparity (through the lens of the education system), so why did the resolve to do something come along with food? Maybe it was more tangible- I will eat whenever the opportunity arises- or maybe because I felt I could have more of a positive stake in it.
I landed on the idea of a farming apprenticeship. Still in debt at this point, I moved back home and tried to make some cash. I looked around at different apprentice programs and decided to stay close to home, so I signed on for a season at Snipes. We had been members of the CSA there the year before.
Not an unpopular opinion of farming is that it is "grunt work." I encountered this view frequently when I shared my plans with people. I heard some incredulous tones and professions of unwillingness to "work that hard." In a way, their view bolstered my conviction that food was absolutely worth working for. Also, I was not a stranger to "grunt work." My dad started taking me on his general contracting jobs when I was about 12. It was plenty cushy; he paid me whatever I thought was fair, we took naps after lunch, and he took over my tasks when I got hot, grumpy, and very teenagerish. Still, I gained respect for physical labor and tedium- two things that are behind absolutely everything, even though it's pretty fashionable to keep a clear distance from them. I figured that if I could teach myself a little more of that respect and also learn the ways of the land, I'd be pretty set to farm.
I was so excited to start. After I got set in the routine, I would actually spring out of bed when the sun came up and be excited for the day ahead, and, no, I have never been a morning person. I was just hanging out with cool people, having some of the best conversations ever, growing food, and eating it! The season went by so fast. I was quick to get on board for another year, which passed in a very similar way.
Still very happy with the type of work I was doing, I began to have doubts about what exactly I was working towards. I didn't own any bit of the farm I worked on. There wasn't even a place for me to stay there. I didn't make enough money to support myself. I considered taking a break from full-time farming the next year to work at a restaurant, stack some cash, and formulate a long-term plan. The concept of equity was on my mind a lot, although that exploration is for a different blog post!
Most of my concerns were put on the backburner by the end of year 2, when Brad and I got together. We didn't decide to start Love Grows until January, so we lived in a sort of blissful limbo for a few months, and I didn't worry so much about next moves. We'll keep that story for ourselves.
That was the first part of my journey. 2017 will only be my fourth year. I'm in a very good place, which is largely because I have an amazing partner. There are plenty of things I have yet to learn about farming. I'm sure I could kick it in gear if necessary, but I'm not really in the "head grower" category just yet. We're still finding our balance, not only of responsibilities/tasks, but with our work and the rest of our lives as well. Four years ago, I would not have guessed that by now I'd be running a farm business with my favorite person. I feel very lucky. Life is looking great from here, and the road goes ever on!