Community Philosphy Blog and Library

Why We Farm: Incubator Programs

A year and a half ago, my husband Travis and I decided we wanted to be organic farmers. Neither of us had a background in agriculture. In fact, I was probably about as disconnected from physical labor as you can get — I was pursuing my PhD. This weekly series will take you through Travis’ and my journey to own and operate our own organic farm. From a farm internship in a tiny New York town, to management positions at the largest CSA farm in the southern United States, and now our current project of running a one-acre farm in Austin, Texas, our experience has been filled with wild successes, sharp disappointments, and self-discovery. I hope our story can provide others with ideas and resources for their own farming projects–urban or rural, big or small, hobby or professional. I also hope it can shine some light on the new organic movement surging in urban spaces and among America’s young people. To me, our collective attempt to reconnect with food is a testament to the ability of youth to create, even in difficult times.

The possibility of Travis and I farming one acre in east Austin had been dangling in front of us for weeks. From the moment Travis and I talked to the farmers at Green Gate about farming an acre on their land, there were never any real roadblocks or setbacks. Still, I didn’t want to get excited until I knew it was going to come through.

Since Travis and I began looking for land at the beginning of the summer of 2010, we had a dozen leads that fell flat: 100 acres we couldn’t realistically afford or manage, the front yard of a hippie couple outside of city limits, community gardens, sharecropping. Obviously, a couple of full time farmers had more credibility, and soon after Travis went to work at Green Gate, they began telling us about an opportunity more concrete and more attractive than anything we were going to find on Craigslist.  And so, in the fall of 2010, after a few short conversations with the farmers, Travis and I had a real space, however small, to farm on our own.

For I’m not sure how long, the Green Gate farmers had the idea to begin an incubator farm program. That is, a program specifically designed for young people who want to go into farming, but find that access land is too large an obstacle to scale. This program would essentially connect young people with a small amount of land (an acre or so) that they could farm autonomously. It would be a learning experience for everyone.

An incubator farm program.  With experienced farmers serving as an invaluable resource, and the space to experiment in the soil, this type of arrangement allows young farmers to learn about farming  in a way that no internship or employment could offer.  Travis’ and my work on farms gave us a leg up for planning out our small farm–we already had the basics down, from irrigation to tractor work– but having the chance to work on our own land, to grow and sell our own produce,  was the most important development in our farming journey since the very beginning.

When I started telling people about the acre of land, the words felt foreign coming out of my mouth — “Travis and I have an acre of land to farm.” When I saw people’s excited expressions, I almost wanted to stop them, to prevent them from thinking that this was an easy accomplishment. I wanted to sit them down and tell them everything Travis and I have gone through the last few years to get to this point, and how we still have so much further to go. I wanted them to know that this land is a product of very hard work, sacrifice, sheer stubbornness, a little dumb luck, and great generosity. I wanted to tell them that even though Travis and I found a good situation, young people getting land to farm is very, very difficult, and that it’s really a large issue we need to address if farming is going to be a viable career in the future.

But I didn’t say any of that, of course. I just smiled and shared in their excitement. I’d laugh and talk about what we’d grow and how we didn’t’ know exactly what we’re doing, but that’s part of the learning process. I did that because really, despite how much Travis and I scraped to get to where we were, at my core, I was just really excited, too.

Neysa is currently farming an acre of organic vegetables in Austin, Texas. For updates on her farm, visit www.dissertationtodirt.com or follow her on twitter @farmerneysa

One Response to “Why We Farm: Incubator Programs”

  1. […] Niche programs are “sprouting” up:  soldiers drive tractors instead of tanks; farmers join incubators (“a product of very hard work, sacrifice, sheer stubbornness, a little dumb luck, and great […]

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