Farmer to Farmer: The Importance of Continuing Education

farmer

One of the most common questions we get at the farmers market is “How did you get started in farming?” It’s a great question, but the answer is difficult to condense down into a few sentences. I do think that it’s a story worth sharing in it’s entirety, even if it’s a bit lengthy, so bear with this farmer for a bit.

If you haven’t read the post that discussed why farming was an appealing career for us – that’s a good place to start, and you can find it here.

Once we determined that Steven and I had a shared dream of growing healthy food, we knew that we had a lot to learn and needed to devote time and energy into preparations for starting a farm, so that we could be successful in our first growing season. As first-generation farmers and city-dwellers, we had little experience growing food, and even less experience with starting a business. We discussed a few options for gaining both experience and knowledge, and made the decision together that Steven would quit his corporate job and start working on a farm in Austin.

Life as a Farm Worker

So in 2017, Steven said goodbye to office life and started working at Tecolote Farm, one of Austin’s original organic farms. Tecolote Farm grows over 150 vegetable varieties from all over the world and they sell through Central Texas’ first and longest running weekly delivery service, at two weekly farmers markets, and direct to some of Austin’s finest restaurants (including several James Beard Awards Finalists). Their methods of harvesting, washing and processing had been tested to perfection over 25 years. Steven quickly learned the art of when to harvest a vegetable at the right stage and how to keep it at it’s freshest until market. The quality of their produce will always be the benchmark for us as farmers.

That fall at the end of the season for Tecolote, Steven went to work on an organic aquaponics farm, and in the spring of 2018, went back to field farming at Green Gate Farms, another iconic organic farm in Austin.

The Farm Worker’s Wife

While Steven was learning how to farm, I was continuing to work at my corporate job, which allowed us to pay our bills and save money to purchase our farm. We expanded our backyard garden, and I started learning how to grow vegetables from seed and how to transplant seedlings. That year, we successfully grew tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, radishes, and carrots. We failed at watermelon, corn, beans, and just about everything else. While this gave me some great hands-on experience, I wanted to know more about the philosophical side of farming, and best practices of successful market gardeners. So, I started reading.

I read books by Eliot Coleman on maximizing field space for highest yields, and tracking the profitability of crops. I read Wendell Berry’s prose on the beauty of rural life, and the importance of farming with nature. Then, I read several books by Joel Salatin, who is a passionate advocate for farmers and firmly believes that farmers should be paid a living wage. Salatin taught me how to answer the “Why is this food so expensive?” question. And finally, I read the book “Kiss the Ground: How the Food You Eat Can Reverse Climate Change, Heal Your Body & Ultimately Save Our World” by Josh Tickell.

I was hooked. We started searching for our farm in 2018, and within a few months were under contract. In the meantime, we were listening to the Farmer to Farmer podcast on every road trip, and trying to learn as much a possible from the wisdom and experiences of other farmers.

Beginner Farmers

We’re in our first growing season now, and half a country away from our previous mentors. So, while they are thankfully still easy to reach via email and text, and mercifully they answer quickly, we’re learning mainly by our own success and failures. We have several great new relationships with local farmers here, that are also always happy to give advice or recommend a new product that they love.

Farmers helping farmers – that’s how we’re going to ensure that small family farms survive, in an age with ever increasing pressure to get big, mechanize, and produce faster. It’s how we’re going to attract young farmers to a profession that so badly needs them. It’s the spirit of cooperation that will make us successful. Keep sharing your success and failure, keep teaching, keep advocating, and if you ever get a resume from a young person with a lot of office experience, and little else, please take a chance on us.

Maeday Farm is a small produce farm in Walnut Hill, FL that sells organic fruit and vegetables at farmer’s markets and to restaurants. 

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