Courtesy of Wally S., Wally's Urban Market Garden, Saskatoon SK
I used to get asked if farming was a 9 to 5 job. That was back in 2006 when we first launched the SPIN online learning series, and when my experience in downsizing was starting to get attention. One of my big points back then was that on a Friday night, before my big market day, I took in a movie or was at home nursing some beers, unwinding from the week just like any other working stiff. Farming for me was not all-consuming.
That's still true today, and it is probably why I am still in business 25 years later. My staying power has mostly to do with having never bought into the martyr complex that surrounds so much of farming nowadays. It pervades the farming "movement" and is perpetuated by the media - you know, that farmers are somehow special, that they take a vow of selfless devotion to their work; that they exist in a state of grace that compensates them for the ungodly hours and hardships they endure; that all their sacrifices somehow makes them loftier than everyone else.
I did not want to give up my life to farming. I wanted to fit farming into my life. Here's how I did it:
> made my home base in the city to take advantage of its unique growing conditions and municipal water and to be close to markets (I'm 5 minutes away from my farmers market)
> expanded strategically to a few peri-urban plots that are about a 20 minute drive from home base, with the total kept close to an acre or less in size
> incorporated a commercial cooler (what SPIN calls taking the high road) into my operation to allow for 5 day a week harvesting so I am not out until after dark the day before market, and up before dawn harvesting the day of
> developed workflow management so that all the farming tasks can be done in short intervals throughout the week so that no one task becomes overwhelming
Sure in peak growing season I put in long hours, but so does everyone else who is in business for themselves. Instead of cutting hair, doing taxes, developing websites, or cleaning clothes, I'm growing food. I enjoy my work, but it's not a cause. What I've been committed to these past 25 years is building a self-sustaining business. Success for me has been measured by one thing – is what I produce valued enough that people will pay me what I think it's worth? I am not at all conflicted by that. It has been a very effective way to establish many good and lasting relationships.
Maybe I should be flattered that so many want to exalt what I do. But I know my place. So let’s just have a few beers. And if you're interested in becoming a backyard farmer like me, I'd be glad to teach you how. This I can promise:
> you'll find farming does not have to be as hard as it is usually made out to be
> you'll know relatively quickly and inexpensively if farming is right for you
> you won't kill yourself trying
You might also learn to lighten up.
Wally chillin' after a tough day at work.