I know what you're thinking: I don't look like a farmer—at least, not like your mental image of Jed Clampett from The Beverly Hillbillies. I get that a lot. And to be honest, I'm not your typical farmer.
I didn't inherit the profession from my family, as you might assume. I grew up in suburban Michigan, and when I graduated from The College of Charleston in 2009 with a degree in business, the extent of my "farming" experience was helping my dad and grandfather in the yard, going cherry picking a few times, and growing some herbs.
My plan up until that point had been to get my master's degree in financial analysis and eventually run my own business. In 2008, I was working for a financial advisor and had picked out exactly which graduate program I wanted to pursue. But of course, that's when the recession hit. Already deep in debt, I realized I wanted to do something else, something that wouldn't require another major hit on my bank account.
I'd developed an interest in food while working in restaurants throughout college and had started shopping at the local farmer's markets in Charleston. Then, during my last semester of my senior year, I did a report on Whole Foods that really made me think about where our food comes from and the people who grow it.
There was only one problem: I had no idea how you go about becoming a farmer. So I did some Googling, and that's when I stumbled upon an apprenticeship program in Chatthoochie Hills, Georgia. It seemed perfect. The 25-acre farm is part of a community called Serenbe that really emphasizes preserving green space for its residents. It's always run itself off of young farmers who are learning how to farm and want to continue in the profession when they leave; so I'd basically be paid to be trained for nine months. It would give me time to learn the ins and outs of farming—but also to see if I was crazy to be seriously considering it as a career. (Plenty of people I knew were skeptical—including my mom, who was like, "This is just a phase, right?")
I had to submit an application, go through an interview, and spend a day working in the field—but in the end, I got the apprenticeship. All I really remember now about my first season was that my back hurt for the first month, but I loved every second of what I was doing. I learned something new practically every hour of the day and was growing some vegetables that I'd never even eaten before, like kohlrabi and Swiss chard. I also like being active, so being able to be outside and sweat every day felt so good.
I remember being shocked at how much I loved farming because I wasn't sure that would be the case going into it. But within three months, I knew that I wanted to continue farming—and I started thinking about how I could do that after my apprenticeship was up.
I ended up getting a job starting the vegetable-growing program at a farm in South Georgia, and then, when the farming managers I had worked for at Serenbe left, I came back to take over that job in early 2014.
It's not all blue skies and sunflowers (a little farming humor for you there). My hours are pretty crazy. I probably do 60 to 70 hours a week on the farm and another 25 to 30 hours in the office, whether that's writing a newsletter promoting our community-supported agriculture program, handling the money that goes along with that, or managing our restaurant farmer's market businesses.
As you might expect, my love life hasn't exactly benefitted from the long hours. When I tell most people I'm a farmer, at first they think it's cool—but the further I get into relationships, the more they inevitably struggle with the fact that farming is my lifestyle.
It's not just a job that you do every day. It's a culture, it's a way of life. You have to embody farming—so it's hard to find someone who's not a farmer who understands and can embrace that.
To this day, I can't believe I managed to find the great apprenticeship program at Serenbe and end up where I am today. Most people who grow up in suburbia develop this very narrow-minded view of food. But now that I've opened my eyes and realized how important food is—yes, eating well, but also eating food that was farmed in a sustainable way—I'm so glad to be doing what I can to change our food system for the better.
I also find wearing so many hats really empowering—I'm using all of the skills I've learned to grow produce and running my own business, just like I always wanted to.
I really want to encourage young farmers and women in particular to start farming (I actually think women have an inherent attention to detail that really lends itself to the job). While it may be a stereotypically male world, it doesn't have to be. Like I said before, I'm not your typical farmer—and I couldn't be prouder of that.