Grow Your Own Food

Published on April 19th, 2011 | by Rachel Shulman


What I’ve Learned On the Farm This Season

In February, I started a job as the fruit and vegetable manager of a 5-acre organic farm. This position is very different from my previous experience as a farm intern.

When I was an intern, all I had to do was follow instructions. Now everything – from planning to planting to pest-control – is all up to me! Needless to say, it’s been an overwhelming transition.

But it turns out that being in-over-your-head isn’t all bad. Sure, I’m making tons of mistakes, but I’m also learning fast. And I think a lot of what I’m learning might be applicable to the challenges you’re facing growing food at home.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  • Plan, plan, plan: When you’re doing something for the first time, you have to do your homework. I spent the winter reading as much as I could about growing vegetables. Then I spent countless hours mapping out beds and making spreadsheets of planting and harvesting schedules. Even though I’m always adapting these plans to weather conditions or changing priorities, they help push me forward when I start to feel overwhelmed at the farm.
  • Accept failure: Farming (and gardening) is pretty humbling. No matter how much you plan, you’re going to have failures. To prepare for them, have contingency plants in place. Start more seeds than you think you’ll need, build three-week “cushions” into your schedule to allow for weather variability, and be willing to give-up on vegetable varieties or planting strategies that aren’t cooperating.
  • Listen to your mentors: Every farmer has his or her own way of doing things, as does every employee at the nursery, and anyone in your family who fancies himself a gardener. There are thousands of different ways of doing things, and if you listened to everyone, your head would explode. So when you need growing advice, stick to the people whose work you most admire.

Image courtesy of Cascadian Farm via a Creative Commons license.

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About the Author

I'm an ecologist turned journalist turned farmer-in-training. I'm currently working on an organic farm and creamery in Illinois. Follow me on twitter (, friend me on Facebook (!/profile.php?id=3105709), or follow me on StumbleUpon (

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