Although Matthew and I had been farming since we were 18 years old, our adventure began in earnest when we bought our first piece of land outside Cave Junction, Oregon in 2007. Five acres in the dense woodlands of Southern Oregon that had a 3/4 acre clear cut that was logged and grown over by the previous owner. That Scratch in the forest provided just enough sunlight to hold our vision for abundant gardens and the Oregon dream! In fact it was studded with stumps and heavily overgrown by blackberries and poison oak! I remember when we first bought the place, we’d take folks back to “the Cut” as it was lovingly referred to and present our vision for a food secure future! Most folks would say “you have your work cut out for ya!” with a tone of disbelief that we could indeed build the dream considering we had very little resources, no machinery and I was 9 months pregnant with my third child while Matthew commuted 35 mins each way to work on another farm full time! We had some pretty lofty goals and ideals!
It took us at least a year to clean up the area we planned to garden, and all by hand! We used to joke that our farm name should be known as Hard scrabble farm because that was the level of effort it took just to prepare the ability to use it. Fitting as it was, we chose a much more personally meaningful name! BeetRoots Farm! My husband and I having shared our lives since the young age of 17 have lovingly referred to each other as Beet. Much in the way folks call each other “babe”. As this was our very first adventure in land ownership and we were laying the roots of our long held vision we decided BeetRoots would fit perfectly. Now mind you at this point we were both 30 years old and had been actively growing food on commercial scale for other farms for 12 years! Still, owning your own land and launching your own offerings allocated by your own resources was completely new to us! And so far as resources go we had very little monetary, yet tons of skills, experience, vision and sweat equity. We often have a hard time remembering a lot from that time because it took so much effort to do our lives. We were in the trenches of the grind! We began our farm dreams in earnest in 2008 when we built the little greenhouse that could! An upcycled carport from craigslist covered in used plastic that sheltered thousands of plants over the next 10 years.
We began selling medicinal herbs, heirloom veggies, and native plant starts at markets, by appointment, and often out of the back of our van! We quickly built a vast collection of rare and unusual plants whose genetics still persist in our lives all these years later. For the next 10 years we explored what it meant to be food secure. From our small flock of chickens, to a small herd of goats that provided us with milk and cheese, to growing a ginormous garden that was not only feeding our family but others. We learned to preserve and put up our yearly harvest, and exactly what quantities that took! This all while homeschooling three kids, my husband working and commuting full time and again VERY little resources. As our global community currently examines food security, and depleted income and resources I felt called to reach out and share a bit of Wisdom as these concepts are not new to us.
Stay within your means and level of Experience!
One of the biggest mistakes new farmers/gardeners/homesteaders make is to SCALE UP beyond their abilities. Too many projects, animals and commitments can sink the ship faster then you’d imagine. Projects take resources and cost money, they don’t make money and resources unless done right! Quality over Quantity and not counting your chickens before they hatch are crucial pearls of wisdom that will serve you throughout your adventure in food security. Not every seed will ultimately bare fruit. It takes time, patience, experience, resources, and a bit of luck to arrive at large scale production. Instead focus on truly supporting your own needs, developing your own food security, preservation of your own harvest, and sharing and bartering with others for what you desire! Alternatively, taking the abundance of others and producing value added products are wonderful first steps in food security. This sentiment is not to dissuade you from your bigger farm goals to support your community. Its to allow your garden and goals to naturally scale up as you become successful and gain valuable experience. Many of us have spent the last 20 years investing and building up scaled farms that have arrived naturally at the point we can offer our communities quality products at prices that reflect the quality we are producing. Its helpful for communities to acknowledge & support folks that have some skin in the game so that sustainability for these farms and their investments both energetically and monetarily can be achieved. Every spring we see a new batch of go fund me campaigns, patreon memberships, potential CSA’s, and farm instagram/facebook pages pop up out of nowhere asking the community to support their farm dreams! I have the utmost compassion for that desire of the farm dream because it is one I’ve held for my entire adult life, amongst major financial challenges. However, I do believe that in their inexperience they are putting the cart before the horse a bit. Especially when we live in a world with so many marginalized farmers that could benefit from monetary support. Again I’m not suggesting you abandon your dreams! On the contrary Grow, Produce, Preserve, Share, and Build the Scale you seek THEN decide to monetize your effort as warranted.
Share your Efforts with the next generation!
One of the biggest issues in Mainstream Western Culture is that we no longer have intact food cultures. Not only do we not know how to grow food but we don’t have the knowledge and skills to prepare what we grow! Culture is created by sharing traditions generation to generation! In a fast paced technologically centered world our kids often have very little interest in working in the garden, kitchen or on the land. We actually do everything on our farm with our kids in tow regardless of if they “want” to. You cannot share food security if parents are in the garden while the kids are holed up in their rooms playing video games. We set a rhythm to our days that include farm chores, kitchen duties and clean up! (And yes still Gadgets!) You do your children a disservice by not including them in the process of filling their hungry bellies, cleaning up after themselves, and keeping their homes warm. These skills will always be a part of the human condition, and children thrive when they are a part of the process of authentically providing. Yes they complain! But ultimately they will thank you for giving them this training as it will serve them their entire lives! Instead of channeling the drill sergeant seek to be the world’s most optimistic cheerleader! Make your time with these tasks fun! Good music, snacks, sunshine and skills is a good family time!
Expand your skills!
Unfortunately, as aforementioned we have a major knowledge gap when it comes to providing food for ourselves! It’s not our fault we are unprepared, its a direct reflection of the toxic effects of industrial farming. We must work extra hard to develop our skills in today’s world! We can no longer ask Grandma & Grandpa! Instead we must read all the books, attend classes, workshops, and conferences, explore, experiment, succeed and fail and try, try again! Find a mentor, pay or work trade with knowledgeable folks to hone your skills and success. Keeping your expenses within reason will be directly correlated to your informed decisions. We often think ” I should raise goats for milk” but if your land cannot support the animals year around and you don’t have the knowledge and skills you’ll be paying $15 a bale of hay and $30 a bag of grain and unable to recoup those costs through milk, meat or the sale of kids. Those are no longer farm animals but Pets and how many pets can a farm afford? Investing in your skill set goes beyond the beginning of your food security adventures! The best farmers are lifelong students constantly building upon their knowledge base!
Share your knowledge and Skills with others!
We are in a do or die reality that many folks are just waking up to! The earth isnt just in Crisis so are WE! If we don’t learn to live in right relationship with the Planet, Pandemics are the least of our worries!
Michael Pollan says
“Anthropocentric as [the gardener] may be, he recognizes that he is dependent for his health and survival on many other forms of life, so he is careful to take their interests into account in whatever he does. He is in fact a wilderness advocate of a certain kind. It is when he respects and nurtures the wilderness of his soil and his plants that his garden seems to flourish most. Wildness, he has found, resides not only out there, but right here: in his soil, in his plants, even in himself… But wildness is more a quality than a place, and though humans can’t manufacture it, they can nourish and husband it… The gardener cultivates wildness, but he does so carefully and respectfully, in full recognition of its mystery.”
Take your bit of wildness and share it with others! The pinnacle of humanity is to want for others what you have for yourself. Let the goals of the empire die with the empire! We can no longer hoard resources, skills and simultaneously hope to create the world we seek for our children! Sharing is caring, and not only that it directly impacts food security for ALL! To be honest, hoarding food, plants, resources and skills are like putting a bulls eye on your back come a crisis! Do you want to constantly defend your empire? Or share the vision of a new paradigm? We can take a hint from indigenous folks the world over when we understand the beauty and value of communal resources held collectively for the good of all! Our safety and success will be defined by the collective success of our communities! Start now!
Enjoy the Fruits of your Labor!
Success isn’t defined by productivity! It’s in the joy, wonderment of Nature, and process of creating the life you’ve always wanted. The first ripe tomato of the year exploding in your mouth, new spring ducklings waddling behind their mothers, honeybee swarms, barefoot children daydreaming in the grass, its in home cooked meals with loved ones, a jar of summer peaches in the middle of winter, its the feeling of pride you get from simple joys that are the most meaningful! These are the memories that outlive us! That foster nutrition and vibrancy for our grandchildren and all the children, ALL 7 BILLION! Food Security isn’t a destination its a web of connectivity that honors and sustains the sum of its parts! In times like these we are forced to reassess our priorities. This place of uncomfort and vulnerability is exactly the primal space in which we can birth the new paradigm. One based in right relationship with the land and each other! May it be so!