FarmersMarket.com Blog #1: Down on the Farm
Somewhere along my path through the typical college experience, I discovered The Food Problem. Like so many people, it began with a book- or was it a movie? That lead to more reading, more newspapers, Mark Bittman, Michael Pollan. Sir Albert Howard, Wendell Berry, Francis Moore Lappe. (If you haven’t read these people, trust me, you want to. I could never do justice to the points they have already argued so concisely and poetically). Even though the problem had been right under my nose- indeed, going in to my mouth- I had never really realized the impact that our country’s broken food system was having on, well, everything. As I began to connect the dots, I went through what most of us go through when we realize that we’ve been had- confusion, anger, despair, and finally a commitment to making change.
I decided to go to the root (literally) of the problem- back to the farm. I come from a long line of Michigan farmers, and at some point in my life, I’m sure I swore never to follow in their footsteps. However, at the beginning of this growing season, I applied to be a Farmer-in-Training at Sauvie Island Organics, and my agricultural education formally began.
I chose to learn to grow food for many reasons, the same reasons that are compelling thousands of young people across the country to do the same. We are a generation that can’t sustain ourselves. Most of us have never seen a tomato plant in action, despite the fact that we’ve eaten them all our lives. We have no connection to the land in the way that our grandparents did, and so we’ve become increasingly disconnected from our natural environment. The effects that follow are obvious at every turn: sky-high obesity rates, a dangerous dependence on fossil fuel usage, environmental degradation that threatens our fragile ecosystem, abuse of farm animals as we struggle to meet our meat and dairy “needs”… the list goes on. For me, learning to grow food was a way to connect to my agrarian roots and find the absolute truths that come with working with nature. That’s what farming sustainably really is: a symbiotic dance with nature that allows both parties to benefit and continue on.
Of course, that dance is one that seems particularly graceful when you’re sitting on your couch sifting through all the different apprenticeships and high-minded books available to the newly idealistic young farmer. I knew farming would be hard, but actually doing it proves to be more challenging than I imagined in ways I didn't know enough to predict. There’s the early wake-up, the constantly stiff back, the entire day’s exposure to the elements, the dust, the pressure to get things done on time (nature will not wait, even if you did have the best intentions). All this comes from the apprentice, the bottom of the totem pole. Imagine what the people above me are going through- worrying about the CSA money coming in, marketing, standing orders, cover crop rotation, irrigation schedules, food safety regulations, pests, disease… you get the point. Farming is arduous, there’s no doubt about it. There’s a reason my grandfather worked hard as a young man to get off the farm.
But then, like so many of my generation are discovering, the benefits coming sweeping in: I get to work with my hands, and take immense pride in the work that I do. I feed people, and I feed myself. I work with a group of people that inspire me every day, who challenge me to think harder and more critically than many of my college professors. I can see two different volcanic mountains from the farm, in addition to the wildflowers that spring forward through our hedgerows and scarcely camouflage the migratory birds that call our wetlands home for half the year. I go to sleep every night exhausted and satisfied.
It may seem like a strange time of year to begin a farm blog, as most people associate this time of year with putting the farm to bed. It’s true, changes are happening on the farm as we prepare for colder months, but my season is still three months away from done, and there’s still a lot to say. I look forward to sharing it.
Guest blogger Sarah McClure is a 24 year old farmer-in-training at Sauvie Island Organics in Portland, Oregon.