The Farmer Training Program has taught me to be a better consumer. To actively seek out information based on how and where the food I buy was grown. To support companies and farms that provide good wages, working, and living conditions for their employees. To buy from farms concerned about the environmental impact farming can have. To buy from farms that take steps to control, lessen, or even create a positive impact by employing sustainable and regenerative practices. And if farms and companies don’t provide these conditions or don’t follow these practices concerning environmental stewardship and responsibility, I have learned and been inspired to do something about it.
By participating in the program, I’ve learned how to treat the earth more kindly. I now have a better understanding of the purpose and need for organic farming to protect and build soil, water, and biodiversity. I have seen first-hand that treating the earth well will allow it to treat you well in the form of bountiful crops, organic matter, and inspiration.
During my time here, my passion for growing food was affirmed. There is something so therapeutic to me about being able to care for a plant, starting at seed, and help it grow to produce gorgeous and delicious fruit. It is satisfying. Plants can’t argue or talk back. But if we pay attention to how they grow (or don’t grow), we see that they speak a language of their own. It’s our job as farmers to listen to and observe them so that we can take steps to help them grow.
One of the first things we learned this season was that there are many different ways to farm. But as the season progressed, I really began to understand why this is the case. Farming is not a cut-and-dry profession. There’s no formula to follow. In the beginning, only the end is in mind, and that is to grow awesome fruits and vegetables. The produce is the solution, the answer, the end result. The act of farming is the question, and deciding how you are going to work on the question helps you arrive at the answer. Every one of us wants this answer, but now we all know how different our approaches can be.
By being here, I’ve learned that farming is so much more than putting a plant in the ground and expecting it to grow. The plant has to come from somewhere. The seed needs to be saved or bought. It needs to be transplanted or directly seeded into the ground. Before that can happen, the soil has to be conditioned and fertilized. Organic matter must be added. The bed needs to be prepped for planting. Once the plants are in, then comes irrigation and weeding. If there are pests and diseases, they must be dealt with. Plants need to be pruned and thinned. Finally, it is time to harvest.
This program has taught me that, contrary to how they are most often perceived, farmers are some of the smartest people I know. It takes knowledge, understanding, patience, and resilience to be successful in this field. Crop planning, seed ordering, calculating needs and costs of supplies, securing markets, and record keeping are just some of the skills needed to run a successful farm business. Farmers must be able to act and react. They must plan ahead to prepare for the season. But they also must be able to adjust and act accordingly if something doesn’t go well, like poor germination or flooding.
This program taught me that farming takes discipline and motivation, two skills that I’ve often had trouble with. Plants are not going to water, weed, or harvest themselves. Farming requires you to get up at early hours and work long days. It may not be glamorous to sit and weed a bed of carrots and have sweat dripping into your eyes, but it needs to be done. Farming is a system, and effort needs to be put into every part of the system in order for it to work properly. I now understand that and appreciate how much work goes into it. And because I was here, I have unearthed the discipline and motivation hidden inside me.
I have also learned how far the local food system has come, yet how far it needs to progress, especially in terms of policy and law. It is atrocious to me that farmers need to pay to be able to label how good their food is, both for people and the environment, while food produced through industrial agriculture, which is terrible for you, is sold and bought, often without question. It is disheartening that it is so difficult for honest, hardworking farmers to expand without being pressured or shut down by silly laws. It shouldn’t be so hard for organic farmers to operate and make a living, while global corporations are receiving money from the government to keep producing their food. It is maddening that companies like Monsanto can have so much power over our food system, leaving small farmers to fend for themselves in the wake of agribusiness’s destruction.
Possibly the most important and reassuring thing I have learned from the Farmer Training Program, however, is that farming is about community. It is about coming together to create a local food system in which real food is responsibly grown by people who care about the quality of food, health of people, and health of the environment. These farmers are great resources for learning and inspiration. All the farmers we met here truly want to make a difference. And this community of farmers is supported by a community of consumers who want fresh, organic, local food. It is my hope that through my writing, I can help foster this sense of community when I return to New York.