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When I Grow Up, I Want to Be a Farmer

By Beth Satterwhite, Farmer and Beginning and Young Farmer Organizer with FarmON! Oregon

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“What do you want to be when you grow up?” When kids across the country are asked this question, you expect certain answers – doctor, teacher, firefighter… But when is the last time you heard a kid say they want to be a farmer? If we want to eat in the future, it is important that kids and young adults growing up today know that agriculture is a career option. I hope that in the future, more kids will dream of becoming farmers. And more than that: I hope that they will grow up to be farmers & experience the joys and challenges of this great profession.

Even though I grew up on a homestead in a rural farming community, I never intended to become a farmer. I went to college with the goal of doing international medical work.  Early on, I discovered that wasn’t the path for me, and switched to studying sociology and environmental justice. The food system became the focus of my studies, but it wasn’t until later that the connection between the kinds of change I wanted to see and being a farmer became clear. After college I was lucky enough to get a job conducting research about my local food system for a community nonprofit. That experience was invaluable not only because showed me a birds-eye view of our food system, but also made it clear that I wanted to be involved in creating change through food in a more hands-on way: under it all I really wanted to be a farmer!

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Becoming a farmer was easier decided than done; it took about two years before I was able to find an experienced farmer who was willing to take on a newbie. While this was frustrating at the time, now I understand where they were coming from. It’s a lot of work to train someone, especially someone who’s not familiar with production agriculture. And if you mess up, not only is that farmer losing money from paying wages, but it’s also a loss for their business. Thanks to great mentors and hard work, I’ve been able to gain experience in the best way: by doing the work. Today, I’m proud to call myself a farmer. I’m just finishing my second season on a small family-run veggie farm, and am excited to be starting my own operation next year.

What’s my favorite part about farming? I really love the physicality of the work and being outside, experiencing all of the seasonal changes and weather extremes. I also love interacting directly with my customers at farmers’ markets. It’s a huge moral support to be able to chat with folks about what they’re making with our food, new veggies they’ve discovered, and so on, especially since I spend so much of my time alone in the fields. Farming is incredibly personal. Until you become a farmer, it’s hard to understand how invested we are…emotionally, financially… We go all in! Having those conversations makes it all worth it.

While farming is rewarding for me, I realize that it’s not necessarily for everyone. If you’ve never worked a 10 hour day in 90 degree heat or a 16 hour Farmers Market day, there’s no way to understand the unique, bone-achingly tired & oh-so satisfied feeling you have at the end of the day.

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What advice do I have for young people interested in getting into farming? First, you have to learn by experience: if you’re interested, do it for a year and then re-evaluate. Second, if you love it: go for it. Although it’s tough to earn a living from farming at first, with work, creativity, and good research you can find a way to make it work.

My dream is to grow my small, start-up farm into a medium-scale enterprise to bring fresh, locally grown food to people of all income levels in my community. Everyone loves the idea of the small, artisan-type farm, but unless you grow on a larger scale, it’s a real struggle to stay profitable and to offer affordable produce to everyone. I think accessibility is the next challenge facing small-scale sustainable agriculture, and I’m excited to see & participate in the development of this movement in the coming years!

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published this page in Learn 2014-09-30 09:27:58 -0400