Trials and Triumphs of the Double Life

In its infancy, Small Feat Farm was more of an idyllic dream than a plan. We met Catherine Caswell (owner of the property and Caswell Farm Events) in mid-September 2015, and after a few progressively more serious conversations, decided to start the business in January 2016. With such short notice and virtually no experience with the land, it was a bit of a haphazard start to our first growing season. What we lacked in preparation, however, we made up with enthusiasm and pure grit.

The Garlic Queen

The Garlic Queen

The Cabbage King

The Cabbage King

For years, we had been dreaming of our eventual farm business...discussing acreage, favored varieties, and experimental methods. The big question, though, was timing; how would a farm fit into the timeline of our young adulthood? When would we feel ready and confident to purchase our own land or start a serious business? Our answer was always vague, clouded by our busy and bustling lifestyle in Portland. We love living in Portland - the food, the music, the people. It is meeting a lot of our desires as young, social people. There is the imminent feeling of exhaustion and distraction from our ultimate dream, but for now, it is where we love to be.

While getting our fill of Portland but still wanting to be connected to the Earth, we envisioned a "transitory" situation where we could be farming on a small enough scale to stay active in a lively community while building our skill set and saving money for a time when we were ready for a more permanent farm. As any farmer (or anyone who knows a farmer) knows, farming tends to be an all-consuming lifestyle. While this is our eventual goal, we haven't felt completely ready for that level of commitment yet in our lives. So when the proposition to have a small farm business while maintaining our life in Portland came to light, it was impossible to turn away!

There are a number of positive things we have to say about living this "double life": Financially speaking, we are both able to work in Portland while farming. This allows us to sustain our lifestyle without relying solely on the (sometimes uncertain) income from the farm - especially on such a small scale. Socially speaking, we are able to satiate our appetite for music, culture, and human connection by living and working downtown. We have strong convictions surrounding social justice, so appreciate living in city with ethnic diversity and opportunities to serve our neighbors. Treating the farm as a more casual endeavor, we allow ourselves more room for error and creativity; we are able to test various methods of growing and harvesting without risking much time or money. Working on a small scale with limited customers and accounts gives us practice doing taxes, formulating a crop plan, and developing a business model while we prepare for a larger, fully-sustaining farm in our future.

The double life also comes with its share of challenges - a lot of them compounded by the lack of prep time we had last winter. Commuting to and from the farm is time-consuming and requires an extra layer of logistical planning. Arranging our schedule to account for work and other commitments can be tricky as we attempt to assemble some sort of routine into our daily life. On the flip side of financial benefits, financial set backs are realized when we calculate how much time we spend traveling to/on the farm versus how much our small farm brings in. And finally, with overextension comes unfinished projects, unweeded beds, battles lost to pests and ignorance...

Zinnia

Zinnia

Galine Eggplant...total perfection

Galine Eggplant...total perfection

Overall, Year One was a grand experiment in the possibilities of the double life. Farming can feel overwhelming for young people who are interested in the lifestyle but are nervous about the financial burden/investment or time-commitment. Since there is no one way to farm, we took it upon ourselves to create a model of farming where risks are low, learning-potential is high, and being active with the community is possible. Jury's out to see if the model is sustainable, but this is our current task.

While this past year wasn't perfect, the sheer amount of knowledge we gained through experience is invaluable. The great successes and complete failures alike have given us a firm platform to start from while we busily plan our second season. Our goals this year are: efficiency, consistency, and to be smarter farmers. We already feel 100 miles ahead of where we started last year and couldn't be more excited to see what trials and triumphs are in store for 2017! Visit our CSA Info page or Online CSA Payment page for information about this year's opportunities for you to partake in our journey!

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