This past weekend I attended the “Farm Dreams” workshop hosted by the local, non-profit, farmer training organization known as the Asheville Organic Growers School.
Here’s their website, they’re pretty amazing and you should check it out.
Anyhow, the workshop was designed to help budding farmers decided if farming is really right for them, and if so, to really help visualize what it is one is wanting to do it for and why. Laying the foundation of one’s intentions, knowledge, connections, skills and resources, in order to have a clearer picture of where you already stand, so as better to prepare your next steps.
I wasn’t sure if I’d be walking into something a bit more rudimentary than I even needed at this point. But I’m ever the one looking for both opportunities to learn new things from knowledgeable people, as well as network and share my interests with others of like-mind, so it seemed worth the reasonable workshop price to check it out.
I was not disappointed.
The first thing that struck me upon entering the classroom that day was the wonderfully eclectic mix of people for such a small class, with a small organization, on a lazy Saturday morning. It was a pretty even split of males and females but of many various age ranges.
There was a woman who drove up from my hometown with her young (middle-school aged) daughter, both of them were starting very much from square one, but the woman worked as a nurse and was getting so saddened by how many people end up sick due to poor diet, which was prompting her to start gardening to grow healthier food for her family and friends. Her daughter was being a good sport about it, coming along to learn as well.
There was an African American couple, the woman came to support her boyfriend who was the one with the farming aspirations. He inherited farmland from his grandfather when his father had wanted nothing to do with it. After having gone off to bigger cities and earning a college degree he still decided to come back to the basics of preserving a family heritage, learning farming, and sharing it with his community out near Charlotte.
There was a guy in his early 40s who was getting into chicken farming and wanted to learn more about how to run it better as a business, he drove up from South Carolina. His 60 some year old uncle came with him in support of him.
There were another couple of middle aged men there by themselves. One of whom had driven in from Tennessee. Both starting from square one with not much besides the dream of living off the land.
A couple of women who were sort of restarting/refreshing their lives together by getting into homesteading and getting out of whatever their former lines of work had been.
A young woman who moved down here from PA with her boyfriend, after they had traveled around the country doing Willing Worker On Organic Farm stints (wwoofing), in search of longer growing seasons of the south, and being in the lovely mountains. She has all of the passion for having a farm but she was there seeking direction on how and where to start.
There was a woman who, after having worked with some church groups gleaning leftover/reject produce from large scale farm fields and turning it over to area soup kitchen to feed the poor. She had become so inspired that she now wants to start an organization dedicated to growing food for the poor, and networking farmers so they wouldn’t waste product that could still be used to feed people in need.
There was a middle aged woman who is seeking to start a healing/teaching garden for the LGBTQ community and women who had been abused/abandoned by the church.
There was a young couple who moved here from out of state and lucked out in buying a small parcel of land almost right away, and were in the beginning phases of planning their off the grid homestead and learning forest gardening due to having bought an entirely wooded/sloped lot (the most common and affordable land type in this region).
I was fortunate enough to end up being seated next to a woman who has land right here where I’m at. She has her own lavender farm just a few miles north of my place. She is a school teacher, teaching Physical Education to be exact. Her passion for healthy food and exercise and the importance of training our youth to value these things, has prompted her to be the sole creator/crusader of a teaching garden at the school she works for. She was telling me this year she is teaching the kids how to grow garlic and is going to take them on a field-trip to the farmer’s market to teach them about selling their garlic they grew. She was telling me about the “troubled”/”at risk” children she has worked with who’s personalities completely come alive and are transformed when they get to have garden time with her, as opposed to how they act out in other classes they may have – which is proving to her how important that sort of outdoors tactile connection is for children’s development.
She doesnt live in Canton full time, she lives elsewhere in state where she teaches and so forth. Her lavender farm property out in my area was land inherited on her family. She comes out here on the weekends to tend the farm, and spends more time out here when she is off work from the school for the summer. She came to the Farm Dreams workshop much like myself, with some hopes of getting some tips for growing one’s own operation, but mainly to network and meet other interesting people doing small scale stuff in the area. She really wants to come take a look at Middleway here and she said I’m more than welcome to come visit her Lavender patch as well. She is going to show me the varieties that grow best in our area.
It was so nice being in a room full of people who all had such different backgrounds and reasons for being there, but were all drawn together by the united factors of a love for tending to the land, sustainability, and healthy food/local food security.
The first half of the class was a lot of visioneering – sketching out our farm dreams, utilizing work sheets to narrow down and express out core values, etc…
The second half of the day was spent with a farmer panel made up of 3 farmers in the area. One who grew his vegetable/fruit operation slowly over the course of 30 years, acquiring little deb tin the process, until finally retiring from his day job in the last 5 years and becoming a farmer full time. One woman who lived in a community setting and started a raw dairy operation there. She came to it with no experience and learned everything from the ground up, even if it meant learning it the hard way. But she has grown to be very successful and now teaches others based from where she had made her mistakes. And one young guy around my age, who was new to his current property, but had spent the previous 7 years doggedly working on and managing farms all up in the north east, gaining all the skills he could until he could finally manage to buy his own parcel and go into business fully for himself, he is only entering into year 2 on his current property here in NC.
Seeing the different approaches and walks of life between them, and hearing them compare notes on their various approaches to the farming experience was very helpful.
I was especially happy to hear the 30+ years experienced farmer, when mentioning his list of priorities for new start ups, among his top 3 things were – making sure there is irrigation or water catchment set up – and making sure to build/establish some sort of propagation room like a greenhouse/hoophouse etc…
Both of which are top primary goals I have for Middleway this year, and I came to those conclusions for prioritizing of my own accord. To have them inadvertently validated by someone with 30+ years experience farming in the area was a good feeling. I may have a better toe-hold on this whole thing than some days I give myself credit for.
I cant wait for next month when I get to attend the Organic Grower’s School weekend long Spring Harvest Conference workshops!