As staff and instructors, we think we are pretty good with our observations, descriptions, and explanations of the Organic Farm School. But really, if you want to know about the student experience, you need to hear it from a student. So here is a blog post from one of those wonderful souls…Corbin.
"Eating is an agricultural act." -Wendell Berry
As I finally have a moment to slow down and process my life during the past 5 months, I realize that this blog is only going to be about farming. I apologize if it's uninteresting to you, but it means so much to me so I will try to make it semi-interesting. I will start where I left off. I departed Iowa City and drove 28 hours to Washington state. It was a very refreshing drive. I listened to the Farmer to Farmer podcast the whole way and got myself stupid excited (and nervous) for farm school to start! I'd been waiting SO long for this!!
I rolled into Seattle late Sunday morning (March 18, 2018) and got bottomless mimosas with my friend Daniel and then headed to Whidbey Island slightly buzzed and excited for orientation. When I arrived, I met the following people:
Ovini- Educated. From New York City. A returned peace corps volunteer, was a social worker, and has worked a lot with children. Learning to farm so she can take over her family's farm in North Carolina.
Jodi- 41 years old. Educated. From Phoenix, Arizona. Worked as a archaeologist. Wants to buy land with her husband for agritourism. Guests can stay, airbnb style and have access to farm fresh foods. She will also have a large presence (I presume) at a local farmers market.
Pauline (my roomie)- 25 years old. Yale graduate. From San Francisco. Interested in farming based around no tilling and using inputs straight from the farm or very locally.
Emily- 42 years old. Physicians Assistant. From Oakland, California. Very interested in carbon farming. Wants to have a commune with her closest friends.
Parker- 20 years old. High School grad. From Pittsburg, PA. Wants to own a farm to table cafe.
Corbin- you know.
+3 guys who have dropped out of the program. Who runs the world? (girls)
The program started slow, as the weather was still chilly and rainy. We started getting comfortable with each other (barely) and ended up spending the first, what seemed like 2 months, playing ice breakers. Which is interesting given the age range and variety of life experiences among the students.
Once the weather warmed up, it all began. 40+ hour school weeks, milking in the morning before school for the neighbor, and working after school for a couple, Brent and Abby, who are from Iowa! (hi.)
This program is, what I like to tell people, organic farming 101. Well, intensive* organic farming 101. We are learning/doing so many things; vegetables, seed production, reduced tillage trials, livestock, business models, marketing methods, field trips, etc. From here, students will be able to figure out how their farm will function and what they will focus on.
How many times does an average person need a doctor? 2-3 times a year.
Need a lawyer? A couple times in a lifetime.
Need a teacher? Everyday for 2/3 of the year.
Need a police officer? Everyday (giving the benefit of doubt)
Need a farmer? Three times EVERY day!
It's so easy to fall into the mindset that society has set for us. That high status and high income jobs are most important. But what about the things we take for granted every single day; Your mechanic? Most people have no idea how to deal with their car if it breaks down. What about your farmer? The person who puts food on your plate 3 times a day. Teachers? The ones who inspire and teach our younger generations to grow into active members of society. We need not forget how hard these people have to work and how little they are appreciated, and especially paid.
It took me about a year to finally be comfortable with telling people "I want to be a farmer" when they ask what I want to do with my life. I was embarrassed because being a farmer means I will work 60 hour work weeks, have no social life during the growing season, and only make enough money to get by. Why would anyone want that? I WANT THAT! I want to be able to educate people about soil health, tell them why it's so important to compost, and why to shop locally. I want people to be able to come see my biodynamic farm and watch how all the parts work together to create a beautifully working system. I want to have children come out on field trips and plant their own lettuce so when you ask them where lettuce comes from they don't say "the grocery store." My heart is so happy be able to be outside everyday and I love love LOVE seeing the difference I can make in my community.
Although I have chosen to farm, one thing that I am constantly working on is my competitiveness. I feel as though my past life has negatively set me up for my current lifestyle in a strange way. It's great to be competitive in a way that allows you to succeed. I have been in those situations playing soccer growing up, competing with my siblings (subconsciously,) and in college where everything is graded on a curve. I have constantly been in awe at the community aspect of farming. Especially other small scale farmers who are always willing to give good advice and help out when needed. Wasn't that the competition? Aren't we suppose to be keeping our ways a secret so that we can out preform other farmers? NOPE! And why the hell would we? We all have a common goal of feeding the community healthy, local food. I feel that my level of competitiveness is restricting at some points. I work too intensely and that often comes across as intimidating or even that I'm in a bad mood. I feel it is unpleasant for others around me and I usually have to take a step back when I get frustrated at the lack of speed or commitment of others and remember that we are all in this together. I have recently discovered how to convert the competitiveness from trying to be better than others to being the best that I can be. I don't need to be the best, I just need to learn all that I want to learn, and preform at 100% for myself. To push myself to be the best farmer that I am able to be.
One quick side story that I think you'll enjoy... We have been going on field trips to nearby farms. One farm we went to told us they have had club root in recent years, which is a disease plants get that makes their roots swell and distorts them. It's very contagious and can be carried from farm to farm on the soles of our shoes. Very worried, our instructor made us all stop at the local grocery store on the way home to get bleach and we all look turns disinfecting our shoes in the parking lot. As if that wasn't enough excitement for the people of south Whidbey to witness... as I was pulling out of the parking lot, a guy waved me down and started walking to my car. He had 10-12 loaves of bread in his hands. I rolled down my window and he just starts throwing the bread, loaf by loaf, into my car. He didn't say anything and neither did I. When he was done, he just walks away. I drove home and shared the bread with the other students. Still to this day, unsure what the fuck that was about.
Anyway, my life has been nothing but busy; I work, go to school, do farmers markets, and sleep. I miss my family, friends, and cats daily but I know this a career building year, so that keeps me going. Brent and Abby, who I work for after school, are amazing. They treat me like family and make me 110% less homesick than I would be without them. Brent is always wearing his Hawkeye hat, which feels so homey. We laugh so hard and get along so well. Abby can read me like a book and always cooks vegan food for me. I'm SO excited to get to spend the rest of my time in Washington working for them, and spending the rest of my life being friends with them!!
During my trip to Iowa, which is where I am right now, I offered to visit Brent's mom in a nearby town. I have no idea what she looks like, how she acts, or if she's actually even interested in meeting with me, but I am down to clown. I emailed JoLynne and let her know I was coming, and she sent her address with a description of the house: pink surrounded by a white picket fence. Easy enough. I rolled up, parked and started walking up to this house. Rap music is LOUDLY blowing out the partially open windows, so I stop... Baffled for a moment, I take out my phone and re-read the email. This was indeed the pink house with the white picket fence on the correct street with the correct address numbers pasted next to the door. Hmmmmm. I knock on the door and this sweet older lady answers, says "CORBIN!" and gives me a big hug. I have arrived. She was amazingly sweet and we enjoyed each others company. We had good conversations, and listened to the words "ass and titties" play softly in the background the whole time.
I also met with my friend, Katherine, at a coffee shop in Iowa City. I am always excited to see her because 3 years ago we were sitting in my room and I was telling her how I didn't know if I wanted to be a doctor and maybe I wanted to do Environmental Science or something along those lines. She kept telling me to follow my heart and do whatever I want, despite what my parents or society thinks. So, thank you, Katherine, for initiating my change of heart! Two weeks ago, she graduated with her masters from Iowa State University in Sustainable Agriculture. We had SO much to talk about! We talked about soil health, crop rotation, industrialized and mechanized agriculture, water quality, young farmers, and of course other things, like everyone from our high school getting married. Anyway, we didn't realize how passionately... and extremely loudly... we were talking until Katherine asked me how pig shit is suppose to look. I said "kind of like dog shit," and she told me that industrialized farms make their pigs have diarrhea so its easier to clean out of the barns... Then we noticed that the whole coffee shop could hear our conversation and probably didn't want to listen to our opinions on pig diarrhea... oops.
I went to the Iowa City Farmers Market with my mom on Saturday morning and was completely in my element. I stopped at every stand and started a conversation with the farmer. I asked about special processing licenses, how a pig farmer selects for breeding, what kind of amendments an organic farmer puts on their fields, how they make money in the winter, and asked how much money they make on an average Saturday at this specific market. My mom was so embarrassed at all my questions. But I was in heaven!!
Being home, in Iowa City, I am reminded how lucky I am to have all the amazing people in my life who support me and love me through whatever I choose to do. I am overwhelmed with happiness here and I am excited to be back in November. You've all made it very hard to go back to Washington. Thank you.
Farming has opened my eyes to such a beautiful world and I can't wait to be able to spread that to others throughout the rest of my life!
And for you: Continue to follow your heart. If something doesn't work out, it wasn't meant to be. When people throw shit at you, you don't have to catch it. LET IT FLY BY! (Thanks, Lisa, for that analogy.) Be the best you can be, and forget the standards that society has set. We are all here to love ourselves and our lives. Don't get stuck doing something you don't truly enjoy. Bring out your inner farmer. But most importantly, do something that makes you smile everyday.
I love you all.