Becoming a Farmer


With all the formal introductions out of the way (see the first four posts), This Beautiful Life can finally move on to the dirty work of actually learning how to be a farmer. Admittedly, I’ve been busy with this task since early Spring but haven’t wanted to share until after first outlining the philosophy and vision for This Beautiful Life. Here’s a recap of the past few months’ farm-related endeavors:

  • Volunteered with the Green Earth Institute in Naperville with planting early-season seedlings.
  • Networked with a team of two Joliet gardeners who developed a gardening curriculum for youth and families. I completed the graphic design for the curriculum—a fun way to bridge two passions of mine.
  • Attended the Family Farmed Expo at University Illinois Chicago, Mid-March 2011 where at I participated in the lecture “So You Want to be a Farmer?” I left still wanting to be a farmer, which I take as a good sign.
  • Signed up to garden Plot #41 at the Wheaton Park District Garden Plots, Atten Park.
  • Plot #41 is the heart of my learning this summer, as it is the locale for my first efforts at growing food. In mid-April I dug up beds and sowed wheat, lettuce, onions, and broccoli.
  • Just as the first seeds were planted, other things in life distracted me. I learned that one rule of farming is it is near impossible to start dating someone during planting time and still get everything planted on schedule. Either the boy or the garden will suffer—or both. In my case, the garden experienced a bit of neglect.
  • Beginning of June saw my schedule lighten a bit and Plot #41 is back to being top-of-mind (thankfully, Plot #41 does not hold grudges). The wheat has taken off and is almost two feet high, already showing its kernels! The lettuce seeds sprouted into lettuce and broccoli plants are flourishing. The onion seeds ended up being a no-go (only one has sprouted into an onion plant) and so I’ve re-planted the space with carrots.
  • In addition to carrot seeds now in the ground, I have bean bushes planted and sprouting. Also sowed cucumber seeds between a handful of growing tomato plants provided by a friend.
  • And just TONIGHT, I harvested the first fruits of my labor—lettuce (pictured above)! I’d be lying if I didn’t say I am a bit proud.



Why Farming?

When people ask me why I have a sudden interest in farming, I generally give the reply “I dated a farmer and the interest in farming lasted longer than the interest in the farmer.” While I say this somewhat tongue-in-cheek, it is true that an attractive boy is what first attracted me to farming.

This farmer was a bona-fide corn and soybean farmer from small-town Indiana. Our romance lasted just a short time, but long enough for me to get a rudimentary crash-course in the realities of the farming lifestyle. For me, meeting someone my own age who was a real farmer—one who owned land and spent days out in the tractor planting and harvesting corn—was a culture shock. Even more penetrating was the realization that seemingly “old-fashioned” ideas of bequeathing the family farm to the first-born son, the consequences of family inheritance feuds, and the ever-increasing cost of land are ongoing realities for hard working American farmers. In short, farming became a real occupation and farmers became real people to me after meeting and dating a farmer.

As I got to know a farmer and about the work he did, it didn’t take long for my ideas about food to change. All of a sudden, I began to wonder if I knew the person who had grown the corn in my corn flakes (highly unlikely, but still a possibility!). I began to consider the logistical gymnastics required for a mango to arrive fresh from the southern hemisphere in the middle of December to the local grocery store. I began to listen for agriculture news and read the “buy local” labels at Whole Foods a little more closely. I’ve never been much of a foodie, but all of a sudden “where food came from” became a BIG idea for me.

Other, small things, also brought my attention increasingly to the world of agriculture. I’ve heard missionaries say that when they received their calling to the field, God places specific locations on their hearts. God then confirms these destinations by little “signs”—the country is mentioned in the news, a story they hear from a friend, a native they suddenly meet. Similarly, the idea of “farmsteading” sprung into everyday normalcy after my initial encounter with a young farmer. For instance, I randomly stumbled on a and discovered that a house with land in and around Charlottesville, VA (absolutely stunning country, for those who haven’t been…) is actually quite affordable. I read an article in Vogue magazine while waiting for my tires to be changed, of all things, about a young writer-turned-farmer. I learned that the local park district rents garden plots for a mere $25 to residents, all of a sudden making it possible for me to start growing food of my own.

Clearly, agriculture/farming/gardening etc. was top-of-mind as I sought the Lord in giving a vision for life. To some, that may seem I simply grabbed at what was my most immediate and recent fascination. To me, though, the Lord laid these things in my path in His own timing, uniquely aware of their greater significance.

As I’ve meditated and prayed about this entire concept/endeavor, I’ve come to additional understanding and appreciation as to “why farming.” Kristin Kimball writes in her novel The Dirty Life, “I think that in some way, human begins are hard-wired to be agrarians. This is what most people in the history of the world have focused their energy.” It’s this realization, and appreciation for agriculture’s necessity and normalcy in human endeavor, that enchants me as I move forward.