Why I Decided to Go into
Seven years of programming computers left me with the feeling that I was collecting bad karma. There is a certain state of mind one gets working in a cubicle all day. It sure is hard to sleep at night sometimes. Over-caffeinated and over-stimulated is no way to find God.
Nowadays my life is different. Today I was out there walking around my field, thinking about where I should put my rows and where I should plant flowers and put shelters for birds and rodents. There are plenty of coyotes on the farm, so I don’t have to worry about a rodent explosion. And the mice will help control the weed seeds.
I figure it'll take about seven years to get really good at farming. Learning a trade isn't easy. I have come to accept that I'm older, my brain is older, and together, we have to adapt. No longer can I pick things up by watching; doing is where it’s at. So, there's some lead time here — no time for dawdling.
Last year nearly killed me. I was diagnosed with colitis and spent a week in the hospital. Word to the wise: if you're going to start organic farming, pay special attention to your body. Other than that episode, the constant low impact workout of farming has a great effect on the body and soul. For the body hacker, farming has benefits.
Also, the food is great. Everyone should go out of their way to find local food. Last summer I had a friend over for dinner about once a week. He mentioned that he enjoyed watching me cook. It was obvious I didn't know what I was doing, but the ingredients I started with were so good that everything turned out well. I cooked him a fresh pastured chicken — you can't beat the taste. Pay for these things; they are worth the cost.
Last year I worked for Peg and Matt Sheaffer of Sandhill Organics. They farm roughly 30 acres organically in Lake County, Illinois. It is a gorgeous piece of land in the middle of suburbia. They have a fairly large operation, with six interns and a handful of part-time hands. All told, they work two farmer’s markets and have a 250 member CSA (a community-supported agriculture association).
For me, it was a summer of picking, hoeing, washing, weeding, truck driving, market-selling fun. Some days it was sunny, some days it was raining (although it seemed like it always rained when we went out to pick tomatoes). Whatever — you stop noticing the weather. Dress right and it is all the same, although there was one exception in late October. The temperature was close to freezing and we were out harvesting wet beets. That was one experience I could have done without.
All in all, working on the farm was great. I learned a lot about production. Cover crops, otherwise known as green manure, were new to me. Hairy vetch, oats, peas — all good stuff. These, along with animal manure, are an organic farmer’s best friends. They return vitality to the soil, help build good soil structure, and contribute organic matter.
Finally, organic farming is one way we can combat global warming. Our current conventional system of producing food is unsustainable. Organic farming can grow our food in a sustainable fashion while also sequestering carbon. As climate zones move north, farmers and consumers will need to adapt.
Copyright 2007, Michael Birch
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