Editor’s note: This article appears in the Winter 2016/17 issue of the Slow Money Journal. Click here to learn more about the Journal
Christian and I fell in love with farming not too long after falling in love with each other. Before graduating from the University of Montana, we had our first farming experiences at PEAS farm, the university farm near campus. It was there that we began to grasp the serious consequences posed by our current food system, but more importantly, we learned how it can be completely reversed through sustainable agricultural practices.
Propelled by enthusiasm to change the world one small farm at a time, we set out to California for a full-season internship.
What we didn’t know then was just how many giant hurdles were in the way for not just our country to reverse its habits, but for each individual who sets out to farm sustainable products. We knew that we wanted to own and operate our own farm, but the road was not clear. How would we find the land? The money? The tools?
We decided the first thing we needed was experience and knowledge. We read every book about sustainable agriculture and small-scale farming that we could get our hands on. We enrolled ourselves in an online course for beginning farmers and completed a local course on farming business. After our internship, we spent two years as the agriculture managers at Rock Bottom Ranch with Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, where we gained invaluable experience growing in this mountain climate.
Four (farm-filled) years later, we have now started our own farming business, Two Roots Farm, aimed to fill a simple mission: to provide sustainably produced, freshly harvested, nutrient-dense vegetables to the Roaring Fork Valley community. We are leasing land from friends in Missouri Heights and selling our produce to restaurants, the Aspen Saturday Market, and through a CSA program. We received a loan from Slow Money for $7,500 to help us purchase the materials for a mobile walk-in cooler, drip-irrigation system, and a season-extension structure. By the time June came around, we were hitting our stride. We felt good about the tools we had, the crops we were growing, and the direction our business was headed.
Recently we hit a pivotal moment for our first year. Crop loss is inevitable; no matter how wonderful a grower you are or how carefully you prepare, there is simply nothing that prepares you for flood, fire, tornado, earthquake, or drought. For us it was hail—chunky, powerful, unexpected hail—on an otherwise summer-like July third day.
We came home to it, confused to see white piles spread around the property. Did it snow? We walked into the garden. It was a traumatic sight: kale leaves ripped into fragments or torn off the plant entirely, heads of lettuce that looked like they had been put into a paper shredder, cucumber plants reduced to bare twigs.
It became evident right away that our community cared and supported us—a farming friend donated produce for our CSA, chefs agreed to buy “hail kale,” and many friends offered a hand.
It has been two weeks now, and I am reminded of the resilience of plants. Many of the longer-season crops are valiantly bouncing back to life; regrowth continues and has popped up everywhere. We replanted a great portion of the garden in preparation for fall.
Christian and I were able to respond with a level head and a sense of calm because we knew that we had lenders who cared and understood. Our loan from Slow Money allowed us to absorb this shock because we had the tools we needed to get back on track.
All entrepreneurs will hit hurdles like this, so you must be the kind of person who can pick yourself back up. However, when you choose a business as risky as farming, you also need to be able to ask for help. We feel lucky to have found a place where people are willing and able to offer it.