Tuesday March 1, 2016
I’ve always been fascinated by detectives, the fantasy ones; the sly and slippery desperadoes of black and white; the colorful truth seekers of noir stories and films. At heart, the lonely eye is in service, he will help you discover that which you most desperately want to know and he’ll do it for cheap. I often feel like a farmer-detective investigating the farmicopia of 21st century food. I want to know the truth of a life dedicated toward food production and I’ll work for cheap. It just so happens that food has been around for quite a while and that those in charge of its production models and distribution have power over those that don’t. Attempting to farm now has its difficulties and they mirror those that existed way before organic was an issue. Food is the heart of a civilization, and we live in an age of feed and fix, the heart is in cardiac arrest. It’s the food and pharmaceutical 21st century. It also turns out that before it becomes food, its alive and survives in a complex ecological and social relationship just like us. To understand this is the job of the modern farmer. Being a farmer-detective, my job at the Grange Farm School is to follow the leads provided by a team of fellow detectives.
I’ve spent the last five months at GFS being trained in soil and plant science, business, industrial arts and live stock from a cadre of passionate thinkers and doers. Now, I am in charge of managing a complex system where all decisions effect one another, from seed to market. I’ll be growing food for the student body and establishing my own market farming operation. I’ve hit the ground running.
As with the detective, the farmer follows false leads. There are a million ways to Sunday and the farmer has to find the appropriate flow and function to get there. Site specific are the two words that run through my mind constantly. What is my land orientation, the soil composition, vegetables that will do best in the surrounding bio-region and markets, etc. I have to stay sharp in my prioritizing. I know there are so many issues that will bend sinister the path I have planned.
The importance of planning has been emphasized here at GFS, almost with a wooden stick, so I have spent the majority of the winter swimming in the numbers and visualizations of a farm system. I needed to know what to grow and how much. After many hours ineffectively banging my head against a spade shovel and reading through several farming books, I finally realized that I had to begin with the numbers: How much do I expect to make and from what crops? I finally wrapped my beleaguered and bruised head around the fact that you have to have an idea of where its all going to go so you can know what to grow. You begin with the end, much like writing a screen play. So I figured out how much I thought was reasonable and realistic to make by talking to fellow farmers about what they sell, for how much, and where. From there, the numbers came tumbling and all I had to do was put them in boxes. Data is important, even if its speculative, which it will be especially when you are a fresh farmer. With the planning process you begin at the end but when you start farming the land you begin beneath your feet.