Updated: Jan 14, 2019
Holy guacamole – it looks like it is true. We will be heading to Iowa to be farmers.
As you may have seen over the course of this blog’s short life, my feelings are mixed. I am a city girl. How will it be to live on a farm in the middle "nowhere"? Will I find any friends? Can I get a job?
I will say that having a signed lease after all these (sometimes grueling) years: something about it feels right. It feels big, like this is an opportunity to do something with my life that is meaningful. Don’t get me wrong – teaching (my current job) is definitely meaningful. But this move feels like a giant bookend, like the sum of all my writing and learning about agriculture will now play out in the real world (and teach me that I actually know nothing about farming!). It might not be the sexiest plan ever and there is certainly not a mass (or even minor) migration of people moving from San Francisco to Iowa (it is not yet Portland after all). And me as a farmer? Not even my own mother can picture it.
Yet ever since I was a kid I have been a bit too-serious about life, as if everything I do needs to have meaning. And this move feels meaningful.
The answer is: I am not really sure. Somehow it feels tied to a preoccupation I have had ever since this Trump character got elected. While so many people in my life have become obsessed with the circus that is the news cycle, I seem to have gone in a different direction. Not ignoring the news per se, I just think I am listening to a different sort of news. News about how we might come together, about how we are not actually as divided as the media keeps telling us we are. To me, the prevalent - and toxic - “us” vs “them” mentality functions to keep each of us simply winners or losers, with the party in power or out, never united in a mission, ethics or goal. It is a recipe for standing still, in face of significant world challenges that demand action, now.
This farm feels like it could be place where people could work together for a common good. Part of my idea is to invite all kinds of people to work with us - not as employees, but as partners. To have a person in charge of chickens for example, and another to graze goats or work with bees (there are 3 wild hives on the farm already), all on the same land at the same time, while paying little to no rent. Unlike humans at a buffet, animals grazing on the same land all eat different things, and payment to the farm would come in the form of immense benefits to the soil (all that animal poop!), a reduction of weeds and pests, an easier work load on us aging new farmers, and a more vibrant social setting.
And because I have not found a farm yet that does this (please contact us if you have models we can consider!) this then feels like a potential huge contribution to farming, and to the world, if we can figure out how to make it work.
Of course, there is no sugar coating the fact that I likely have no idea what I am talking about because I am not there trying to make it work yet. When I asked Joel Salatin, one of the gurus of sustainable agriculture, if he knew of farms that worked on such a "land share" system, he replied that, although we desperately need farms like this where new farmers can get into the game inexpensively, he also warned that "communal life/business is extremely difficult because people are people. As owner, you run this tightrope of hands-off to give freedom of responsibility, versus self-protection to keep things from spinning out of control."
Spinning out of control. Well, at least there's that to look forward to.