So there I was, stunned by the realization that I really, really just wanted to be a farmer.
It sounded idyllic. Well, maybe not quite idyllic -– I had at least enough sense to recognize that farming the way I wanted to farm would involve a great deal of physical labor, long hours, and frustration with the weather and with pests. I had a vision of a diverse collection of crops growing lushly to feed me and my friends, with enough leftover to sell for income, but I had no illusion (from my own gardening experience) about how much work would be required to turn that vision into reality.
And did I mention the physical labor? I’d worked in an office, parked in front of computer, for eight hours a day, five days a week, fifty weeks a year, for the past eighteen years. I had chronic back problems, weak ankles and wrists, not nearly as much stamina as I’d like despite years of walking.
In short, I was soft, and I knew it. And my dream definitely required strength.
But I couldn’t shake it. Yes, it would mean a lot of work. Yes, it would leave me exhausted at the end of the day, probably without much energy to preserve the harvest. Yes, it would mean making a lot less money. But I wanted it.
I wanted to work in the fresh air and sunshine and, yes, even the rain, heaven help me. I wanted dirt under my nails, as awful as it is to dig out. I wanted the pleasure of growing a larger percentage of my own food –- and of having enough to sell, to replenish my own coffers.
I just had no idea how to do it.
During the summer of 2009, my desk job caused me so much more anger and anxiety than usual that I had to explore other possibilities. I looked into the apprenticeships offered by OEFFA, though many offered a mere pittance for salary, and I reveled in the quiet and even the mixed results in my gardens. Somehow, I had to find an escape route.
A friend suggested to me that instead of taking the apprentice route, I become an independent contractor with my own business. This way, I could combine multiple jobs -– such as freelance writing and editing –- with the farming and ensure a better balance of income. This offhand comment became the revelation that lit the path for me, and I started to pursue the possibility of self-employment, something I had dismissed times before because it just didn’t seem right for me. This time, it clicked.
As the saying goes, when the student is ready, the teacher appears.
I wanted to work with a farmer in the immediate area, and I had narrowed my initial options to three farmers I knew to varying degrees. One had a handful of children plus in-laws who helped on the farm, and she wasn’t sure that she would have enough for me to do or would be able to pay me regularly. One was enthusiastic but couldn’t pay me at all. And one -– Dave -– not only said he needed an apprentice for the following year, he was ready almost immediately to hire me, and he would pay me a reasonable wage.
I had come to know Dave through meetings of the local OEFFA chapter, and I could see that he was respected as a leader. We came together to help start Local Roots, and I soon learned that he really was worthy of that respect. So when it looked like I’d have the opportunity to work with Dave, I knew everything would work out fine.
I spent four months setting up my business, lining up work, and cleaning up projects at my job -– and at the start of a new year, I resigned from my job and looked forward to starting out on a new path in life.
Look out, Farming, here I come.