Will I Ever Be A “Real” Farmer?

How exactly does a person LEARN to farm? I guess what I really mean is how do you LEARN to make a comfortable living at it?

Owning a farm and knowing how to make a living on a farm are two entirely different things. Most people I have met since we moved to the countryside have an off-farm day job and farming is their second job. Actually, I think everybody I’ve met fits that bill, part-time farmers, full-time something else.

Now that I have a farm of my own, I’m trying to learn how to farm AND trying to figure out how to make a living on these beautiful acres. I should add: I happen to be completely untrained and uneducated in farming. So far I’ve “trained” by talking to people who have farmed and by reading books about it.

This weekend, though, I did something else. I went to a farming conference.

Now, I’ve been to all kinds of conferences.

“Blogging” conferences are over-rated.

“Legal” conferences are over-boring.

“Creative” conferences are over-priced.

“Religious” conferences are too arm-wave-y.

But. I’ve found my home at a farming conference. Like that last bowl of porridge that Goldilocks found in the Three Bears’ Cottage: this one was just right.

The conference was hosted by a local farming organization called ASAP, Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project. (ASAP’s website:  http://asapconnections.org/)

The conference was forty bucks (including food!) and simply fabulous. And guess what? Sooooo many women there! Made my heart sing as I looked around the room and saw other women just like me, with broken dirty fingernails.

And oh, the women with long dreadlocks that I saw there! I’ve always admired people who have that kind of courage. Like the author Anne Lamott and her dreadlocks. I’ve loved her and her dreadlocks for years and years. Have you discovered her?

One of her beloved quotes: “It’s funny: I always imagined when I was a kid that adults had some kind of inner toolbox full of shiny tools: the saw of discernment, the hammer of wisdom, the sandpaper of patience. But then when I grew up I found that life handed you these rusty bent old tools – friendships, prayer, conscience, honesty – and said ‘do the best you can with these, they will have to do.’ And mostly, against all odds, they do.” Hey, she also wrote this: “Dreadlocks make people wonder if you’re trying to be rebellious.”

Comrades we are, us women, trying to do the farming thing. And the neat thing about women farmers (I’m sorry to be so bias, but it really is true) is that they have heart. They want to nurture the earth and the animals and the plants. They want to help each other. They are inclusive. To the women farmers I’ve met, THOSE things are more important than a desire to conquer and to rule and to make a fortune.

TO add to how much I loved this conference, it was held on the campus of probably the COOLEST college I’ve ever seen. Beautiful, but COOL too. Here’s a sampling of the beauty.

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You won’t believe this place. I’ve never heard of a college quite like this one. It’s a working college, with students earning part of their tuition in farming, blacksmithing, making bread, keeping the chickens, working with the work horses, etc. The students graduate with WAY MORE than a paper degree.

(Warren Wilson College: http://www.warren-wilson.edu/external_index.php)

(Wow, just found this documentary on the History of the College: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yNZmJonnyEg&list=UULGdhpOrW_7RmvImSeMRe4A)

And here’s a sampling of the COOL on that campus. A tree filled with prayer flags outside one of the buildings. (I want to do this on my farm!)

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I attended a session on farm leasing. Very enlightening as we lease out part of our farm.

I attended a session on QuickBooks for farmers. Very enlightening as I hope to have some income one day from the farm.

I attended a session on using Social Media in farming. Very enlightening how farmers are successfully using facebook and twitter to promote their endeavors.

And I had a fantastic local lunch of vegetable lasagna, salad, bread and apple cobbler.

And then we toured the college farm.

Huns, it was awesome! I was impressed.

All this work is done by the student body.

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The outside of the blacksmith’s shop above.

And below is a student giving us a tour of the greenhouse and hoop-house. He explained that they just replanted the lettuce because they lost power during a recent winter storm. They lost their entire crop. This greenhouse uses propane heating. We were toasty warm in there!

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Isn’t that college something else? Makes me wish…never mind, it doesn’t really. I wouldn’t go back to 18 years old for anything in the world.

The conference was grand. You know it was a success because my question marks became exclamation points.

I went from this in my head:         Can I do this???

To this:                                         I can do this!!!

Yep, I left empowered and enlightened.

(I also left with the strong desire to help establish a farm to school program at our local school. And to grow food for the hungry.)

The thing I know now is that if your farm is to be your business then you have to treat it as such.

Step One, put on the kettle, get out the tea, and develop your very own “farm business plan.”

Here I come Business Plan! Woot!

Talk to me!

Until next time, Friends, savor the flavor of life!
Lots of love, The City Farmgirl, Rebekah 

Leave a comment 18 Comments

  1. brenda says:

    so why didn’t you invite me? Sounds like a fantastic time! Are they doing it again next year?

  2. Carol in NC says:

    Anne Lamott has dreads?? Wow. Who knew.

  3. denise says:

    love your “can do” attitude!

  4. Liz says:

    Thank you for this, I feel that old dream of mine start to flicker! I have always wanted to run the business of a farm. I want to grow more food than my family can eat, so I can share it with my neighbors, and I want to do more than just be self sufficient in respects to food. (I grew up on a farm in Utah, where we truly ate only what we grew) That was my education, but I left too early! Please keep us up to date with yourself, you are such a good writer, I look forward to your posts!

  5. Adrienne says:

    Of course you can do this! Agriculture is in our blood from the hunter/gatherer days. We’ve just improved farming through the centuries. How wonderful to have the college nearby and share all the information they provide. Best wishes to you for continued success.

  6. Barbara Dellinger says:

    Rebekah, A farm conference will do that….put a strong foundation on a farm dream, which will take you to making it a reality. I recently attended the NAFDMA conference, a national farm conference with an agri-tourism angle. The farmers I met were amazing, down to earth and inspiring. It was a huge conference and I would like to find one that was more along the lines of the one you attended. As one “farmgirl” ( I work on a small family organic you-pick berry and veggie farm)to another “let the farming begin!”

  7. Rosemary says:

    Hi Rebekah,
    I so enjoy reading your column in Mary Jane’s magazine and your blog. You are very inspiring and so funny! :)
    After reading about your farm and how you sell Christmas trees…did you ever think of making that your income? Around here where we live , there are Christmas tree farms. People come from all over to cut down their own tree, get a hayride, buy a wreath, hot chocolate, etc. In the fall, they have a big corn maze with bonfires and other activities. I think they make a very good income. You can check them out at http://www.richardsonadventurefarm.com
    God bless you and good luck!
    PS: so sorry to hear about the loss of your chicken. We had 8 that we got as chicks almost 4 years ago. We have 4 left and a few are still laying!

  8. Eva says:

    This sounds like such a wonderful idea! I know you will have tons of fun!

  9. Corri says:

    Rebekah, I always enjoy your stories! Thanks so much for sharing!

  10. Dianne Beach says:

    Rebekah: Getting a e-mail from you is one of my greatest joys. I was thinking about a Farm near us that is organic and sells to restaurants, holds classes and tries to enlist the school children about growing one’s own food and eating it. You could sell at a farm market or advertise for other food enthusiasts (cheese makers, goat soap makers, etc) to sell a your farm market. This farm market also sells memberships an annual fee to purchase their own vegetables from the market. Whatever you decide for your farm will be right for you and your family. I am sure of that. Thank you for always looking at the sunny side. Hugs

  11. Amanda says:

    That college looks amazing!! What an awesome thing to do, you find such neat opportunities and just grab hold of them. While you’re learning from others, I’m learning from you. Keep up the inspiration!

  12. Joan says:

    As always entertaining and very in-lightning. WOW what a great college to attend, no not going back to ‘school’ but learning from ones like yourself is a good thing.
    God Bless and thanks for the joy.

  13. I’ve always been fascinated with the ancient idea that the family is an economic unit. Back when each household was a farm, they produced nearly everything they used and traded for the very few things they couldn’t make themselves. The family unit was a *producer,* not a *consumer.*

    I’m not saying it very well, but I really question the idea that we have to make lots of money at something in order to be successful at it. It goes with what you were saying about women – we want to nurture, we want to help things thrive. Doing this with a farm will provide food, shelter, warmth, exercise… and joining with other farmers provides entertainment, friendship, and somebody else’s cooking once in a while. That’s a full life!

    But see, it sounds like I don’t think you should make money with your farm, and that’s not what I’m mean to say. I’m just thinking about all those folks who work a full-time job in addition to farming. That’s sad, and I wonder if it’s because we all buy into the idea that we need to have “stuff.” Or perhaps the farms are too specialized. Everyone grows acres of corn, but no real food for themselves. Or they think they have to sell everything they grow and they never get the use of of it, like the Irish rancher I talked to in the Burren. He had a sheep ranch and he and his family NEVER ate lamb or mutton. It was too important to get the cash and make a profit.

    That’s messed up, IMO.

    More than any other occupation, farming should provide for so many of the farmer’s needs that she doesn’t need to make a lot of money. We just don’t farm that way anymore. But I know you want to nurture. I suspect whatever your plan is, it’s going to be beautiful. I can’t wait to read about it!

  14. Nancy Smith says:

    I have felt like I was the only one going through this! I’m taking the NCAT Getting Started in Farming online class and have been panicking over the Risk Management section! Your confidence inspires me to wade through my fears!

  15. Amy says:

    I so enjoy your stories about your farm. We have yet to move out to the farm because the house needs so much work. But I love the idea of working the farm and like you, I have no idea how to do that.

    I will be looking for a similar school to hopefully educate myself about how to do just that.

    Thanks for the inspiration.

  16. Ashley says:

    “…over-rated…over-boring…over-priced…too arm-wave-y” Hahaha!

    That college and conference sound amazing! You’ll get the hang of farming! You’re living a dream!

  17. Not everybody can afford to go to a farming college. So I decided to start an online program to teach women how to make a living farming check it out http://www.womenfarmers.org I have owned and ran a Lavender farm for over 10 years and it provides income and a lifestyle I love.www.gardengatelavender.com

  18. jill says:

    I an a farmer’s daughter and have spent the last 25 years growing organic vegetables for Farmer’s Markets and a successful CSA. I found success in starting each day of morning chores with my head against the warm side of my favorite milk goat, listening to the clucking of the hens as I fed them greens picked fresh from the greenhouse, and the soft bleat of the sheep as I throw hay down from the barn. Growing vegetables to feed families has been my greatest joy. No amount of income can compensate for the dirt under my nails and my sunburned nose. Success is being truly happy in your efforts. Here’s hoping you find the path that leads you to your dreams.

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