Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Making Big Decisions--To Farm Or Not To Farm

A girl can dream

Call it a moment of insanity.  A hiccup in my nice, normal life.  A whim.  A fancy.  But somehow I found myself filling out an application to become a micro farmer.  Yup, that's right.  I was reading through my email and came across a program that my local food bank is starting that gives people the land, tool usage, educational classes, training, and an outlet for sales with the goal of producing people who can make money farming.  

The target audience of the program is people with a farming background (not me), experience in making up a business plan (not me), refugees (not me), minorities (not me), immigrants (not me), and economically disadvantaged (not me).  

I filled out the application anyway figuring the worst that could happen is that they say no.  Or maybe the worst is that they could say yes!  

Today I talked to the program director about the program, about my experience (Does a backyard garden count as enough experience to prepare me for farming 1/8th of an acre--down from the 1/4 of an acre that I could have chosen had I been completely crazy?), my goals that the program would help me attain, and what hindrances I saw myself facing in turning myself into a "gentlewoman farmer."  

Despite my total lack of qualifications, the director offered me a spot in the program.  Granted, he had reservations.  While he left the ultimate decision up to me, he did suggest it might be better if I were to participate in the program this summer as a volunteer in the demonstration garden, attended the workshops, and learned a bit more about farming first before starting my own endeavor.  

So now I have until the end of the week to decide if this whole thing was a lark or if it's something that I really want to do.  Do I want to take my basic gardening knowledge and try my hand at turning it into a working farm that sells vegetables at farmers markets and to wholesalers and restaurants?  Do I want to put my time, hands, and significant effort into actually trying out farming to see if it's something I enjoy or if it's definitely not the thing for me?  

Or would it be better for me to wait and instead volunteer in the demonstration garden this year, attend the workshops and training, learn all I can and apply it to my home garden and then next year sign up for my own plot of land?  While Hubby has his opinion on what I should do, he left the ultimate choice up to me.  

I then asked myself--What was the appeal of the program that drew me to it in the first place?  Is it to become a gentlewoman farmer?  Do I want to make a supplementary income off my land?  Or am I more interested in the training and experience?  Would I need to farm my own plot on land twenty minutes from my house to get the full benefit?  Or would I be better served to more intensely garden my own backyard, building up my garden into something that's big enough to produce enough extra food that I could sell it at my local farmers market while volunteering and learning from more experienced gardeners and farmers?  

And when it was put in this way, I realized that the main draw of the program for me was the education it offered.  The workshops, hands on training, and expert advice on producing food for market.  I read a lot of books on gardening, farming, and selling at markets, but there's nothing quite like actual experience to make the lessons stick.  I could get the full benefit of the program as a volunteer without putting in the 12-24 hours of time a week on a plot of land that's not my own.

Part of this summer's expansion project

Suddenly, the decision was easy.  I will volunteer this year in the demonstration garden, attend all the workshops I can make, and spend the bulk of my time turning my backyard into a really big garden with future plans to expand it into a mini farm producing enough food to sell at market.  

Problem solved.

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