Beginning for 10 Years: on becoming an organic farmer

“What we’re doing here is so important we better not take it too seriously.”

— Suzuki Roshi

farming family laughing

I have a friend, Paul, who calls himself a Junior Farmer.  He was a Freshman farmer for the first  year, then spent a handful of years as a Sophomore before finally becoming a Junior somewhere around year 10.  He’s been growing for close to 20 years, and I’m not sure (maybe he’s not sure, either) when he’ll consider himself a Senior, or what is after graduation for that matter.

The USDA considers anyone who’s farmed for less than 10 years a “beginning farmer.”

I get it.  There’s so much to know: soil science, insect identification (is it pest or beneficial?), field planning, crop varieties, all the steps from seed to harvest and post-harvest field care.  Then there’s the business: bookkeeping, financial planning, sales, marketing, communications, and so on.

If I count from my first summer as a farm employee, this will be my 9th year farming.  But in many ways 2013, the year we started Good Heart Farmstead, feels like my first real year.  Before that, I didn’t have responsibility.  I could leave the fields and not return or think about them for two days straight.

Now I can’t recall any day over the last 5 years that the fields didn’t at least pass through my mind, even in the middle of January.

In that time I’ve learned a lot about how to successfully grow and sell vegetables, and while that’s the foundation, it’s not the most important lesson.

What I’ve really learned is how to let go, move on and become present to change—how everything is impermanent.

I’ve learned that without a joke—without the ability to lighten up in the face of a hard day, a hurt back, a lost crop—we can’t really do our work at all.

So much of becoming a Sophomore farmer is learning how to pick up your head, take a breath, and laugh amidst the never-ending work.  I suspect that becoming a Junior farmer is in returning to that flexible state of “beginners mind,” balancing all the accumulated knowledge with the understanding that we can’t control the fields, but we can work with them and have fun along the way.

In my years of knowing Paul, I’ve come to expect humor to slide in and shake up the crop talk.  And maybe that is the mark of a Senior grower: the light-hearted perspective in balance with two decades of committed physical, mental, emotional and spiritual work (aka the work of growing food).

Maybe in a few years I’ll grow into a Junior Farmer.  Until then (even then) I won’t take it too seriously.  Because growing food, feeding people, tending to the land, it’s all much too important for that.

you can read Paul’s blog post on being a Junior Farmer here: Field Walks: staying connected to your crops

2 thoughts on “Beginning for 10 Years: on becoming an organic farmer”

  1. So beautifully written, Kate! Thank you for articulating such important insights – to work with, to lighten up. Such important work my growing
    Friends do. Truly honored to know them. Happy spring to you, Edge & Waylon. Good hearts indeed….?

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