I asked the farmers in my book to tell my why they farm, what they love, what makes it hard, what eaters need to know. This answer from Georgie Smith of Willowood Farm in Ebey’s Prairie (also a writer) is priceless wisdom and a penetrating peek into the small farmer’s life.
- Why do you farm/raise livestock?
Because I can’t not farm. Farmer’s don’t become farmer’s to make a million dollars. They do it because that is who they are. Then the struggle is how to match up who you are with how to make it financially viable.
- What is rewarding about farming/livestock – so rewarding that you do it despite the difficulties and economics?
The reward of seeing a crop brought to harvest. The end of day when you are body tired but mind satisfied by the tasks accomplished. The realization that you’re daily work creates a product that is not nebulous in its importance (how important TRULY is that new GAP shirt? Or the latest IPhone?). It is food. It sustains and nourishes and provides life.
- What makes farming/raising livestock tough economically or otherwise?
Food has been taken for granted for a long time in this country. Often when I deliver my weekly orders I stop by to buy office supplies. It is not common for me to spend the easily the same amount in buying a bit of paper, ink, a few pens, maybe some staples, as I have just made in one or two or my deliveries. That always seems skewed to me. We have devalued the price of the things we need most to survive on a daily basis yet over-valued many of the things we can live with out.
Not only that but farmers are the ultimate gamblers. Sure there are crop insurance plans you can sign up for, but for farmers like me, working on a smaller, very diversified level with many crops, I don’t quality for insurance. So every year I take a risk that the garlic won’t rot due to an unseasonable wet spring, the potatoes won’t succumb to blight due to warm and wet summer, the dry beans will get enough heat to grow and mature before the fall rains hit. How many people would truly put all their livelihood on the line every since year and hope that their controlling partner, Mother Nature, doesn’t have some unforeseen plans for them?
- Do you have a philosophy of farming? That would be values or ‘spirit’ or method or choices. however you approach the question.
I have two philosophies. One is “This is a hell of a lot of work. If I don’t truly love it and have a great time doing it then I’m not doing it.” To that means, I try to grow for the reasons I like growing. I enjoy trying new and unusual vegetables, a challenge of a different crop.
The other philosophy is “sustainability.” And by that I mean, not only farming using sustainable practices to nurture the land, but the financial sustainability of what I do, and the emotional and physical sustainability of what I do. If I cannot find a way to farm that provides enough financial reward while allowing me enough time to relax and recover and enjoy my family then it doesn’t matter how great of an “environmentally sustainable” farmer I am, I can’t financially and emotionally/physically sustain it.
- What do you want eaters/consumers to know, that you think they don’t?
I don’t think that eaters/consumers know how much works goes into almost every crop, not to mention, how often crops fail. People will often say to me, “Wow, Georgie…you have a really green thumb.” My response is “Not really, I just plant A LOT.”
I have a story I’ll share….A number of years ago when I was first farming I had a small CSA. One of my members was a high-powered couple. Both working full time in a well paid profession. Smart, hard-working. At that time of year we had fava beans, which I provided to my CSA members in the pod. It was up to them to shell them out of the pod and, if they wanted, blanch the favas and shell them out of their “inner shell” that surrounds all fava beans.
Now fava beans, which are of course, a beloved early summer culinary delight, do not suddenly appear on their own regard. I often will fall plant (or very early spring, like March) plant them. They are a very big seed which doesn’t fit into any of my push seeders so we have to plant by hand (walk along, dig a hole with a hoe, drop seed and cover it). Then of course we have the obligatory one, two or maybe three times of weeding while the young plants are growing. Then, if the plants get real tall, we often have to tie them up so they don’t fall over. Eventually, usually sometime in June, the plants will flower and set their pods. At which point we will spend several days worth of picking time getting all the pods. Then finally, the pods are delivered to the customer and we hopefully, receive a financial compensation for them worth all the effort endured.
This particular couple loved to eat fine foods. But they were not used to having to do much work on their part to achieve it. After a few weeks of delivering fava beans, the gentlemen complained to me that “those favas are a lot of work to shell and blanch. However….” he said, which an air of pride, “My wife and I this past week, we decided to sit on our deck and shell those beans together. We got a glass of wine and went to work. And when it was all over, we really felt like we were true farmers, like pioneers!”
I think at this point my jaw dropped. So he and his wife sat on the deck of their million dollar home, overlooking a gorgeous water view, drank wine and shelled fava beans and they thought they were any equivalent to “true farmers, like pioneers??????” When he and his wife buy the seed, plant it, hoe it two or three times, stake it and pick it (and all that through oftentimes inclement weather) then they can have a right to say that. Until then, they should just pay me a good value for the work they obviously don’t understand goes into growing and shut the hell up!
Of course, I couldn’t actually say that, but believe me….I really really wanted to!
And last year, I had another fava bean story to share along the same lines (fava beans apparently inspire these sorta things). I was setting up for market on day in late August and I saw a woman briskly walking toward me. She saw me and gushed, “Oh great, you are the fava bean lady right? Oh good, I need a couple lbs I just found the best recipe this morning!” At which point, I was finally able to interrupt. “Well yes, I do fava beans, back in June and I don’t have any here right now…” At which point, she interrupted and said. “Oh, that’s fine, I can just stop by the farm and pick them up on Wednesday! No problem!”
And again, this is when I had my imaginary response lined up. Which would have been something along the lines of “Sure! I’ll just hop on home after a 10 hour day here and a 60 hour week, I’ll skip dinner with the kids and husband and plant your fava beans, cram their 6 month long growing season into 4 days, and have them ready for you on Wednesday!”
But again, couldn’t quite say that! So instead, I convinced her to buy peas as a replacement which she wasn’t too happy with but was the best we could do. I didn’t bother with informing her that it was a minor miracle that we even had peas in late August as they are usually a early summer crop as well, but, I had taken a gamble on a late planting but, oh well….