Bless you, Riley Creek Blueberry Farm. I’ve seen a lot of blueberries, and I’m telling you, these are the most plump and beautiful berries I’ve ever seen. One of the true delights of small-scale growing is that the farmer has the opportunity craft a delicacy. One of the benefits of u-pick is that the farmer saves on the labor costs of berry pickers, so you can have gourmet berries at an average berry price.
Caitlin and I picked 40lbs of these cuties today, come find them at our Priest Lake Farm Stand this Saturday.
“The very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof. What I want is so simple I almost can’t say it: elementary kindness. Enough to eat, enough to go around. The possibility that kids might one day grow up to be neither the destroyers nor the destroyed. That’s about it. Right now I’m living in that hope, running down its hallway and touching the walls on both sides.”
-Barbara Kingsolver,Animal Dreams
One attitude society seems to have about farmers is that we’re “living the dream.” Something about bucolic pictures, working outside, getting our hands dirty; whatever the metaphor, it seems to be a life that both rural and urban cultures idealize. I can’t blame them: there seems to be a complete dearth of negative farm pictures. I joined Instagram as free marketing for my business…for the life of me I can’t find anything sad or ugly posted about a small farm. Just shot after shot of beautiful cherry tomatoes. My bank teller told me today that she wishes her job was “watering plants.” Most people used to understand the effort it takes to grow food to eat–not only the technical skills but also the lifestyle that farming demands. With increased industrialization, its easy to forget carrots come from the ground. Even easier to forget the enormous scale required to grow carrots to sell at $2/lb.
Small scale farmers I’ve met are full of terrible stories about nature ruining their plans, farmer’s markets ruining their plans, employees ruining their plans, plants ruining their plans, etc. Not only is this field (pun intended) full of disaster, society seems fairly determined to turn the farming experience into a cutesy farmer’s market booth. It’s very hard to explain my work. There’s a real temptation to rant desperately at anyone who asks me how the farm is going; I apologize if I’ve been treating this website as a way to vent.
Back to the dream! I am living the dream, absolutely in every way. My dream is what Barbara Kingsolver wrote about elementary kindness. Enough to eat. Enough to go around. For me and the community I live in. I don’t have a lot of disposable cash, but I’m paying rent and so is my employee. We have a lot of salad greens wilting in the fridge. I can’t explain the feeling of waking up and choosing when and how to go to work. I’ve been very busy all summer, but I haven’t yet felt like I’ve gone to work. Working hard, but never for anyone for anything I don’t agree with. Living so deep inside the dream that I’m “running down its hallway and touching the walls on both sides.”
I am so privileged to have the opportunity to start this farm. Enough complaining, on with the work.
Caitlin told me that the saddest I ever look is right after I set up the farm stand.When I should be at my most optimistic and hopeful, a small angry entrepreneurial voice in my head is screaming “not enough.” Imposter syndrome is a part of any small business venture, but I think farming is particularly haunted by demons of insufficiency. Farmers can have a perpetual frontier mentality–farming frontiers are geographic and temporal. Success lies just around the bend of that strawberry patch you didn’t plant. If you had planted pole beans a week earlier, you would have had them a week before everyone else at the market. Even plants that are thriving feature in daydreams where they thrive even more abundantly. Success itself is not enough; there are so many varieties and techniques of food growing that the grass is literally always greener on the other farm…and it was greener a week earlier than everyone else’s.
Farmer’s markets are frustrating sales arenas because of the constant specter of my own insufficiency. I specifically chose not to grow broccoli because of my land and growing season restraints, but when I see broccoli at the other booths I collapse into my easy fold out lawn chair and assume my sales are done. Which, in a way, they are. Selling is a performance: both of my food and my salesmanship. When I exit stage right out of depression or fear, I manifest that fear into a drop in sales.
So despair is not a new farmer’s friend. Constant companion, maybe, but not a friend. A farmer friend once told me to take advantage of this first year, because it would be the most hopeful and enthusiastic I would ever feel about farming. Today I drove home from the market crying because the despair I feel is supposed to by my emotional high. Which means…it gets much, much worse. Not having broccoli isn’t the Dust Bowl.
But, it’s also been my experience that farming has a lot of friends. Since I started this venture, help and support rain down on me and my quarter acre.Only farmers I used to work for warned me against starting my own farm; everyone else offered me tools, advice, and enthusiasm. Starting a farm in a region famed for its doomsday preppers has some serious advantages: there is real curiosity, passion, and skill in North Idaho for living off a small patch of land with very few tools. People here want local farms to succeed: not just because it’s an environmental or moral right, but because its the way humans used to build communities in this area, and look forward to building community again.
Despair seems to travel with friends. At Priest Lake last Saturday, after setting up my stand and sucking up a tear about STILL only having salad mixes and radishes to sell, a stranger in an RV full of flowerbaskets and strawberries sold me her stock. And a local grower I barely knew showed up with a cooler full of bok choi and chocolate mint. And suddenly, I had the bigggest (*cough* and the only) farmstand in town. Famous!