Of all the jobs in the world, why would someone choose farming? For some people, it’s a desire to keep a multi-generational farm up and running. For others, it’s a childhood passion that became a career.
For Sara Jane Davis, co-owner of A Way of Life Farm, it was her grandfather’s garden that set her farming career in motion. She was raised in New Orleans and spent the summers visiting her grandparents in upstate New York. Her grandfather had a vegetable garden and Sara Jane loved to help out as a child. When she returned home in the fall, he would send her letters so she wouldn’t forget the garden they nurtured together.
“In these letters, he would tell us about the progress of the things that we had planted. That really did spark something in me,” she remembers.
Fast forward to 2009. Sara Jane and her husband Jaime Davis started A Way of Life Farm in Rutherford County, North Carolina. They chose the area because Jaime grew up nearby and they wanted to be near family as they established their farm. They started by growing vegetables, in part because of the skills Sara Jane learned from her grandfather.
They also wanted to get pigs to improve the soil and terrain on their new farm. It was January and they didn’t have a truck yet, so they got in the car and drove to an agricultural college about an hour away.
“We got three pigs and put them in the back of our Volkswagen Jetta. We just put the seats down. We knew nothing about pigs, not enough to know that that was a really bad idea. They were uncertain enough about the whole experience that they just laid there the whole time. It was very cold and it was very stinky in the car,” she says with a laugh. She credits beginner’s luck as the reason the pigs made it to their new home safely.
Sara Jane says the early years of the farm were wonderful, but also really stressful. “We had so many ideas and we had read a lot of books and I had experience on some farms, but not independent businesses. So we really didn’t have any models to look to. That was largely my own fault because I was so excited to just get started that I really didn’t think I needed to seek out more mentors or have more time to work on other successful farms.”
That’s a piece of advice Sara Jane wants to share with new and beginning farmers. She says it takes a whole community to create a successful farm and that it’s okay to ask for help. She also suggests taking business classes to learn how to create a financially viable farm.
“If we had done this before we started our farm, it would have saved us so much time and money, just getting that clear direction that we found after two years on the farm,” she says.
Now that A Way of Life farm is 10-years-old, Sara Jane and Jaime have a vision for the future. They’ll focus more on perennial crops, like the fruit and nut trees they planted a few years ago.
“I think most of our land will be going in that direction in 10 years,” she says. “It was scrubby land, hard red soil, bare in some places, but soon we’ll have carpets of grasses and clovers and wildflowers and the trees coming up and creating a canopy over that and fresh fruit and nuts to eat from these trees.”
While they’re waiting for the trees to grow to maturity, they’ll keep producing vegetables and raising pigs to offer to customers at the farmers market and through their CSA.
Sara Jane says it’s a great fit for their family. “In the past 10 years we’ve had two sons. They’re now five and seven. So a big part of these past 10 years has been growing food and also little people.”
Their kids have already warmed up to farming. “We have one son who really has a way with plants and likes to help us plant in the field sometimes. And another son who really loves marketing. Whenever he can, he loves to come to the farmers market. I think over the next few years as they get a little older, they’ll have more and more of a role on the farm, which is delightful.
Whether you’re growing a farm or a family that loves local food, ASAP has resources to help. Find books and activities for children at www.growing-minds.org And learn about ASAP’s workshops for new and beginning farmers at www.asapconnections.org
Aired: December 17, 2018