It has been a frightening few months since I left my well-paying, fairly stress free desk job back in May. I’ve been focusing most of my attention on beekeeping, teaching workshops and trying to force myself to write a proposal for a beekeeping book (that I recently realized I don’t want to write) at the urging of an agent a friend connected me with. I was busy, so I didn’t really have time to think about what I would be doing next.
Now it’s December, the bees are bundled up for the winter, the killing frost is nipping at our heels and I have no desirable prospects to put food on the table through February. At that point, I’ll have some classes I’ll be teaching at the New York Botanical Garden. I’ll also be helping Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group get their hives started at Tarry Lodge, where they will also be constructing a fabulous rooftop farm. These are fantastic prospects that I am most excited to get started on, but in the interim I will be struggling to cover the high cost of living in NYC.
I am not complaining. I knew what I was getting myself into. I didn’t think I’d just be quitting my job and taking my pick of every fantastic PAYING speaking gig that comes along. (like any of them pay…pfft!) I’ve recently found myself slipping into a nasty bit of self-doubt and self-scrutiny.
My garden this year was pretty pathetic. It was my biggest failure in recent memory. I had no time to focus on it consistently because I’d be hustling to find paying gigs so that I wouldn’t be late on bills. The bees and chickens were fine, because let’s face it…if they were neglected it wouldn’t be long before I hear from angry or concerned neighbors. They took priority. I’m afraid that my current system of doing things just doesn’t make good sense.
So why am I doing this? I often compare trying to “live off the land” in NYC to trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. How can you be any good at growing ample food for yourself when you are being forced to devote significant chunks of time to hustling for cash money? It seems that the only way to produce food for yourself properly is if you are working with other people as committed as you are. I’m basically trying to do this as an individual and it’s not working. And all I can do it question why I continue because I am not certain what I am gaining from it or where it’s leading me.
When I lay in bed at night before I go to bed, I close my eyes and think of who I want to be in 20 years. What I envision my life to be. This is what I see:
I am in a small house, situated on a hill above a valley. It is verdant and quiet. I have a family. A modest one. Maybe only one child. We have goats and chickens and rabbits. We grow vegetables and take them to restaurants and markets to sell. I never step foot in a supermarket again. Some of our friends are farmers too and they occasionally come by for dinner and wine, to swap some food and to talk shop.
I wake up early every day and go for a walk through the valley like my grandfather did on visits to my family’s homeplace in Virginia. I do not feel separate from the trees and the dew and the air. They are part of me and I am home. I spend the days toiling and planning and I go to sleep each night exhausted but satisfied that I did good work.
I know it sounds as though I am romanticizing farming and I don’t expect that my life should turn out exactly this way but I’ve known since I was a child that I would one day work for myself. I always felt that my future involved food and nature and animals and exercising some independence in the world. And here I am, walking down that path. I’ve not always been aware of what I am doing or why but I follow the voice inside of me and it usually never leads me astray. My heart has always known what it wants.
Next season I plan to do things differently. Instead of trying to grow enough food for the occasional salad in my backyard, I will be working an entire growing season at a farm in the Hudson Valley. I’ve arranged for some interviews in the oncoming weeks and I hope to have good news before the New Year. I need to submerge myself in learning to grow food not only for myself but for others. I need to decide if I want to continue struggling here with nothing to show for it or if I want to struggle someplace else and potentially have the life that I see for myself when I close my eyes at night.
I’m very fortunate. I know this so well. My wonderful, loving boyfriend will be sticking around to look after the chickens and my sweet, fat cats. My landlords, as always are really understanding and are always rooting for me. I’ve got friends and beekeeping apprentices that will look in after my rooftop apiaries. I know my little oasis in Brooklyn will be here waiting for me when I get back and that makes it all seem a little less scary.
(Me on my family’s 450 acre farm in Amherst County, VA)