I was all over the place in my course selection. At first, I wanted to be an artist and to make things with my hands. However, on its own, it didn’t seem like it would be enough to substantiate my existence. I needed to make more direct contributions to the causes I felt passionate about. Next, I migrated to the field of ecology to study life systems through concrete facts but I had trouble following through. The ideas felt good, the sentiment felt right, but the job description didn’t fit how I saw myself spending my time. I then moved on to mathematics. I wanted the romance of puzzles, to connect rules through new strings of logic, or perhaps use mathematics to explore ecological relationships, but it felt too disconnected from the tangible world for me. I wanted to be outside, moving and using my body.
All along the way, a censor was developing within me, a censor to assess my actions and behaviors and to moderate their consequences. I was attempting to reduce my miniscule contributions to the world and I tried to know all of them, not just the intentional. All purchases, habits, and activities were scrutinized to be sure that they were environmentally respectful, socially conscious, forward thinking, and responsible. It must be noted here that it is incredibly presumptuous to assume that I could see all the effects of my actions, or that I would even be able to notice them all, considering some are so deeply ingrained into life itself, so as to be invisible. But that is what I was striving for. It felt that, if I couldn’t find a way to offer goodness to the world with my life’s work, I could at least work to do it through my life’s actions.
But attempting to consider every action I took on a large scale, where no behavior or action was considered irrelevant, was suffocating. For instance, I needed to know who made my clothes and out of what, what the ingredients on the cleaner bottle and the toothpaste tube were, what the additives in my shampoo and laundry detergent did after they went down the drain, which medications had ill effects after they went the way of the shampoo, and where and how my food was grown. I could easily solve the problem of manufactured goods by always buying used items. The cleaner’s conundrum could be mostly solved with vinegar and baking soda until I could figure something else out. Other problems could be solved with all out abstinence. But everybody has to eat. It was purchasing food that became one of the most difficult things for me: reading all those labels, filtering through claims of natural and environmentally friendly, looking for a local sustainable option while trying to maintain a budget. And this was how I was finally introduced to farming.
Five years later, I was twenty-six, just finishing my bachelor’s degree and still wondering what to do with my life. A maybe less common feeling that I was experiencing: I was dying to get in touch with my food source and grow my own food. I wanted to be relieved of the research required to make responsible food purchases. I reached out into the world with this idea, and through the kindness of a few, I was serendipitously introduced to a young farmer in my area that was just starting her business, a vegetable CSA. She was amenable to willing labor so I volunteered with her for a season and loved it. In the beginning of that season, I remember her asking me if I would ever consider doing this, farming, with my life. I don’t think I said no, but I definitely leaned towards no rather severely. At the time I thought I wanted to be a mathematician. I wanted puzzles.
I worked with the same woman for another year and I still wanted to farm by the end of it. In fact, I couldn’t imagine not farming. It was during that time that my life, at last, shifted away from the question of what to do. I wanted to farm on my own, now it was only a question of when. Despite my tendency to want to get right to it, to eliminate the anxiety of preparation swiftly, I did not want to leap into the unknown without doing all the legwork. Even with that tendency pushing me, as I picked through the idea of starting immediately, it became apparent that in order to be successful, I needed more time. I needed time to build my knowledge base and gain experience, to save money, to settle on a location, to prove that I could support myself as a farmer, and to work out what principals I wanted to govern my business. In acknowledgement that timing is a key for success, Jim, my then-future-husband, and I made a three year plan. In this plan I would work for other people for two more years and then for myself on the third. Projected start-up: the year 2014. I figured that would be enough time to learn what I needed to learn and start without shooting myself in the foot.
Sticking to the plan, the following year I got a job on an organic farm. I was having fun and learning a great deal when the idea of starting sooner was sparked by the prospect of applying to an incubator program, a program designed to support beginning farmers as they launch their businesses. This led me to the thought: if I think I can do it with them, why can’t I do it on my own? I weighed my options and it seemed that it could be done, but it was bound to be a bumpier start than if I waited. The factor that ended up tipping the scale was happiness. Even though cutting my training program short a year would deprive me of some important experiences and knowledge, I was ready to stretch myself a little thinner and make that sacrifice, suffering through the mistakes it would cause as a way of subsidizing my happiness.
I started looking for land. I posted an ad and it went unanswered for so long that I forgot about it. I responded to ads, looked at some swamps, dodged some potentially tricky lease situations, and as the months went by, I became disheartened. It seemed unlikely to me that I would find what I was looking for, such a specific type of land, in a limited range, with such specific expectations of the landowners. I was just beginning to consider reverting to the original plan when out of the blue, months after it had been posted, someone responded to my ad. They were interested in what I wanted to do, their land wasn’t a swamp, and they were wonderful, nice people! After further investigation and discussion it was clear that we could work out a mutually beneficial deal, to my great relief.
Whistling Wolf Farm was launched! I am still having trouble believing it. It is as though I backed up and took a running leap off a cliff, even after seeing how far I could fall, and am now hurtling through the air. I hope that I ran fast enough and got enough spring to sustain my flight. If I go into free fall, all I can say is I hope I grab something on my way down so I can climb back up. Regardless of the social and environmental reasons for wanting to farm, there are personal ones. I love having tangible work and that I can see what I am putting into the world. Literally see it. Farming makes me a caretaker and requires that I listen, watch, perceive, and interpret the world around me in a very technical way and plan my actions around this interpretation. It is a good fit for me because it combines everything I liked about my previous career heartthrobs. It lets me use my hands, work to conserve, support, and understand the natural world, and provides plenty of puzzles. And while doing all this, it puts my life into context, dictated by the season, the time of day, and the weather. I have to admit that this is sometimes torturous, but mostly it is a way of being embedded into the natural world and I value it greatly. Whether I succeed or fail, or more likely something in the middle, I feel so fortunate to be able to try.