The below is adapted from my journal. Thanks for reading!
I wanted to get all of this out on paper in order to keep everything straight as our story unfolds. Lena and I have been married now for eight and a half years. We’ve had our share of struggles and joys in the quest to find our niche in life, individually and as a couple. Married young, worked a string of jobs, found direction only to lose it again, a single word describes us: unconventional. Last year, 2012, marked a significant paradigm shift in our lives. Lena and I were both in MBA programs, I was working full-time at Liberty University, she was working full-time with our one year old son at home, Titus. As spring approached giving way to summer, we were languishing. Due to my terrible work schedule we’d had little chance as a couple to really connect with anyone, which virtually isolated us in a town with no family and virtually no friends, offering no support to first-time parents, especially Lena on her own for 10(+) hours every day with Titus. There were countless days I’d come home and Titus would already be in bed (not a family friendly lifestyle)–then the real fun began, homework assignments that often left Lena and I up working until three and four o’clock in the morning! Something needed to change.
In the midst of it all, I applied at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland to be a student in their MSc Classics program. I was fully accepted in August for the 2013-2014 school year, and simultaneously was a U.S. Fulbright research grant candidate. At the time of my acceptance, we also began looking into a unique farming operation called Polyface Farms, started by Joel Salatin. I had heard this man interviewed nearly two years prior on a morning news program, but didn’t fully grasp or appreciate all he had to say at that point. As fate, or we’d say Providence had it, we visited his farm in June 2012 and even purchased a couple of his books. One was a how-to book on sustainable farming and the potential white collar income it can generate, and the other detailed how farms could be family friendly even healing to the practical and spiritual needs of the family. These two books sparked a complete paradigm shift that would soon unfold in our lives.
We decided to leave Lynchburg at the beginning of November 2012 to temporarily live with family back in WV. This would be a way for us to have quality time with them, and for Titus to get a big dose of grandparents and aunties before potentially moving overseas for an extended period of time. Although the opportunity to study at one of the premier institutions of the world would seem an incredible opportunity, which it is, we as a family still struggled with the notion of moving so far from family. Added to this, the loan debt to be incurred would be more than we wanted to carry. Furthermore, one does not simply get a degree from an institution like this with no plan for the future. No, typically one undertakes such a program of study with the intention of remaining in academia, pursuing doctoral studies, fellowships, professorships, book publishing opportunities, research grants, etc. In other words, this is an ongoing lifestyle decision/commitment not simply a one-time opportunity. As in chess, this move now would set forth a stratagem many moves later in the “game”. Shortly after we moved I purchased tickets to the annual Acres USA conference (a sustainable farming extravaganza) in Louisville, KY, for Lena’s birthday, and by Thanksgiving 2012 we already knew that we wanted to start our own farm and permaculture once we returned from Scotland. We also knew we wanted to have another child. However, such an all-encompassing move to another country and culture would certainly delay both of these desires for at least a couple more years. This didn’t sit well with us.
What other option was there? We didn’t want to remain in the rat-race and cubicle farms of the corporate or academic worlds–we had our share of both! With prayer and a fool’s hope we wrote to Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms detailing the major crossroad that lay before us. We asked him if there was any kind of apprenticeship opportunity at Polyface for a husband and wife team, with a toddler, who desired to eventually start their own sustainable farm. We mailed the letter and waited. In the meantime, I perused the Polyface website looking at former apprentices who had gone on to start their own operations. In doing so I intentionally looked for any that may be close to us in Virginia. I found two farms. I checked their websites to see if they were in need of interns. The first one I contacted had a listing up since July for an intern position, the second one had no active listing that I could find. Nevertheless, I contacted both via Facebook messages simply asking if they had or would consider working with a husband and wife team interested in gaining the experience to start their own Polyface style farm.
The first farm replied within a day or so, and to my anxious surprise was very open to discussing the opportunity. The second farm didn’t get back to me for another week or two. But as I began a dialogue with the second farm it became apparent this was the one that suited our family best. The opportunity sounded incredible. So, we arranged for a 3-4 day “check out” as they called it, and visited their farm over the second week of January, 2013. Not only was this farm looking to hire someone, they were specifically looking for a farm manager to be over the marketing and business side of the farm. This fit our backgrounds perfectly since we’d had a lot of experience in these areas. The family was incredibly nice and accommodating, and it felt like we’d always known them. They’re just that kind of people. After a little spell of “cold feet” on our end, they encouraged us to stay the week and discover exactly what they do. We’re glad we did, because it’s everything we want to do! If you can imagine waking up every morning and stepping into an office of rolling green pastures, verdant woodlands, and shimmering ponds all while enjoying the company of your children and loving spouse- that’s what this opportunity held for us! This opportunity was ministering to the deepest needs of our formerly languishing spirits.
The more I read and research this movement of local, beyond organic, transparent, long-term solutions-oriented, sustainable farming, restoration agriculture, permaculture, abundaculture, perennial agriculture ecosystems, ecological agriculture–the terms are endless– the more I study this, I am increasingly convinced of holonic autodidacticism. That is, I’m increasingly becoming convicted of the Christian, contrarian and libertarian, environmentalist, holistic approach to life and learning. I think our institutions are painfully lacking in their stated missions, be it education, governance, or other. They merely exist to collect dues and count noses. The real long-term solutions exist at the grass roots level, in being self-taught naturalists in tune with the Creator’s designs. Being somewhat of a history buff, I realize that most of the iconic figures of history were autodidactics, i.e., they were self-taught. I also think I have the credentials (double majored and minored, graduated summa cum laude, 4.0 GPA, MBA scholar, accepted to one of the top 10 history research programs in the world, Fulbright candidate) to make the claim that being self-taught is superior to anything coming out of our modern institutions. Further, anything I truly wanted to learn I taught myself or learned in a mentoring/apprenticeship type relationship. Not to mention, being self-taught does not incur upon oneself the staggering student loan debt, which is lifelong serfdom, intentionally imposed by the government and big education via guaranteed federal loans.
I used to say that to be a classicist is to be human, but this is only partly correct. To be a farmer is to be human, because it teaches you to use your head, and your hands, and your entire being all at the same time.
So, what happened? We were offered the farm management position and made a two-year commitment in the hopes of learning everything we’ll need to know in order to eventually get our own operation started in the near future. The same day, January 18, we were offered the position, just hours later the Fulbright commission informed me that I was not selected for further consideration (appx. 9,600 individuals applied this year and only 54 awards were given for the U.K.). But hey, this is even more in line with my ever evolving libertarian/contrarian philosophy: we don’t need government subsidies or funding! As for education, we’re constantly learning every day- be it in nature, entrepreneurship, the great books, etc., and all the while we are healing our family, the land, and even the culture as we make happy earthworms and ballet in the pasture! Oh, I forgot to mention, in an ironic twist of fate (i.e., Providence) the farm we’ll be working at– J&L Green Farm– is in Edinburg, VA!
Edinburg, here we come!!