Traveling Companions

Next month marks seven years since Shel and I took possession of the farm, and approaching that anniversary has got me thinking about this journey we’ve undertaken, especially all the traveling companions who’ve joined us along the way.

The very first was a little white kitten, just a double-handful of fluff, who appeared on our doorstep shortly after we moved. At stressful or difficult or perplexing moments—of which there were many that season—it was a comfort to have that little kitten curled up on my lap. That August, after my first Wednesday evening farmers’ markets, I would sit on the porch and watch the sun set, marveling that we had actually started a farm, while the kitten played at my feet.

The second batch of companions were all those members who joined us the following year for the CSA’s pilot season, one chockablock with challenges: a wet spring, poor soil fertility, high weed pressure, and more. In the midst of all that, I was still developing my systems and building my infrastructure. I’m still grateful everyone was game and gracious and rolled with my inevitable first-season slip-ups.

Another important companion arrived that fall: our first intern, Ethan. A colleague at the sustainable agriculture program at GVSU pointed Ethan our way, and his presence was a revelation. Up to that point, I had been doing all the labor myself, with the occasional assist from Shel, so when things suddenly took half as long as they once did, or when two things happened at once—that was amazing. That was the moment I finally felt that this venture was doable.

Over that winter, we gained our first work share, Bailey. We met that fall at the farmers’ market, where she wondered if I would be interested in her volunteering. She had experience in sustainable farming and wanted to keep her hand in it. She, along with Ethan and also Rachel, whom I knew from my days back at Trillium Haven Farm, formed the core of our first crew.

The next year, even more members joined, doubling the size of the CSA. And that season we brought on our first paid employee, Angela. There was a moment early that June when I took a look around the farm and realized that, with doubling the CSA, even with the work shares, I could be in over my head. Then Angela contacted me out of the blue the following day asking if I had any room in my crew. Originally from West Michigan, she had been away working on organic farms all across the country, and was back home for the summer and was wondering if I could use a hand. Truly, she had enough experience that she should have been running the farm, and I should have been working for her.

And that’s how it went on down through the following seasons. More and more people joined this little journey—additional members, additional work shares, additional paid crew, plus a throng of other well-wishers, friends and family, and assorted allies. All kinds of folks whose stories wove into the farm’s story, some for a season, some for the long haul. And now for this coming season, our sabbatical year, I again, as in that first year, mainly will be doing the lion’s share of the farm work—but now not alone, not by a long shot, surrounded and supported, as we are, by a great crowd.