Why I became a young farmer

Ivory Harlow at Dickie Bird Farm

“The greatest fine art of the future will be the making of a comfortable living from a small piece of land.” – Abraham Lincoln

Four of us sat in a doctor’s office waiting area. The Price is Right was on TV, but wasn’t entertaining any of us. A pile of Prevention magazines sat on the end table untouched. Small talk about Ohio’s crazy winter weather turned into a conversation about what each of us does for a living.

A 40-ish smartly dressed man is an attorney, specifically one who prosecutes criminals. A woman with silver gray highlights said she had recently retired from 20 years teaching special education, and is beginning a second career as a small business owner. The third individual is a self-proclaimed “tech nerd” web developer.

Ivory Harlow at Dickie Bird Farm
Ivory Harlow at Dickie Bird Farm

I farm

“I farm,” I said rather sheepishly. I didn’t think farming warranted bragging rights like their fancy and interesting jobs. I assumed these professionals didn’t want to hear about my livestock or vegetables. Boy was I wrong.

“What kind of farming?” The lawyer asked with enthusiasm.

“You do important work!” The retired-teacher-turned-entrepreneur exclaimed, after I gave a detailed description of Dickie Bird Farm’s small sustainable farm structure.

“Did you always want to be a farmer?” The nerd inquired.

Later it occurred to me that their interest in my occupation and farm operation was two-fold: First, I’m not a stereotypical farmer. Most city and suburban people imagine a farmer as an aged, bib-wearing male with a lip packed with chaw. They suppose a farmer inherits his great-grandfather’s farmland. I on the other hand, am young, college-educated, and female. I don’t wear overalls or chew tobacco.

My parents did not farm.

The second reason for my new friends’ interest in my profession is that none of them had ever met a farmer. The days of milk deliveries from your friendly dairy farmer are bygone, as are the days when grocery shelves were stocked with fruits and vegetables from the farm down the road.

Most modern eaters go their entire lifetimes without knowing the men and women who raise their food.

The good news is that the future of farming favors a return to the small farm model. I built Dickie Bird Farm with the intention of shaking my customers’ hands. Many of my fellow young farmers are creating similar sustainable systems on their own small pieces of land.

Did you always want to be a farmer?

After completing a military enlistment and college, I worked in numerous occupations including: short order cook, retail sales, logistics, and Government contracting. I waitressed and managed a massage clinic. Although I gained experience and friends at each job, no job satisfied my craving for real and meaningful work. I dreamed of doing something that nurtured my spirit, the earth and my community. I wanted work that inspired confidence and creativity. Farming offers all this and more.

Dickie Bird Farm

My favorite thing about being a farmer is that I wake up every day knowing exactly what needs to be done and I’m empowered to do it.

At Dickie Bird Farm my husband and I cultivate over 100 varieties of mostly heirloom vegetables. We raise free range chickens and turkey for eggs and meat. I milk a small herd of dairy goat and make cheese.

I recently added a Red Wriggler Worm ranch to the farm to enhance our composting system. In farming, I’ve found that even undesirable chores like cleaning the barn in negative temperatures and hauling manure in the rain is real and meaningful work that is satisfying, honest and true.

I invite you to join in my weekly farm adventures at farmanddairy.com. I’ll share insight I’ve gained building a sustainable farm system at Dickie Bird Farm. I’ll talk about how you can grow-your-own and do-it-yourself. I hope you’ll join in the conversation with what has worked on your farm or in your backyard.


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  1. Until we have the courage to recognize cruelty for what it is — whether its victim

    is human or animal — we cannot expect things to be much better in this world.

    We cannot have peace among men whose hearts delight in killing any living

    creature. By every act that glorifies or even tolerates such moronic delight in

    killing, we set back the progress of humanity.

    Rachel Carson (1907 – 1964)


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