When we moved to our current location two years ago, we did a lot of work on visioning the future of our new farm business. We sat down with our landlady, Lisa Williams, and an employee of Appalachian Sustainable Development, Tamara McNaughton, to work on crafting a farm lease and getting started on our business plan. We definitely felt things coming full circle this week, as we joined Lisa again for our first class of field school, Visioning Your Farm, and enjoyed a presentation by Tamara, who is now working full-time to run her farm, TNT Greenhouse.
I found Tamara’s presentation to be really inspiring and heartening, but mostly because she kept reiterating how difficult, overwhelming, and chaotic farming can be! Farming is a particularly difficult endeavor because you can be doing everything right and still have everything go wrong. I struggle a lot with self-evaluating how we’re actually doing: am I a “bad” farmer or was this just a difficult season? For me, it was so encouraging to see a farmer I respect talking so openly about her pitfalls and disasters – and then showing all the ways she’s overcome them!
Tamara’s presentation was also inspiring in the way that she allowed her farming career to evolve over time. It takes time to build a successful farm business, and you have to be willing to change in response to your land and your markets. She’s done an excellent job redirecting her farm as she learned more and grew as a business, and we left class talking about all the paths of redirection we see for us!
Another useful tidbit from her presentation was also a difficult pill to swallow. “Take all those wonderful things you want to be doing,” she said, “and pick two of them.” We know that one of our difficulties has been focusing all our energy. Twenty acres is the most enticing sandbox – we could do anything here! We’re thinking lots now about how we can pare down so that we can do our best work.
After Tamara’s talk, we were given a huge list of the parts of running a farm business: crop production, marketing, maintaining relationships, etc. Each of us were asked to mark the three sections we thought we needed the most help in, and then we broke into small groups to discuss. We grouped up with Lisa and talked about marketing. I love farming, but trying to market myself and sell my veggies makes me want to bang my head against a wall. All three of us confessed to being unsure what the best avenues towards marketing are. We talked about our mutual experiences asking consumers what they’d like to see, providing it, and having no one take us up on the product! The list we formed as a class is going to help our instructors plan the rest of the session, and it seemed like a lot of the class felt just as lost on marketing, so hopefully we’ll be learning more about how to tackle it.
Originally, we’d thought this class would be mostly review for us – as I said, we went through all this planning and vision work just two years ago! But as we listened to the different speakers and the experiences of our fellow classmates, we realized the visioning doesn’t ever really stop, it just changes. We left class with several different visioning worksheets as homework. They’re very similar to things we’d done in the past, so we thought we’d blow through them pretty quickly. I’m glad we started the next day, though, because we found that it’s actually been incredibly helpful (and very time-consuming!) to really delve into them. We’ve been doing a worksheet a day and they’ve been eye-opening for us. As we refocused our vision and mission based on what we’ve learned in our first few years, we’ve realized that conservation of the land and the incredible biodiversity of our region is actually what’s most important to us, so we’re going to use our collection of rare and endangered plants and our connections to international seed exchanges to start a small rare plants nursery, and try to focus a lot of our passion in that direction. We got so much out of just our first week of classes, and we can’t wait for what’s next!
— Becca and Joe