I have been struggling a lot with doubt these days. Doubt about my choices to be pursuing a career in farming when everywhere I turn, farmers and non-farmers alike are more than happy to tell me how hard it will be to make a living this way. Doubt because I wonder if I have what it takes – not only to farm, but also to run a small business. Doubt because I wonder if my body will hold up to this career choice, and I wonder if my mind and emotional state will hold up to the challenges ahead. Doubt because I didn’t make myself rich in another business before I found farming (I probably should have done that), and so I am finding myself in the uncomfortable position of likely needing to take out a loan in order to buy some initial start up equipment, even on the small scale that I want to farm at. Doubt because, simply put, I wonder if I have what it takes to start my own farm.
And so on the brink of getting started on the set up of my own farm, while I mull over ideas and try to remember why I chose this path, it was particularly heartening to listen to episode 108 of the Farmer to Farmer podcast, with guest Michael Phillips of Lost Nation Orchard in Vermont. Not because I am planning on starting an orchard. Not because there was a lot of inspiring information in it on using mycorrhizal fungi in farm and orchard systems to build soil, and therefore plant health – though there was that, and I’d say this episode is worth the listen if you’re interested in such things. And not even because it assured me I would be successful in my farming endeavours – only time will tell on that.
Rather, the reason this podcast struck such a cord with me and left me feeling so inspired was because I was given the impression that here was a man who truly loved what he did, someone humble, who had great respect for the natural world around him, especially the soil beneath his feet. He struck me as a true land steward, someone who is committed to lifelong learning, who is in reverence of the work he does. He also does not claim to have all the answers, but rather encourages and implores the rest of us growing food to keep striving towards something better. He urges us to keep improving our systems, to take better care of our soil by tilling less, to feed our soil with mycorrhizal fungi, to do the best that we can given our situations and set ups, but nevertheless, to strive to learn and grow.
None of that, however, particularly explains why listening to this podcast left me feeling so emotional, with a lump in my throat. Maybe it’s simply that it reminded me that life is a process and a journey, that we never actually arrive at our destination, we simply (if we work at) get closer to our best selves. And for me, farming is the vehicle that I am choosing to help me along that path. Through the act of growing food for myself and my community, through the act of taking on things that feel way too big and hard for me as an individual (be that the mere running of a farm business, or the huge task of trying to find alternatives to the industrial food system), I am hoping I will continue to grow as a person. I am hoping that if I nourish my soil and steward a small patch of earth well enough, it will provide sustenance for myself, and for others. I am hoping that if I commit to observing and learning from a piece of land, that maybe I will also learn more about myself in the process, and get closer to the source of things.