Confessions of a Farm School Drop-Out


AphotoofColleenNewquistToday, I'm supposed to be at class number four of the Central Illinois Farm Beginnings program. But I'm not. I'm at my kitchen table, writing this blog, and feeling surprisingly OK about it.

The combination of a wonderful but demanding promotion that caused work to bleed into my weekends and my dire lack of knowledge about farming led me to the conclusion that I need to step back, reassess, and rethink the order in which I'm doing things. So the farm class is on hold. I'm not really a drop-out, I've just deferred continuing until next year, but "drop-out" made a better headline. 

I have this tendency to run headlong into things. Once my mind is made up, it's like the starting gun has been fired and I GO! This has served me well so far. After three months of dating, my husband and I decided to get married, and we did so just three months later. Next fall, we'll celebrate our 25th anniversary. When I decided it was time to move from our last house, we had our property on the market and sold in about two weeks, and bought a new house just a week after that. So when I decided that it was time to learn more about farming, I didn't hesitate to plunge into a class aimed at starting a farm business. I thought I was ready. But I'm not. Or maybe I was just on the wrong track.

I am ready, however, to get my hands dirty, and that is exactly the place I need to start. I need a season of planting something in my backyard patch of clay, of learning to make and use compost, of building a coop and getting a few hens. I have to start somewhere, and I've recognized that the place to do it is on this suburban plot I call Half-Acre Farm. Now I need to dig in. 

After my first day in class, I wrote about the irony of learning to farm in a windowless classroom—the very environment I'm seeking to escape. I still think there's a place for what I was learning there, I just think I need to earn a place in that classroom first. As a wise farmer friend said to me, "Courses are great fun and very helpful, but learning by jumping in is exhilarating." It's funny—I was thinking that by taking a class in the business of farming, I was jumping in—but maybe I was jumping around the fact that no matter how much I learn about farming, there's only one way to become a farmer, and that's to do it. So, deep breath! Time to plunge in.

The goal now? Chickens. I've been talking about it forever. Time to do. Time to GO! Let's see if this time, I'm on the right track.

Nebraska Dave
12/7/2011 8:29:09 PM

Colleen, in my humble opinion the best way to learn actively work in the field (pun intended) of your passion then go to school. If a person goes to school first they do not know what questions to ask. After a years worth of experience, you will acquire a working knowledge and be well prepared to ask intelligent questions that pertain to your farm operation. I worked for years in the technology field and it always worked better for me to work on new technology for a while then go to training. I then knew enough to ask questions about what worked and didn't work. I think it's a better utilization of time and money to wait that extra year. Good luck with your endeavors and be sure to let us know how things are progressing.

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