Monday, April 6, 2009

Full circle back to farming

When I was a little over 5, my family and I took a road trip from Orange County to Washington State to visit family friends. Somewhere along the way -- maybe in Oregon, maybe all the way up near Bellingham? -- anyway, somewhere, we stopped to pick blueberries. As a kid who loved berries, this was like some kind of ridiculous dream (a place where these little morsels of goodness grew from the ground as far as they eye could see and you were free to eat as many as you wanted?!). So it shouldn't have been too surprising when later that trip I announced to my parents my future occupation:

berry farmer.

Since then, I've cycled through many career aspirations: scientist, English professor, lawyer (very brief), social entrepreneur, education policy guru. But I guess things really do come back full circle sometimes because as of today, the thing that I can most see myself doing is becoming a farmer.

For the next six months, I'm apprenticing on an organic farm on an island off the coast of Washington state. I'm learning about how to build good soil, how to plant flats, and transplant them later, control weeds & pests, take care of chickens, go to market. I've been here for exactly a week now and I feel a joy and satisfaction that makes me feel like I've found something that I can love. Of course, time will tell if my upper back can handle all this love, but for now, I'm giving in to 'happy.'

Funny enough, America seems to be coming 'round as well. A report by the National Gardening Association shows that 43 million American households plan to grow some kind of food for themselves this year. That's a 19% increase from 2008. And it's not all just talk -- seed sales for edible plants are up. Apparently, Burpee recorded a 20% spike last year, while smaller companies have seen sales increases of 40% or more. I couldn't find historical data on household food growing, but just for some context, in 1900, almost 40% of Americans lived on farms whereas only 2% of us live on farms today. Needless to say, the number of people who know something about growing food has dwindled over the last century-plus, but it looks like maybe that might change.

I'm no luddite. I don't think we should "go back to the way things were" and I don't want to idealize a romantic agrarian lifestyle, but I do think that it's pretty cool and pretty important that more of us are starting to learn more about something so essential to our health, environment, happiness, and essential humanhood.

Can't help but feel happy to be part of that.

Photo by Scott Schopieray


  1. i loved picking berries as a child too (i grew up on a converted orchard and it's what i would do to pass the time in the summer).

    hope you are enjoying yourself on the farm, i'll maybe pick up some things to grow in planters on my balcony in your honor :)

  2. I find this new journey in your life fascinating Jess! Abdu'l-Baha wrote, "The fundamental basis of the community is agriculture.." and your observations about the dwindling numbers of people with farming knowledge is a true scare!