Short story: I gave away my microgreen business. The farm is still a thing. I’m not leaving my overall work, but I did step away from all of my money-making accounts and the daily grind. Tuesday was the last delivery! This is a good change, one that is right for my life right now.
I’ll miss the unique opportunities it’s afforded me. I’ll miss the financial help, I’ll miss the routine and the friends I won’t see as regularly. I’ll miss some of the grown-up cred it gave me… it’s hard to explain the “what do you do?” to people sometimes, and the business was something that made sense, something people would nod about when I described it. But I’m excited for the space this will create and the other work it’ll make way for. I don’t *completely* know what I’ll be doing, but I have a lot of motivation and direction and will be working, and of course the short answer to the previous question can be “I’m managing my family’s homestead.”
I will likely grow micros again for market and/or small-scale selling. I’m taking a couple of weeks off but then will be sowing small batches for a winter market gig where we sit for an hour each week. It fits. I’ll do what fits, feels useful and good, and I’ll try to stay open.
The longer story: I’ve been doing this (in a business capacity) since the beginning of 2012. It started with so much novel energy and promise, churned into a collaborative effort that had a lot of potential, and then was something I endured on my own and managed through a lot of transition- the difficult split of our farm/communal living situation, the selling of our house and transitory time that followed (where I had to move the operation several times into not-so-convenient places), through the intense and all-encompassing house building phase, and then for a couple of years post move-in while trying to get the homestead up and running. My kids were little, and I was trying to do much of this while not sacrificing the peace at home- which for me meant keeping our living costs down, cooking most meals, enough quality time together as a family, etc. I was also trying to build and maintain the Cooperative project, and at one point (with the help of lovely friends) was trying to attend 3 markets a week as well as twice a week deliveries to restaurants and groceries.
At times Jeff wanted me to let it all go, but I wouldn’t. Many times I wanted to, myself, but in those moments I knew I was motivated by discouraged and fatigued energy, not one of mindfulness or purpose. They also kept me active and growing things (as well as being able to connect with folks about what I care about) when other farming options were out of my reach. I also became aware of their gifts to me during those harder times. Microgreens, those little itty-bitty vegetables, taught me much about my person… my level of endurance, my base motivations and values and needs, as well as practical skills like how to self-motivate despite the monotony. They taught me about the finer details of running your own business and learning to care for a somewhat finicky living operation year-round, every day, no excuses. It gave me an opportunity to play with designs- some years the business grew, some it simplified. I often lugged kids along and worked it all into the slivers of space in my days. But I kept it going.
And it was a good thing to offer, too. I’ve done this long enough to know that the quality of my greens were really good. I found I am a stickler for quality, and I err on the side of generosity with all my methods. I always made space to keep connecting with individuals, and I ran personal deliveries and filled tiny standing orders each week. I capped the size of the operation pretty decisively at one point, considering my personal time limitations and the quality of the product, not wanting to sacrifice the personal nature of it all, etc. I found a sweet spot and kept it there, even though I really could have expanded things and made more money.
At one point there was a competitor that came on the scene and I felt the burn of a big drop in my sales at my biggest account. But I rode it out, watching my products shrink on the shelves, outnumbered by the new brand with the fancy packaging. I remember thinking that I had to mentally prepare for being phased out, since I wasn’t interested in upping my game to contend with what they offered. I was conflicted, but I knew that I’d rather shift into something different than compete in some kind of a branding struggle. It just wasn’t what I wanted to do. But it swung back in my favor. Soon that customer was increasing orders for my greens again, and upon closer look I could tell the competitor had quality issues, likely due to their size. Who can blame them? I have had the luxury of having all kinds of options for simple living/anti-money work and have made this a supplemental kind of gig. For those that want to make a solid income? I know that’s tricky to do without making compromises.
At one point a few years ago we considered expansion, investing in the hydroponic system. I wanted to pay my friends more money, maybe even make a good part-time job for someone. I hoped it could help Jeff work less at his day-job. This system promised us higher yields, a cleaner and more consistent set up, and less work. But it didn’t really deliver. It wasn’t all bad, but it wasn’t what it promised, and I found myself refining my purpose and values again. The greens were just better in the soil and the sun. *I* was better in the soil and the sun, reckoning with the limits of nature. I could feel the way that my desire to expand, to capitalize and find some kind of a hack, had actually given way to debt, a more controlled environment (and subsequent attitude about the work), as well as a particular flavor of dissatisfaction overall. I felt silly, because it probably would have delivered for the right person. But I just knew it had taken me down a path I wasn’t meant to walk. So I took on the debt as the cost of my education, backed up, and went back to what felt alive, what kept me feeling grateful, what was unquestionably healthier for me. I reduced my sales, lessened my need for outside help, and just tried to do the next right thing.
I was well aware of the fact that after we moved into our house and had stabilized, this business held some unique potential for expansion. There was talk of a larger greenhouse, etc., but something inside of me just felt uncertain. I’m grateful for the micros, I am, they have paid for almost all of the homestead’s infrastructure thus far. But the more I get into this work- microgreens included- the more I realize that the true soul of the work, for me, is in the relationships. Both in terms of people, but also in terms of just trying to live out my relationship with my values and this place and my sense of purpose. I was and am distinctly more drawn to the unpaid work, the uncommodified elements of this kind of living. I always wished for more time to connect with the community, to creatively engage with the problems we face, to grieve the lack of solutions, to meditate on why so many of our proposed solutions are made of the same stuff that got us here… I think practically all of the time about why we’re here and facing these things. I feel like I have to move in a more substantial way into it.
This is why I knew it was actually time to shift. I’m a very committed person. I just needed the change to make sense on multiple levels, for the universe to give me some sense of permission. So, when the feeling that it was “time” crashed over me at the very end of the summer, I moved quickly and decisively, and it was done. I had a friend in mind who really needs and wants to make more money off of this work, and so I asked if he’d like to take over all of my paying accounts. He heartily accepted! It feels right. I worried I’d feel more… loss? Territorial feelings? I don’t. I feel like the opportunity and income this afforded me needs to flow now. Everything in nature gives of its excess. That seems to be the right design. But us? We attempt to hold and own things that were only ever flowing through us as gifts. How anxious we are, despite the unfathomable support and care the universe offers us- just being here is a miracle.
I have been so deeply impacted recently by teachings of gift economy. I mean, I’ve always loved the theory, but I mean specifically the things I’ve learned lately by those who actually put it into practice. I would like to move into this more meaningfully and in a way that might make a positive and tangible difference. I’ve been touched by the very serious and, I feel, prophetic words of Stephen Jenkinson on grief work as a “culture building proposition”. I’ve been interested in the ways that we disempower ourselves before we even start the good work- how we intellectualize and stall and stay within safe zones- essentially because we refuse to grieve. Because to grieve would be to face our cultural poverty. I’ve been very drawn to simplicity, and have been thinking a lot about what that really means and why it’s important for our time. I’ve been interested in doing work to deconstruct some of the intellectual hierarchies that show up in permaculture and local food circles- the stuff that keeps the concepts from flowing into practical and universally beneficial forms. Wendell Berry says “Abstraction is the enemy, wherever it is found.” I’ve found that to be true, and it’s a quote that pops up for me over and over. We, as a culture, seem to abstract things pathologically. I’ve become interested in what it would look like to move in the opposite direction- to move in a way that enhances and honors the meaning and relationship of all the things we touch. I just can’t see how it could hurt our situation, anyway.
Ahem. In the meantime, I have a big garden in need of prepping for the spring. I have bins full of worms who are busy making compost. I have 9 rabbits (and possibly more coming soon, since the “sister” in a boy/girl pair we got turned out to be a brother and was housed with all the ladies… whoops!), 4 pigs, 20 ducks, 27 chickens, a high-needs farm dog, 2 children, and a guinea pig. All of these creatures need to eat, daily. They all poop a lot too. And so it goes. 🌈