If you receive our newsletter, you have already met our talented volunteer, Emily Sutherland. Though she’s been with us just a few weeks, the Farm School is her home now; she is one of us! This is her first blog … we asked her to share her journey to becoming a farmer…enjoy!
Self-sufficiency has always intrigued me. As a child, I would read with wonder how the Ingalls family would churn butter, build log homes and barns, and tap maple trees for syrup. I would play with my American Girl Doll, Kaya, learning how the Nez Perce valued their food so highly that they left not one piece of buffalo wasted after a hunt.
My parents went along with my various escapades, running the stove for hours to boil down the sap I tapped from the maple tree in the front yard and building me a raised bed when I was seven. Looking back, the pride and confidence I build while growing my own food was crucial in my development. I would bring my maple candy (after boiling it past the point of syrup) to school and proudly watch my classmates devour it. I was contributing food to my family’s table, selling it at the end of my driveway for a few dollars, and learning to love nutritious food all the while. My garden gave me ownership and responsibility, and I loved it.
I took a career class during my freshman year of college at American University. The professor had us write down our main interests and favorite activities as a child. “This,” she said, “is where you’ll find your passion. Turn that into a career and you’ll be all set.” I looked down at my list and realized I was going to be a farmer.
I didn’t know what I could possibly do with a list consisting of “raising pet rabbits and chickens,” “tending to my garden,” “being outside,” and “meeting new people.” So I decided to enter the business school, figuring I could pretty much go any path with a business degree. After finishing a year early (thanks AP credits!), I decided to pursue my masters, also in the business school, but in a specialized Sustainability Management program. It was one year long, and since I’d already completed the basic business classes, I got to take a variety of electives. I took environmental science, conservation, and political ecology classes. These opened my eyes to the wide, messy, complicated world of food- growing it, importing it, genetically engineering it, distributing it, and so much more. The director of the program had studied agriculture herself and was the first person that encouraged me to pursue farming. Nobody I knew had viewed it as a viable life path before, even myself. Farmers were poor, relied on subsidies, and wrecked the environment, right?
During my masters, I started reading and researching potential programs for aspiring farmers. As it turns out, there are hundreds of farmers looking for apprentices. They tote labels such as “regenerative,” “no-till,” and “organic.” They sell at farmers’ markets in the inner city and donate to food banks. They educate kids on how to eat healthily and encourage the next generation of farmers. Once I got a taste, I knew that’s where I’d be going after college. So in March, I’m headed to a farm in Shenandoah, Virginia, to work full time as an apprentice.
That’s where Barrington Farm School comes in. I was raised in Barrington and figured it would be wiser to move home for a few months after graduation rather than working a low paying job while paying high rent in DC. I quite literally stumbled upon BFS while walking my dog (I don’t know why I hadn’t noticed it over breaks previously, I guess college kids are in a sleep-deprived daze when they return after exams). I met the amazing farmers that volunteer their time to make this farm happen and teach others the same skills that empowered me as a kid. The next day, I showed up and put in a few hours of work… and have come back every day since.
(to be continued …)