Farm School Week One: How to Grow a Farmer

“Did you always want to be a farmer?” Many of my new neighbors ask when I tell them I have moved to Whidbey Island to learn to farm. My answer is no. I was not a child of the fields. I was never a member of 4-H or FFA, and although fields of corn and barnyards filled with dairy cows were part of my native Wisconsin landscape, they weren’t my backyard. If someone had asked me what I wanted to do with my life when I was growing up, I would have said a teacher, a businessperson or a professional golfer. Raising animals and planting vegetables for a living had never even crossed my horizon, but things have changed.

I am now 25 years old and, along with my husband, about to embark upon an eight-month intensive farmer training program in Puget Sound. Alan and I, Wisconsin natives and recent newlyweds, have signed on to be part of the Greenbank Farmer Training Program, a program sponsored by the Northwest Agriculture Business Center or NABC. According to the NABC, the “program is designed for participants who, through experience, are committed to pursuing a career in sustainable agriculture and desire a formal and thorough academic and experiential education in the business and production aspects of small scale sustainable farming.”

The hope is that, at the end of the eight months, my husband and I will actually be farmers, rather than just a couple of young folks who love the outdoors and are interested in knowing how to grow our own food.

I will admit that Alan is the one who has spearheaded this next step in our lives, and, I have to say, the path is becoming clearer every minute.

In 2007, we moved to Marquette, Michigan, where I attended graduate school for English and Alan found a job at the Marquette Food Co-op. During the hours that Alan found himself stocking the shelves with boxes of organic cereal, I was sitting in classes and writing short stories and essays. It was around this time that our combined interest in food – from food politics, to cooking, to food and culture – bypassed being merely an interest and skyrocketed into a straight-on passion.

When me moved from Marquette, I left with a backpack full of food essays I had written on everything from the current state of local food systems in Ireland to a spirited defense of the Upper Peninsula’s culturally and historically significant pasty. Alan’s backpack contained a pair of muck boots, a few flannel shirts and a copy of Eliot Coleman’s The New Organic Grower. He was on his way to Vermont to learn to farm.

That was the summer of 2009. I made Alan come back to Wisconsin for a week at the end of the summer to marry me, but then it was straight east again for a honeymoon on the farm. Let me tell you, don’t wear your wedding ring when you are eviscerating a chicken. I love you too, honey!

Now we are working at the Greenbank Farm. Along with the seven other participants, we will grow food for and run a 50-member CSA (community supported agriculture) and grow and sell produce for market and wholesale purposes. In the mornings we will farm, and in the afternoons we will take classes. The curriculum is as diverse as the seeds we will sow – we will cover topics ranging from managing land holistically to weed and disease management to sustainable animal production to land and capital acquisition.

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. I am hoping to share with all of you a little bit of what I learn each week. For more information on the Greenbank Farmer Training Program, please visit the Northwest Agriculture Business Center website.