Trey has been farming on farms not his own for 10 years. He has farmed on organic farms, a hydroponic farm, worked in agroforestry in the Peace Corps and was a FoodCorps service member. Currently he is a vegetable apprentice on a biodynamic farm in New Hampshire.
I didn’t grow up in a farming experience.
I have autism.
Growing up I didn’t have a focus or special trade that was focusing for me.
Growing up was having tantrums, being really sensitive, trying to find an outlet if I was angry, or trying to connect with people.
I was always worried growing up whether or not I could function in a working society or fit into any social construct.
During my high school years, my dad started a non-profit farm. It was a sustainable farm that focused on providing a living for people with developmental disabilities. They get to be part of a larger community and shared work. I would say that was one of my first steps getting into farming, but even with going to college, I was interested in animals and the idea of farming, but I didn’t understand the full scope of why I wanted to go into farming.
I went to a college focused on environmental studies and it was also a work college. You work on campus to pay tuition. Going through from sophomore to senior year, I worked on the small scale farm there. The first year, I did general maintenance: setting up fences, weed whacking, lots of weeding. The second year I worked with the pasture poultry crew, and the last year I worked with the cattle crew.
Understanding farm management even from a student level was tough for me to grasp for a while.
For people on the spectrum, there is this idea of being sort of sensitive. Especially in a farming environment, things are fast paced and you have to make decisions quickly and think long term and deal with good days and bad days.
It was difficult to adapt to at first.
But then I got to see things in patterns.
I HAD A LOT OF ANXIETY AND DEPRESSION IN THE PAST, AND PUTTING MY HANDS IN SOIL WAS VERY TANGIBLE AND STARTED TO MAKE ME FEEL AT PEACE.
IT GAVE ME A PLACE TO BE REALLY CREATIVE…CREATIVE IN HOW TO SHAPE BEDS OR HOW TO PLAN OUT THE REST OF THE SEASON, OR HOW MANY DIFFERENT CROPS I WANT TO GROW, OR HOW TO MANAGE CERTAIN PEST PROBLEMS. I LOVED THE IDEA YOU COULD DESIGN A FARM AROUND YOUR DESIRED QUALITY OF LIFE. THERE IS ROOM FOR SO MUCH CREATIVITY.
I LIKE WORKING IN A COMMUNITY DRIVEN ENVIRONMENT, AND UNDERSTANDING THE IMPORTANCE OF COMMUNITY.
This year, we had someone who took over the vegetable productions, the previous farmer had been farming the farm for 30 years.
There are always going to be learning differences, but farmers will have their set system: how I seed lettuce, how I make compost… sometimes there is a tendency or feeling that it’s only comfortable if you (the farmer) handle everything.
Sometimes that leaves no room to allow apprentices to influence those decisions or bring their own experiences.
I may have built beds many different ways, but if I don’t do it the way a manager wants, it seems like I’ve never done it before.
My current manager once said farming is like a spectator sport, you play the way you know but everybody is always going to have an opinion.
As much as we have to be adaptable in our practices, if the system works, there is this idea that there is no need to fix it. It can be tough to go from one farm and be religious about how you’ve worked at one farm and then go to another and work differently. It can be challenging if you’re trying to think out of the box, or trying to start your own farm and to see what works best for you.
For instance, maybe I just like to only use hand tools and not drive a tractor, but here, you have to drive a tractor…it’s a hard thing to balance.
Farmers should be in a place where they feel empowered and I think it’s very difficult when we have titles of apprentices or farm managers (when compared to the owner).
At this point now, I don’t feel the shame or a question of should I be going somewhere farther with my experience? I got to learn a lot this year – I feel a lot more comfortable. It’s fun to search for other farm jobs, one where I can learn about production, or a different CSA approach, or how they have their own way of systems thinking.
At my last job, I wasn’t farming for the joy of it. I wasn’t farming for the sake of working with the land. I jumped into a position not equipped to be a manager and no infrastructure to manage. I thought the farm shared the same values as me and began to feel exploited for putting in more work for a less meaningful life. Working with old hydroponic technology I also felt like I was working in a sick bay by forcing plants to grow healthy rather than working in an ecosystem where if the soil is healthy, the plants will be thriving and the people will be happy.
When you feel disconnected from the work and not feeling like part of the community, you’re not learning.
I had to go to a place where I’m not looking for the best mentors or best in the trade, but for people who emphasize the farm as a place to learn and are accountable for their own actions, as well.
Going back to this for me was to reinvigorate that love for farming.
Right now I need to get back to having the passion for farming again. 2020 was one of the best years I’ve had in a long time: having a community that supports you and cares for you and makes you love the work again.
At this point, for me it’s trying to gain as much experience as I can and have a better idea of how I want to farm.
As much as we talk to our friends about starting a farm together, how can we find people who are really invested? I’m scared to be in a position where people trust me to manage something. I need to know how to run that first.
I do call myself a farmer, but I feel like I’m in a place where I’m constantly learning things. One thing I like about being a farmer is that it’s not a job that you fully perfect. You can always have a bad growing year no matter how much experience you have.
I like to consider myself a farmer, but at the same time, with how much I still need to learn with running my own operation and other aspects of farm management, I have a long way to go before I feel comfortable living up to that title.
Management and teaching are so valuable, but it’s easy for them to be really separate. Sometimes you’re a better manager than a teacher. I feel like a better manager than a teacher.
I think for me farming is a place that I get to feel a sense of belonging.
I like being in a place that everything is tangible. All the things that you get to see and observe in patterns.the role that soil has for keeping crops healthy, roles that we can play in terms of climate change and food access. We get to play a bigger role in the world than we think.
A place where I get to feel at peace and that I’m part of something.
For the longest time I felt like I had nothing to bring.
Before college, I didn’t have a specific dream in mind and had a hard time connecting with people…the fact that farming connects me with a community and I get to work with people… It’s kind of like raising a family with the people you work with.
Above all it is a sanctuary.
I enjoy growing. I enjoy the taste of kale after the first frost. I enjoy the smell of tomatoes. I enjoy growing for people and the joy of what growing nutrient dense food does for people.
It’s work that makes me feel that I’m a better human being for it and that I can continue to grow for myself.
This one person I remember reading about started a hotline for young farmers who were experiencing depression or isolation in their work. I think that there should be something similar for people who don’t own their own land or farm for others.
There is this idea of needing to be productive, or frustration that you’re not in a position of being a leader, or the feeling that you don’t have any skills, or that you don’t feel like your rooted in one area…the stress of finding a place to live while focusing on the farm, not being paid a living wage.
Or you’re trying to make it a learning experience, but stuck in a system that doesn’t allow that. You need to try to be okay with not getting security that you’d get from a conventional job.