When I first became a Market Farmer, I was 25 years old. Still in University, I thought it would be cool to start a farm.
I wanted to slow climate change by growing local food for my community. I wanted to grow an acre of beautiful vegetables and to sell fresh produce direct to customers, hear them exclaim how happy they were at such delicious produce. I wanted to get dirty and fit and be outside all day. But there was a catch, I had never farmed before.
That first year farming was like a drilling for water and finding nothing. My partner Dion and I planted and prepped and put every bit of faith into that farm. All our greens were eaten by flea beetles. All our tomatoes starts died from being overhead watered. We were buying row cover at the garden center and sowing it together by hand, instead of buying the cloth at a farm outlet and getting the right size. (This was hours of painstaking work.) We ran out of water in Mid July.
Still, I was in love. I blame it on the swallows. There is nothing like working outside under their swoon. And the ravens, the call like sounds of water drops. With the dragonflies in late summer, I knew I was to be a farmer from there in.
Although that first year was challenging, I learned a lot. These are the things I am still mastering:
When the farming season is on forget having a social life.
This one really took me some time to work through. The first year, I remember coming out of the field, having harvested all day in the heat and my friends calling me about a house party. “Just one sec, I am going to make dinner, wash and I will be there.” I barely made it to dinner and was sleeping by nine o’clock.
Self care is one of the highest priorities as a farmer.
I am still learning this. It kind of goes along with letting go of social time. Unless you are the kind of person where going to a party is self care. But if you are like me, I need to practice yoga, go for a bike ride, or better, go for a bike ride and find a beach somewhere to practice yoga. That has made all the difference. My goal for this year is to carve out a bit of self care every single day. Even just fifteen minutes.
Be prepared to be stressed.
Farming is one of the hardest things in the world. There is crop failure. Months of prepping, and planning and you can loose thousands of dollars in one single planting. It happens. It sucks. It’s stressful. Learning mindfulness techniques and ways of dealing with stress in healthy ways is important.
Be prepared to talk A LOT on market days.
If you are not a talker, then this one is going to be hard for you. Market Days are filled with short bursts of conversations with HUNDREDS of people. You will talk about the ways of cooking a radish, or maybe the delight of spicy mustard greens. You will definitely talk about the farm and your farm practices. You will get to know your customers as you watch their children grow through the years. This can be amazing. This intimacy is all consuming, and when you get home from market, unable to do anything but lay on the couch and drink beer, you will feel an all consuming tiredness. Which leads to number 5.
You will be tired.
You will have never felt so tired in all your life. You will want to curl up into a small ball, or lay flat on your back for a solid month. And that still might not be enough. Because:
You will have never worked so hard in your life.
This one is one of the most interesting aspects to farming. Especially if you live in an industrialized country, where you can buy most of everything you need, and generally have never had to work very hard to get what you need. The work load that is market farming will surprise and perhaps deeply startle you. I used to count my fourteen hour work days. Now, I just consider it the norm. Fourteen hour work days for months on end. It gets easier. You will learn to rest in the off season. And enjoy the sweet rain and cold filled winters.
Some people will not like your prices.
No matter what, there will be a few people who are unhappy with the cost of your vegetables. This is by far the hardest part about Market Farming. Mostly this is difficult because of the last two reasons. You are tired and you have never worked so hard in your life. The truth: the average person has no idea the work load that it takes to bring vegetables up from seed to harvest to market table. They are just comparing prices from the grocery store. Just remember not to harbor these complaints. Remember the sweet gratitude that is so abundantly given as well.
Your whole way of eating will change.
Your diet will slowly transition to eating only local food. Everything that comes to your plate you will have grown, traded for, or know the woman who raised it. You will honor the plants and animals that come to your table and you will know every aspect of their stories. This is one of the most amazing and BEST parts about being a market farmer. Which will lead you to:
You will become a food activist.
You will be passionate about the way your food is grown and understand deeply the effects that industrialized farming has on its farm workers and the earth.
One of the hardest and most rich lesson will be on failure, your greatest teacher.
This is certainly difficult to manage. But it is the truth. It will happen, crops will fail and you will learn something and it will make you a better farmer.
Your success will also teach you.
You will learn from what went right. This is a really pleasant way to learn. I like this one for sure!
You will become deeply connected into your community.
You will not be able to go anywhere without someone saying Hey! How’s the Farm? You will know the owners of your town’s restaurants and their kids. You will know the Grandmothers and their traditional ways of eating chestnuts, you will know the families who are into fermenting and cycling their kids to market. In this day, this kind of connection is sacred and so deeply needed.
You will become more comfortable with yourself.
I think it’s the dirt. It does something to you. Or maybe it’s eating food you have grown everyday, every meal. I am not sure. It could just be the workload. Or getting old. Or maybe it’s just getting comfortable with failing. Whatever it is, farming changes you.
Author: Katie Massy, Farmer of Heart and Soil Organics and the Organizer/Creatix of Women Who Farm