Name: Brian Rhodes-Devey
Favorite farm tool: Elbow Grease
Favorite vegetable to eat: Freshly pulled carrots that are still pretty dirty
Interest: bad jokes, loud music, social justice and the occasional marathon
Advice: Start a farm, or plan a wedding. Don’t do both.
I grew up in the suburbs of Albany, NY with little to no connection to agriculture. My mother kept a garden when I was young but in my mind, food came from the grocery store. Most of my young life was consumed by sports, mainly cross country and track and field. I excelled at running from an early age and by the time I was 15, I was competing on a state and national level with little time or energy for other interests.
I attended the University of Texas at Austin on a track scholarship where I graduated with a degree in “corporate communications,” like most of the other athletes who weren’t fooling themselves as to why they were there. After school I accepted a job in IT sales, working with large corporations collecting commission from the software agreements and data center sales I made. It didn’t take long for me to realize I wasn’t cut out for the cubicle. I wanted to be outside, moving, doing something tangible and making a difference to something other my bank account.
A halfcocked scheme to start an aquaponics farm with two friends, a deep need for change and the support of my friends and family were the catalysts for my launch into farming. Through ATTRA.org, I contacted farms all over the country seeking the opportunity to apprentice on a farm and be the change I wished to see in world. Zestful Gardens in Tacoma, WA seemed to be the farm that would best fit my personal needs: housing, pay, not knowing a single soul in the state of Washington. I quit my job, found someone to cover my rent, sold all my things and packed up my Honda Civic (RIP CRD), and drove from Austin to Tacoma.
The first important lesson I learned on the farm was that I didn’t know shit. The amount of knowledge, research, and understanding that goes into running a sustainable, profit-producing farm is mind boggling. The prospect of a life time of learning, discovery and growing seemed so exciting that I felt like I was truly using my brain for the first time.
The second lesson I learned was that of true satisfaction. To be able to finish a day of work and look at fruits of your labor in a way that can only be done by physically altering your environment was more gratifying than any race or big payday. To have your efforts tangibly translate into something that a community member was going to intentionally consume scratched a very deep itch.
The third lesson I learned was that my life was going to be a partnership. I quickly fell in love with the brilliant, quirky and salsa-obsessed apprentice who lived in the trailer next to me. We shared love and self-exploration while plotting to someday, somewhere start a farm of our own.
We spent the following season as apprentices at Two Bear Farm in Whitefish, MT for Todd and Rebecca Ulizio where we were part of a small crew breaking ground on new land. We were exposed to creative problem solving, expert efficiency and organization, and intentional living and farm practices. After transplanting to Portland, ME (because why the hell not?), I worked as a farmhand on a local, small scale farm where I quickly realized I was tired of working for other people. Joanna had a desk-job in Portland and was itching to get outside. So, the natural next step in our growth as farmers and land stewards was for us to begin our own farming adventure.
After a series of fortunate events and reorganizing our life a bit, we started Small Feat Farm. My two personal goals for our first season were: 1) not to have our CSA members hate us, and 2) to want to do it again. Through the failures and frustrations of drought, miscommunications, endless weeds and a melon-munching woodchuck, the desire to grow food only grows as members from last year sign up for our 2017 CSA.
The number of young farmers in America is on the rise for the first time in a very long time. People are getting increasingly creative when it comes to acquiring land and running a profitable farm business. Joanna and I feel fortunate to be able to curate a sense of purpose and practice our values while providing what we feel is an important service for our community and planet. It is not without sacrifice or stress, and right now there is no set path for how Small Feat Farm will develop over the next few years. But I am stubborn and slow to quit and if y’all look after us, we will look after y’all.