Last year at this time, I committed to starting a farm. I knew my first season would be like dipping my toes in the surf. Would I feel comfortable enough to wade a bit deeper, or would I jump back onto dry sand? This is what I learned.
1. This is hard… but not impossible.
This was not so much something that I learned, but rather something I came to feel. Intellectually I knew farming was hard, and optimistically I believed it to be possible. I was terrified of the prospect of working full time and trying to start a business on the margins. This past year, I’ve worked harder than I ever have in my life. But whenever I felt overwhelmed, all I needed to do was go into the field and pull weeds or pick peppers to feel centered and calm. It is not the work that is scary, but the fear that is paralyzing. Looking back, if anything, I underestimated my ability to tackle this challenge, and I underestimated my enjoyment of the work.
2. Proper tools are a lifesaver
Time is my most limiting resource, and I came to rely on and appreciate the freedom offered by the right tools. My BCS walk-behind tractor enabled me to efficiently prepare beds, and the paper mulch and clover seed I purchased to keep out weeds worked beautifully.
The third tool that saved my life this year was something I had not anticipated: a Honda ATV. I really had not thought through how I would manage hauling compost, mulch, farm tools, and the harvests around the farm, navigating the 100-foot elevation change between the field and the house. This lack of foresight reflects my lack of experience, and now I laugh when I think that I might have thought to do this with a wheelbarrow. Have you ever pushed a wheelbarrow full of squash up a steep hill? Perhaps I have less muscle tone than I would have without this machine, but I did survive the season.
3. Irrigation is essential
Despite the fact that I knew this, I never found the time to assemble an irrigation system from all the pieces I had purchased. The drip tape and all the fittings sat in my garage, mocking me silently every morning in late August when I got up before the sunrise to hand-water from a hose before work. Can you guess what I’ll be working on this winter?
4. Squash bugs are akin to Satan
And they eat more than squash. If you know of any great organic control options, I’m open to suggestions.
5. I absolutely love what I do
Finally, and perhaps the thing that surprised me the most was just how much I enjoyed it all. It’s true, there were frantic late nights trying to prep a restaurant order, and the disappointment of turning down plans with friends so I could stay on the farm. There was the dismay when many of my fall seeds failed to germinate in the dry weather (see point 3), and the resignation of ripping out a planting of basil that had been lush and beautiful only to succumb to Downey mildew seemingly overnight. But, there was also the sight of every perfect sunset that settled over the mountains, and the feel of each gorgeous red pepper I picked to validate my choices. There was cool air on a fall morning, or the smell of soil in the July humidity to make me feel alive and present. Perhaps even more powerful than the joy of working outdoors, was the exhilaration and creativity of running a business: from the elation of getting my first order to all of the every-day problem solving.