Shae Keane is early in her farming journey and signed up for the Field School to learn and meet others. She has volunteered to blog about each Field School session that she attends. Here is her post on the first session, held Nov. 19th in Jonesborough, “Farming Financially”.
The Field School : Fertile Soil for Farming Dreams
I am not quite sure when the seed was first planted in me– a longing to be closer to my food, to participate carefully in the multitude of relationships woven into every bite I eat, or to know and trust my food’s story of origin. Perhaps it was, most of all, a longing to press single seeds into the earth with dreams of ways it might nourish our local community.
It was this seed in me that led me to apply to The Field School, an educational and experiential program hosted by the RC & D Council, with the purpose of supporting local growers to create or improve their own farm plans and provide a space for learning and connection for those with shared visions and goals.
The first course was held November 19 at the Main St. Cafe in Jonesborough. Boones Street Market provided locally sourced foods for participants, with support from sponsor First Bank and Trust.
With enrollment capped at 30 participants and excitement swirling in the room, it took but a few moments upon entering for me to realize this same seed has been sown in many– with hopes of growing in efficiency, in local reach, in capacity, and in collaboration with others who share similar visions in support of providing foods to our communities.
Each session is structured in such a way that there is both a specialist who presents, along with expert local farmers who are willing to share their wisdom, stories, and insight on the life and business of providing food for the world. A participant expressed her appreciation for this, “It’s different when its area-specific, it’s not Texas, it’s local….and it’s from people that have local experience.”
Adam Hopkins of the UT Extension Office opened this first session with “Farm Business and Financial Planning.” Guiding participants into some of the intricacies of financial logistics, he did not leave out other important considerations that go hand in hand, assuring participants that, certainly, an individual “can make money [farming], but that’s not why you should do it…because it’s not an easy gig.” It is clear from the participants enrolled in The Field School, that there are definitely larger factors at play in the choice to live a life of farming. As one participant explained, “Everyone thinks we’ve lost our mind…people are like, ‘You sold your home?’…[We] left corporate America, left our big house, but we are very happy … [We] get up every day and feed the sheep…”
Hopkins then invited his farmer friend Fred Tyler to front and center. With a jovial, boisterous spirit, he shared stories of his experience in beekeeping, and the steps he has taken to protect the integrity of his products. He further assured participants that it is no particular institutional education that matters most in making a successful life of farming– rather, he asserted, “what matters is real life…there’s nothing that takes the place of experience…”
The last presenter, Jimmy McAlister, shared some of his journey raising cattle and vegetables on his farm in Greenville. He first decided that he wanted to become a farmer in high school. Part of his beginning steps involved renting 150 acres of land. Later, he was able to purchase his own land. He encouraged innovation, commitment, and creativity in finding ways to fund farm equipment and other investments.
Several participants spoke of the ways in which people are taking the risk and leaning into their dreams to farm. “You see people of all stages of life transitioning to the farm life…whether they’re retired or college grads…”
This has certainly been true for me. In the few years since graduating college, my values have led me down a surprising path towards visions of one day living on a farm that might serve as a place for community healing and empowerment through deeper relationship with our foods.
I am looking forward to seeing the surprises that continue to unfold in this journey as I am guided by impassioned farmers, teachers, leaders, and organizers of The Field School.