Friday, August 22, 2014

Fitting In

I've had this in my head the whole time I've been writing.  Now it's in yours.  Your welcome. - - Why Am I Such A Misfit?

All my life I've felt like I didn't quite fit in.  I don't want to use the word 'misfit' because I think that gives it a negative connotation.  Though not fitting in hasn't always been easy, I don't necessarily consider it a bad thing.  I like the word eccentric.  I think it comes from my Herring family (we're all a little different).  Nothing has changed now that I'm 30 (yes, my name is Emily and I'm 30.  I turned 30 in February and I know age is a number and all that, but all year it's been hitting me that I'm grown up now.  I'm 30, I have 2 kids, and I own a business.  Wow!).  I look around and don't really see myself fitting into any category neatly.  Then again who does really?  That's what makes us as humans great right?  We're all different and unique, but the same enough to understand other's circumstances.

I guess it should come to me as no surprise that my farm doesn't quite fit in anywhere either.  I'm a woman farmer.  I'm a farmer with a history major. We're liberal farmers (shhh!  Don't tell anyone.  Everyone automatically assumes we're ultra conservative or something.  Nope.  Not even a little bit.).  We're small farmers that come from larger conventional farming backgrounds.  I never wear overalls or chew on hay, though, sometimes I do wear pigtails.  We're also young farmers who didn't inherit our farm.  It is a family farm, but we had to buy it and we're doing it on our own (sometimes by our fingernails it seems).  We're a small farm that's not a hobby farm.  We don't do it for fun though it is fun at times and we don't do it to lose money though we've done that too.  We don't do it because I'm bored and need something to do (when I grew up, the word bored was a bad word.  It was the equivalent of cursing to my grandma.  If I'm bored, I get up and find something to do and with 2 kids there's plenty of that!)  We do it because we love this life and we want to build something great to share with our community, and we want to make money doing something we love.

Another way we don't quite fit in.  We're a small farm that's not not organic.  I'm not against organic.  I see us going that route in the future (or at least all-natural, same result without spending thousands to be able to use the word organic).  Personally I don't get the organic deal (not that there's anything wrong with it.  Every family has to do what they think is best for their family).  I think it's just a gimmick to get people to pay more for their food.  Organic produce has not been shown to be any more nutritious than conventional (from the research I've done, some of which is here []), it's just not sprayed with the same things (because if you didn't already know, organic produce CAN be sprayed) or had anything added to it at the end.  Organic produce gets recalled just like regular produce does (Trader Joe's Peaches anyone?)  I'm all for not adding anything I will say that.  Why mess with something perfect as is?  Then again I'm not shipping my produce hundreds of miles either.  I think the best route to take is local whether it's organic or not.  At least then you know it wasn't picked early and shipped across the country to ripen in a box.  It was probably picked the day before, probably from a farmer you know, and there was absolutely nothing added to it to make it look better or stay fresher.  And I don't know this to be true but I suspect it's part of the reason why someone buys organic - really all people want to know it's what they're eating - and the organic label does at least tell the consumer what's been done to the product.  Knowing your farmer takes some of the mystery out of it because you can just ask them.

What else makes our farm a misfit?  We're not completely against GMO's (genetically modified organisms) where most small farmers are.  We DO NOT, and WILL NOT, use GMO seeds in our produce production don't get me wrong, but I do see a place for them in the row crop industry.  I know, I know, they're 'bad' for you, but by the year 2050 there will be 9 billion (yes, that's billion with a b) people on this planet who need to be fed and we're losing farmland at an astounding rate every day.  This new 70 bypass that's being built so folks from Raleigh can get to the beach quicker?  It took somewhere around 1000 acres of land out of production.  I know what you're thinking, 1000 is not that much.  Well, our farm has 46 acres of cleared land, that's what you see when you come.  Think about that multiplied by 21.  It's a lot of land.  So we have to raise more crops on less land, and don't even get me started on the water issues (water, not oil, is our most precious resource.  Wars will be fought over this in the future. You cannot convince me otherwise).  How do you think that's going to happen? Only by being more efficient and increasing yields.  One way to do that?  Genetically modify plants to produce more.

Lastly, and this one makes me proud to be a misfit, I'm not into what I call 'farm shaming'.  Like people who raise free range chickens versus people who raise them in a chicken house.  Or people who do farm organically verses people who don't.  It's like fat girls verses skinny ones or stay at home moms versus working moms.  We're all in this together.  Why fight against each other and bring everyone down?  Agriculture takes such a beating as it is.  Let's work together to educate the public.  I think working together and learning from each other is a better way to have this conversation.  Like I said, I think everyone has to do what's best for their family.  If having that kind of food is more important than getting the best deal go for it.  If you think it's better for your family be my guest.  If you can't afford it or don't see the need that's okay too.  It's a personal choice and I don't think anyone should shame anyone else for doing it.  The problem with food is there are so many choices and a lot of people really don't know what they all mean.  I don't.  I'll be the first to tell you.  I wish the government would come up with a simpler labeling system.  I wish companies had to prove what they were calling one thing was actually that thing (like the 'creme' inside of an Oreo, which has no dairy content at all. [] Don't get me wrong, I know it can't be good for you, but they shouldn't be able to call it creme if I have to be strict on what I say about my produce).  What I recommend is do your research before you decide (just beware everything you read on the Internet).

So that's how we're different in a nutshell.  Sometimes I feel like we're straddling both sides of the fence.  Not quite this but not that either.  I guess I just feel like farmers get a bad wrap in general and a lot of organizations we're involved in because we are a small farm like to bash larger farmers for this or that and it's hard for us because we do understand both sides, but we don't quite fit into either.  That's okay.  I think our farm is relatable to you guys (least, I really hope it is), and as long as it stays that way I'm happy.  Now all this is MY opinion.  I'm not interested in getting involved in some big debate about it.  Like I said, everyone has to do what they think is best for them.  This is my blog about our farm and I just wanted to put my thoughts out there.  I guess when it comes to having opinions I'm not such a misfit after all!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Why I Do What I Do

Confession time: as a woman, as a mother, as a business owner, I feel like I never do good enough.  No matter how much I put in, no matter how hard I try, it's never enough.  I'm sure all you other women/mothers/CEO's (hey, when you own the business you get to pick your title.  Mine's Director of Agritourism.  Sounds important doesn't it?  Tomorrow I'm pulling weeds in the cucumber field.  Today I picked up trash.) understand.   Some days it doesn't matter how hard I try to be everything to everyone it's never good enough (of course I know it's because NO ONE can be everything to everyone, no matter how hard they try to make it look like that on Facebook or Pintrest.  It's physically impossible. But sometimes I forget and think I can be superwoman.  It's those times when I get slapped in the face by reality and it turns into an epic fail).  Some days it's like the stars are all out of alignment and everything I touch turns to s*** (sorry, there's really no other way to put it).  Some days I sit and look at the stresses I have going on, whether it's money or employees or the kids or the weather or The Husband and wonder why in the heck I'm doing this.  Why don't I go get some desk job somewhere where someone else tells me what to do and I never have to make decisions and I get weekends off to take my kids on wonderful vacations or little league practice and I don't have to plan everything around the oh-so-impossible-to-predict rain and I get a set paycheck every single week.  Why do I want to keep beating my head against this wall?

This entire strawberry season has felt like this to me.  It seemed everywhere I turned was an obstacle, everything I tried to do backfired, the help I hired (bless her heart) just didn't get it.  You name it it went wrong this season, the strawberries wouldn't seem to grow and when they did it was erratic, we had our first hailstorm, we had truck and tractor breakdowns, vehicle accidents (my car got backed into a tractor by the new employee while a group was here) the pickers didn't show half the time, I actually fell down in the middle of the field while talking to a group of students and parents from PPK (yes I did.  I was simply trying to explain where they needed to walk to get the least muddy and not to fall when my foot slipped right out from under me and I just slid down on my butt.  So I had to sit there while forty or so people stared at me as my thighs cramped like crazy and my face turned as red as the berries they were supposed to be picking while the force of irony set in).  It was our best and worst season all at the same time.  By the end I was just so ready to be done.  I wanted to erase the whole miserable 6 weeks from my brain.

Then three things that happened in our last few weeks that renewed my sense of purpose in this profession I've created for myself:  1 - I had customers plan their trip home to Kernersville (near Winston Salem) from their vacation just to come by our farm.  (They got lost in Nahunta and I had to tell them that they knew they were doing right when they passed the giant dinosaur.  Thank you Benton & Sons for giving me a reason to say that!)  How many farms did they pass?  10, 20?  They live in the Piedmont (the mecca of strawberry growers) and they came to our farm because they said they were the best strawberries they'd ever eaten.  I might be partial (or even a bad judge since I don't eat strawberries) but I have to agree.  2 - I went to the doctor (because of course I had to get my spring [I get one every season usually right before I have to speak to a group] cold during strawberry season.  Couldn't have waited a couple weeks or come a little early.  That'd be too much to ask) and I asked about making an appointment for The Husband and then told her i'd have to have him call since we farmed and his schedule was erratic and she thanked me for farming.  I've never had anyone thank me for farming.  3 - Just today, I was cleaning out my car getting ready to pack for our first CSA drop offs (I NEED a delivery vehicle, one not filled with random happy meal toys and old mail) when a couple pulled up.  She actually hugged me and thanked me for what we do, for having a farm where kids could come and see what farming is like.

Things like this have renewed my faith in this little career I've picked.  It makes me think that all that stress is worth it in the end.  Even though The Boy and The Girl aren't involved in every activity I might wish they could be and I can't be there to do fun stuff with them all the time, The Boy still tells me he's a farmer and gets mad when he can't go to meetings because 'he's a young farmer too' (plus they have a corn maze in their back yard, I'd have to say if I was a 6 year old boy that'd be considered winning).  If one person goes home with a new wrinkle in their brain, if one kid goes home and remembers the time they came out to the farm and had fun, if one person eats a great dinner from our CSA boxes, then that gives me the meaning and purpose I've been looking for.

My strawberry eatin' fool.

The Bossman
And apparently people are because we've had more groups than ever and more families coming out to have fun with us.  Enough that we're planting another acre next year (finally, after 5 years, it's all starting to pay off!  Thank you!!!).  A lot of times people leave and you don't know what kind of time they had.  The haters are always the first and loudest to give feedback, but you don't always hear from the people who appreciate what you do and enjoyed themselves.  To know that at least someone is gives that sense of satisfaction I needed to get me through the summer.  It makes me excited to do it all over again next year.  It also gets me looking forward to the fall.  It's a new season and who knows what it's going to bring!  What new learning opportunities will present themselves?  Hopefully I won't face-plant while walking through the corn maze.  Fingers crossed!