I’m a farmer. Being born in the end of March, I was practically born in a garden bed. I was born at home on our little homestead in Southern Oregon in 1976. My mom likes to tell the story of how my dad and his friend were out burning slash piles that day to clean up last year’s firewood cuts to prepare for the hot dry summer and coming forest fire season. They put down the matches and gasoline long enough to see little Smitty come into the world… oops, Smitty’s a girl! Ok, they came in long enough to see little Ishi come into the world, and back to work they went. Mom asked as they left, please come back and fix dinner… give me a day to rest, please! Of course they agreed to come back and fix some food for the family (I’m the youngest of three) and inevitably dinner time was approaching and there was no sign of the guy’s return. So mom, being the badass that she is, got up and built a fire in the cook stove and made dinner by kerosene lantern. Let me just reiterate that birth year is NINETEEN 76, although it sounds like perhaps a century late.
It seems I spent most of my childhood in the garden, barn or kitchen participating in one way or another in producing our family’s food. I can’t say I enjoyed it. Sunburns, dry cracked fingers, a sore back, sweat and tears are what consumed my perspective of that life. I left when I was fifteen, swearing I would never, ever, ever…. EVER do any of that again. Of course, then I tasted city water, commercial meat, those things they call “tomatoes” in the grocery store. It was only a few years later I found myself with pots of dirt on my apartment patio full of anything I could cram into them, and then a 4×12 foot garden bed at my rental house that I grew a few of every vegetable that grows in our area. When we bought a house, the first act of ownership was to build a chicken coup and cover the back and front lawns with newspaper and soil and get a garden growing. Then when city ordinances changed, up went a mini barn and in came the mini milk goats. Why? Because like it or not, I’m a farmer. I love my urban farm, but it has it’s limitations and I was reaching its capacity. I wanted to do more, grow more. The more I read and witnessed the gross corruption and neglect of our food and health systems, the more I wanted to separate myself from them. I wanted to eat bacon and not be forced to numb my mind of where it came from. I wanted to see my family and friends eating tomatoes, not those pale red objects in the store that have been genetically modified to be crash test approved for a 30 mile per hour impact and contain little nutrients and no flavor whatsoever.
This last year I was presented with an amazing opportunity with an early inheritance of sorts from my mom… A FARM. At the beginning of 2015 I bought an electric net fence, constructed a little shelter in the pasture and bought my first two weaner pigs, Kevin and Chris P. Bacon. That was my first leap into converting this 5 acre piece of practically abandoned land into some sort of farm. I had no idea what I would do next. I knew I want to produce good, affordable food – and hopefully make enough money to pay the bills doing it. I toyed with ideas as I observed the land for a year and got to work fixing the dilapidated house. I thought about growing organic seed garlic as my cash crop, but the land turned out to be too wet in the winter months to count on that. I tried growing a pumpkin patch, but I suffered terribly from day late, dollar short syndrome and counted myself fortunate to have a whole lot of green pumpkins to feed the pigs. I continued to observe and absorb information from my land, my neighbors and stories from other small scale farmers’ accounts of their success and failure. I knew one thing for sure. I needed a plan (I definitely can’t decide to convert an acre of pasture to a crop of pumpkins by hand in July…. Again.) I also need to find that sweet spot of where my passion intersects with the land and resources I have.
Today I think I have a plan! I think it’s a good plan, or at least in contrast (to pumpkinopolypse) it is well planned. “The Market Gardener” by Jean-Martin Fortier was a great inspiration.
Their methods really spoke to me. I read it and instantly wanted their farm story to help shape my own and so I’ve decided to grow a market garden. Because of their story I’ve decided that my walk behind tractor, broad fork and hoe is enough equipment, my season is long enough and a family can make a living (all be it humble) on a small scale farm. I’ve never grown food at this scale or under external demand. It’s a little intimidating, but so much more exciting. It’s really important to me to make this good food be available to people who have limited access to it other wise. I’m not opposed to selling to a swanky restaurant, but I’d rather replace a kid’s low quality free school lunch. I’m looking for my market, my niche – where and how I fit into my local community. Contrary to my pumpkin patch experience, I’m a pretty careful person but like most, I like instant gratification. I’m forcing my careful side to take control. This year I plan to put my entire market garden into production to experiment with yields and timing. I won’t grow as intensively without the full demand I hope to have next year, but instead I will replace food crops with green manure crops to work on my soil quality. We’ll sell at our more rural local farmer’s markets and friends and family will be forced to become the first CSA members so that we can practice on them. Thru some marketing at farmers market I hope to add up to 20 other modified CSA members. Because of my uncertainty of details, we will do all shares by the week to be sure everyone gets their monies worth. I found my closest market offers matching funds for SNAP customers and the possibilities of getting food to poorer members of the community excites me a great deal. (I should note that program is available thru the generosity of our local winery, Sweet Cheeks.)
It’s January. I have my garden plots marked and I’m currently moving the rototillers (pigs) thru. Crops are plotted, yields are calculated, seeding schedule posted, and seeds are inventoried and ordered. That sounds like a plan to me! My hoop bender and floating row cover material arrives tomorrow and that means the first crop of salad greens will be in the ground shortly, and this new plan becomes part of the plan that almost seems to have been there all along, perhaps all the way back to the days I was still little Smitty.