Why I’m becoming a farmer

The road to farming has been a winding one.

Sure, Ethan and I (Carly) grew up in Iowa—a U.S. state with more pigs than people. But we did not grow up on farms. Farming originally brought Ethan’s family from Germany to Iowa, but farming had been lost through the generations. Likewise, while one of my grandfathers still farms, the tradition did not make its way down to my generation.

How we became interested in farming

Ethan and I were always interested in sustainability. In college, while I attended the University of Iowa and Ethan attended Simpson College, we began taking steps to go green and live more mindfully.

Early in our relationship, I remember Netflix binging Cowspiracy and all the food system-related documentaries the algorithms had to offer. I can’t say those movies made me want to become a farmer, but they added a sense of urgency to change our everyday habits for the sake of the planet and our health.

After graduation, we decided to get started immediately. Our first big step was composting. We lived in a one-bedroom apartment in Iowa City at the time. After we listened to the Stuff You Should Know podcast composting episode, we decided properly dealing with our waste would be our first step. Before we signed our lease, we talked to our landlord and she agreed that we could set up a compost bin for the building to share. We were so excited to be making a small difference in our little apartment community. We knew we wanted to do even more.

Ethan later built rotating “composters” for others around town.

Our scrappy apartment garden

The next summer, we decided to start a garden. After all, what would we do with all that compost? Ethan’s friend had a house nearby and we build four raised beds in his backyard.

Luckily, the Iowa City Public Library had an extensive gardening section. I was always maxing out my loan limit to check out gardening books. I researched what we could grow and when we should start our seeds. I wrote everything down on a calendar, marched to the garden store, and selected way more varieties of vegetables than my little garden and I could ever handle. I knew I was being overzealous even then, but I felt thrilled to start growing my own food.

We started some of our seeds under a tiny, fluorescent purple grow light I originally bought for my office plants. Our seedlings were leggy and weak, but they survived transplantation and survived the season. In the spring, we were thrilled to grow our first bunches of kale and heads of romaine lettuce. By summer, we had tomatoes, bell peppers, jalapenos, cucumbers, edamame, plus all the herbs we could handle.

Our first garden, aka, a crash course on growing vegetables for two total beginners.

We knew we eventually wanted to settle down in a house where a large garden could be a permanent possibility. At the same time, we recognized our wanderlust. We were excited to be considered for an opportunity to serve on a sustainable farm in Zambia with the Peace Corps, but the opportunity unfortunately fell through and so we pursued other opportunities to travel abroad long-term.

Moving abroad to teach English

We decided to teach English abroad for a year in Saigon, Vietnam.

We learned so much as teachers while fulfilling one of our big life goals: to live in a country vastly different from our home. View the countries we’ve visited here on our about page. We rode motorbikes, ate street food, and we each worked 50 teaching hours a week to make it all work. It was wonderful and stressful at the same time.

However, as our one year anniversary approached, we realizing traveling wasn’t really our dream.

Only then, almost one year after losing our chance to farm in Africa, did we realize what we were really grieving and looking to find again: the purpose our tiny little garden back in Iowa City gave us that summer.

What’s next?

After one year in Vietnam, we realized what we were really missing was the opportunity to learn to farm. We talked to our friend Corbin, who owns Rainbow Roots Farm in Iowa City. Her biggest recommendation was to attend a farm school, like the one she attended two years ago which taught her everything she needed to know to start her farm.

We had talked about trying to learn on our own, but we realized she was right and that, as total beginners, we would benefit from a structured program. We decided to apply and were thrilled to be accepted.

In about a month, we will embark on a six-month training program at the Organic Farm School on Whidbey Island in Washington State. There, we’ll learn all the basic skills necessary to start an organic farm. We’re excited and nervous but mostly excited. As the saying goes, you don’t know what you don’t know. We’re ready to learn all that we can.

We can’t wait to share what we learn with you on our blog, on social media, and via our newsletter.

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