I have never been good at growing radishes. In all the gardens I have had throughout my life (these as hobbies on the side of my farming work) radishes have stubbornly refused to grow well for me. They’ve bolted, gotten eaten by bugs, and generally been dismal. And then when I have worked on farms that have grown great radishes, I have always hated and been poor at harvesting them into bunches for sale. While I have long been fast, efficient and pretty darn good at harvesting most vegetables, radishes have eluded me. The roots would break off while I was bunching them. The resulting bunches would be floppy and messy looking. It would take me what felt like ages to get the required number. Not my favourite vegetable, to say the least.
And so it was with some trepidation that I worked several 50 foot plantings of radishes into my field plan and planting schedule last winter, on the eve of this season, the first year of running my own farm. “Why was I doing this?”, I wondered. I was a bad radish grower. And, miracle of miracles, if I happened to grow them, I would never be able to sufficiently bunch them to sell them. What was I thinking? I consoled myself with the fact that they were only one of over 40 different crops, and so if they failed completely as I mostly expected, I would not necessarily go broke. But still, these radishes weighed on me.
Now, as fall is rolling in, and the season is beginning to wind down, I can honestly say radishes have been one of the best crops for me this year. In terms of how well they grew, how well they sold at market, and in terms of how I can now bang out 30 gorgeous radish bunches in half an hour, less if the picking is good. When a woman told me emphatically at market a few weeks back that the radishes were the nicest she had ever seen in her life, it was music to my ears, and I felt disproportionately proud of this small accomplishment.
Now the thing is, I don’t think it’s really about the radishes. The radishes, and my long lasting struggle to grow them, are symbolic of something much bigger that I have learned this year through starting my own farm: I am beginning to learn how to face my fears.
There were a lot of unknowns for me this year. How would the soil, which had just been an acidic, peat bog of a hay field last year, perform? Would the vegetables grow well? Would I find markets for my crops if they did? Would I actually be able to do all those things I was planning, things I had never done before, like design, set up, and install an irrigation system, or put up a hoophouse? Would my crop plan work out? Would I be able to plant, manage, harvest and sell 3/4 of an acre of veggies on my own? Would I be able to manage the business side of the farm efficiently? Would I be able to grow radishes? I honestly didn’t know the answers to any of those questions going in, and I was quite terrified the answer to too many of them would be No.
But I went ahead anyway, forging onwards as though I wasn’t afraid, as though I knew what I was doing, as though I was certain it would all work out. But the thing is, I wasn’t. And when in life is anything guaranteed to work out? When is success a certainty? And this is what starting a farm has taught me in a very visceral way – that it’s okay to be afraid of failing, and uncertain about your abilities, and that it’s quite normal in fact, but that you have to take the risk anyway. And yes, you have to do the things you are afraid of doing, the things you think you’re bad at, the things that challenge you.
Maybe saying that farming has helped me to overcome fear is a slightly grandiose misnomer. Because that makes it sound as though I am no longer afraid, as though the fears I had at the beginning of the season are old history. But many of them aren’t, and those that are have been replaced with new fears, for future farming seasons, and future years and other areas of my life. But what starting a farm has helped me to do is become more comfortable with fear. It has helped me learn to look at my fears head on, and do the things that scare me regardless, with my fears right there beside me.
And through it I’ve also learned how to grow (and bunch) some mean radishes.