While I had been totally discouraged after briefly attempting to partner with a local farmer who had land, I soldiered on. I kept my day job while continuing on with my little CSA, I kept selling my goatmilk soaps and duck eggs, and I added 12 baby turkeys to my little farm as well. But, lingering in the back of my mind, was the feeling that I just HAD to learn how to farm before I could really become a farmer. The most common way to learn to farm is by interning, or apprenticing, under successful farmers. However, I was tied down on my little farm and I also couldn’t quit my day job to just go be an intern for a season, so I tried to creatively problem solve.
Angelica, the woman farmer I so admired after experiencing “Garlic Day” on her farm, grew organic vegetables and made fermented and pickled goodies in her commercial kitchen. I had gotten to know her a bit more as we chatted when I placed orders for the co-op I was working at. She was hilarious and kind, and straight to the point. We commiserated over raising waterfowl, talked about raw milk and making cheese. Then I went to visit her farm again in order to write an article about her products for the co-op newsletter. Really, though, I was “farmer stalking” her. I admired her and her work so much, and that fact that she was making her livelihood from farming. Eventually I confessed to her my intense desire to become a farmer. She had a proposition, as she needed help in the fields and in her kitchen that summer, and she generously offered me an incredible opportunity. She was thinking about hiring some help once a week, and would I be interested? OMG! Once a week, I’d make the hour long trip to work for her on her farm. She’d pay me hourly, which afforded me the chance to learn from her, while not giving up a day’s pay at my other job. All I had to do was reduce my full time schedule at the co-op from 5 days a week to 4. I told my bosses about this chance I had (they all knew how badly I wanted to become a farmer!) and I called it an internship, even though that’s not exactly what it was. Somehow, I got the approval to just work 4 days a week at the co-op that summer, and keep full time status for insurance purposes.
What I experienced that summer at Angelica’s Garden was incredibly priceless. We talked endlessly and worked our butts off, and I felt nurtured, supported and helpful. I brought her samples of my goat cheese, goat milk soaps and duck eggs, which she loved, and as we worked, we discussed how these could become my products. I was learning how a farmer thought through farm plans, turning them from dreams to reality. She shared what her farming journey had been as well. That entire summer was an invaluable experience. Until that summer, I had absolutely no idea what it was like to farm on a scale that could make a living. I had no idea what it was like to harvest 100’s of pounds of rainbow colored baby carrots, sort through 300 foot rows of jumbled cucumber vines to find the hidden fruits, trellis up thousands of tomato plants, harvest pickup loads of napa cabbage, prepare hundreds of jars of pickled beets, or wash and sanitize jars for 6 hours straight. Not only was I am able to see what she did, and how she did it, and hear why, but I got to have the experience of what it felt like and how it worked to operate a farm and a commercial kitchen way beyond a homesteading scale, which was what I aspiring towards.