It’s strange to think about the nebulous course of events that bring you to now. Through a powerful combination of action, reflection, privilege, generosity, and sheer dumb luck, we can bumble our way into a host of different experiences that culminate, hopefully, into something worthwhile. You can look back and pick through different experiences to try and stitch together a cohesive narrative, but really the only consistent aspect of an interesting life is change. All in all, it’s a rare sight to find someone who has been driven with a singular focus since childhood and has achieved their undiluted goals. If you’ve found such a person, they might be dangerous and you should probably be afraid of them – they’ll either stop at nothing to get what they want, or they’ve mastered some sort of witchcraft. I am not one of those people. In broad strokes, here’s how I managed to end up producing food for you this season.
Since this isn’t really an autobiography, I’ll skip my childhood and teen years other than to say I’m pretty sure I’ve always liked being outside. The only exposure to farming I had was through vignettes of my dad’s life growing up on the Bossy family farm – the endless fun of throwing tobacco worms at his sisters, interspersed with suckering tobacco and long and painful harvests. It sounded like hard work, and the takeaway lesson was that money was to be had elsewhere.
Imagine having this guy thrown at you.
I originally went to university to learn about computer science. Computers and programming are still things I really like, and I grew up hacking through DOS to get to adventure games, so if university was the thing to do, computers were the thing to learn about. As a whole, my first year didn’t go so well – I found too many other things to do than sit at a computer. After a year’s hiatus, I returned to a different university for a different program. This time I learned. I was in Global Studies, and took as much philosophy and astronomy as I could. I learned of wars and refugees, politics, poverty, privilege, macroeconomics, and generally how terrible most things are. I wanted to know three things: How can I help? What does it mean to be a person? And really, when it comes down to it, what’s the point of it all? The most valuable thing I learned in university was how to think, and I’d say that’s a pretty good start, even if it was a bit late in life to be taught that.
Fueled by high-minded values and whirling from ego death, I did what seemed reasonable – I kept working at my summer job as a landscaper. It was hard work, but I was driven just to be outside and to shape nature in such a way that people would passingly think, “Oh that’s nice.” After a while I started feeling a bit lost. So many hostas, so much sod, the vast patios, forests of mulch, cuts and prunes to keep it all tidy and symmetrical, the intricate watering systems to keep it all green, so many resources and time and energy. The fashion of landscaping came to look wasteful, artificial, alienating. My mind drifted to things like edible landscaping and farming. I didn’t know too much about edibles at the time – I had done random experiments growing vegetables in a tiny garden in my backyard, yielding such wonders as carrots shaped like Coke cans and lettuce that doubled as earwig hotels. I knew much less about running any sort of serious business. But I did know that I wanted to do good by nature, I wanted to be outside and filthy, and I wanted what I did to be useful. More and more, organic farming seemed like the way to go.
I interned at Reroot Organic farm in Harriston for six months in 2014, and I’m still spinning from how quickly it went by. There’s so much knowledge you need in order to be successful in farming – you have to be a horticulturist, meteorologist, veterinarian, mechanic, marketer, sales and customer service representative, accountant, inventor, and strategic planner, often in a single day. It was completely overwhelming. It was hard work and long hours based almost entirely on faith in the future, and I loved it. I helped maintain an ecosystem. I helped feed over 100 families. I felt like I was helping bring people together through something we all share. Farmers with ideals can grow communities, their food nourishes.
Looking to stay on the farming scene, with a distant vision of cobbling together some land down the line, I went searching for a job. I got a tip about an animal caretaker job at Steckle Heritage Farm in Kitchener, applied, and landed an interview. Not only was I almost immediately offered the job, I was graciously granted use of about 1/3rd of an acre, on-site, for free. Insert jaw-drop here. Obviously, I was floored. Opportunities like that very rarely get thrown so vigorously at me like that, so of course I accepted it.
So here I am. I have a plot of land that will act as a perfect learning experience as a microcosm of farming, and enough money saved to even consider trying. For the first time in a long time, I feel like I’m purposely laying foundations for a future, and I’m sure that it’s a change in my life narrative that I’ll happily look back on.