Farm School Started It

Over the last five months in farm school, I learned to amend, till, trellis and scuffle hoe. I learned to dig up potatoes and carrots and to look for glossy-skinned eggplants. We’d seen end rot take some of our tomato crop. I’d seen a snake come out of the field, heard hawks screaming overhead, seen kites hovering over the nearby vineyards and eaten the cows that used to graze in the pasture next door (they were delicious).

I’d also learned about the business of farming, about the equipment most farms needed, and about the different ways farmers could sell their crops. Both non-profit and for-profit farms came to talk to us. We learned about food policy, too, including Bay Area urban agriculture policies as well as the national farm bill.

The experience changed many of us.

It inspired some of us, like the woman who has no yard space but has now begun to research ways to use her roof (including looking at putting in a vertical greenhouse) and is already plotting taking over her neighbor’s roof for additional growing space.

Another farm school student grew her first tomatoes on her concrete patio this summer and has since enrolled in an in-depth gardening/composting class in SF.

Of the ten of us who were in farm school, my best guess is that Jason is the one who will actually end up farming for a living. He had previously worked on a farm through WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) and he’s already knows where he plans to farm, although sadly it’s not in California where I could help out.

But not everyone was encouraged by what we learned. An extremely sobering lecture by a Santa Cruz farmer on the finances of farming changed many of our idealistic ideas about quitting our jobs and farming instead. That lecture led one couple to change their real estate search. They’d been looking for 20-acre parcels of land on which to farm, but now they said they’d just like to have a big garden on a one acre or even half acre plot.

It’s too early for me to say exactly how farm school changed me, but it stirred up a lot. Despite my worries that I wasn’t hardy enough for working outside all day, that I would be sunburned and miserable, I discovered that I loved working outside.

I’m still thinking a lot about the things I learned, not necessarily about farming but about what makes me happy, about that feeling of contentment I felt in the field and that particular joy I felt working with tomatoes.

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