A year ago I would have never thought I would find myself living in a foreign country trying to learn about farming. Not speaking the language and having never visited Colombia, the move has been a big transition.
While trying to decide what type of a career I would want to pursue, it was suggested to me that farming might be something that would interest me. After reading as much as I could on what farming entailed and researching firsthand accounts of farm life, I decided that gaining my own experience was the only way I could find out if it was a fit.
The closest farm I found to my home in Queens was an organic vegetable farm out in Riverhead, L.I. They were offering apprenticeships for aspiring farmers and so after contacting the owners and spending my first day working on a farm, I decided I was going to give it a shot.
Each day we started at 7 a.m, took an hour for lunch, and worked until we were finished with the day’s tasks, which was usually around 6 p.m. I spent a few months learning how to harvest over fifty varieties of vegetables, how to care for laying hens, how to prepare and deliver shares for CSA members, and I got to experience selling produce at farmer’s markets. Toward the end of my stay, I also got to work alongside the chef in the café at the farm stand. Without having much prior cooking experience, it was great to see how the food produced at the farm was being prepared for customers.
By this time I had become fascinated with the lifestyle, and passionate about becoming a farmer. I wanted as varied experiences as possible. I began searching for other farms to gain experience and found another organic farm located on Wellesley Island in upstate New York. Again, the owners were eager to have a fresh worker on their farm and in return, to share with me their knowledge of farming. At the farm, I got to learn about raising and breeding livestock, rotational grazing, crop rotation, cover crops, composting, and mulching. Along with the daily animal chores, I got to work on the construction of a hoop house, plant garlic in the garden, clear areas for new grazing paddocks, fix electrical fencing, and on one occasion, assist in fixing a broken down tractor.
Although the physical work is demanding, the satisfaction of getting to do things hands on, and in a way that is economically and environmentally friendly, is far greater. I began to realize that I was not only starting to choose a career but a lifestyle. This lifestyle happened to also grab the attention of my girlfriend, and so she began to be interested in experiencing life on a farm.
Coincidentally, at this time her parents had decided they were going to move back to their home country, Colombia, and offered us the opportunity to go with them. They own a farm in the countryside and my girlfriend and I thought it would be a great way to gain experience.
Here we have started our own garden using raised rows and are following organic methods. We have planted garlic, squash, cucumbers, spinach, peppers, carrots, and thyme. My girlfriend and I also started our own compost and once the materials have decomposed, we will add it to our soil to increase organic matter, providing the vegetables with the nutrients they need and improving the quality of the soil on the farm.
Although there is still much to learn before being able to try to farm on my own, I have found that many farmers are more than willing to help by sharing their own experiences and insights. Despite the simplicity that is associated with a farming lifestyle, everyday I learn something new and I see that in order to live in a way that is mutually beneficial for the environment and the farmer, and that takes dedication and the willingness to constantly adjust in order to meet your goals.