OEFFA's Next Farm Team: Stories From The Field

Welcome to OEFFA's Begin Farming Program blog! Check back often for more beginning farmer profiles, stories from our farmers and about farmland access opportunities, and information about upcoming programs and events.

OEFFA's Begin Farming Program provides aspiring and early career farmers the support they need to understand what it takes to get into farming and grow their businesses, with the goal of increasing the number of successful sustainable and organic farmers in Ohio.

If you are interested in participating in these programs, or if you'd like to contribute to this blog, please contact Kelly Henderson, Begin Farming Program Coordinator.

Learning by Doing: Developing Resiliency Through Farming

by Claire Saunders

Pho: Apprentices Paige Saho (left) and Claire Saunders (right) at Sunbeam Family Farm

Having no previous experience with farming I knew that I would be wildly unprepared for the Begin Farming Apprenticeship. Still, I was confident enough in my physical capabilities, and knew that this was something that I was eager to learn about, and I held on to hope that although it would certainly be challenging, the rewards would be just as great. There was no way of preparing myself for exactly how challenging, and how rewarding, the program would end up being.

Pictured: Guest blogger, Claire Saunders

There is never a dull moment on Sunbeam Family Farm. Busy, frustrating, exciting, at times nearly overwhelming, but never dull. One Tuesday we were set to plant watermelons in an off-site field. For a while now our host farmer, Ben Dilbone, had been lamenting that these needed to get into the ground, but it had taken a while to prepare the site, so it had gotten pushed further and further back. As we drove down to the site, small drops of rain began to fall, but it didn’t seem like it would be a problem. For a while things were going smoothly, and then the rain got heavier. We stayed out in the field putting the plants in the ground until someone saw lightening. For about 15 minutes we sat in the car, drenched, trying to get enough bars on our phones to look at the radar. Eventually we drove back to the main farm, thinking that the rain was going to continue, when it began to taper off. There were still a good amount of plants that needed to be planted, so we headed back to the field yet again. After we had finished there, we went back to the farm and had lunch.

It wasn’t till we got out into the home fields that we saw the worst of it. There were plants that needed to get into the ground there as well, so we were back out in it. By now the cloud cover and rain were gone, replaced with the bright sun, turning the field into a sauna. The mud was so bad that we kept getting stuck, so we ended up taking off our shoes and socks and wading barefoot through the rows, because it was easier to move that way. We had to plant on plastic mulch, so while the ground beneath our feet was a mudslide, the ground where the plants were headed was dry as could be and needed to be watered. Hauling the hoses through the mud took four people. Planting that should have taken an hour and a half at most instead took about three. By the time it was finished we had water in every crevice, sore muscles where we didn’t know muscles existed, and some of the strangest sunburns we’ve ever seen. The mud had been so thick and the suction so fierce that my boots and the boots of another apprentice came completely apart at the seams, rendering them useless. It was by far the most exhausting day of work I have ever done.

The next week we returned to the off-site field, and I was delighted to see that the plants we had put in during the storm were doing well. Not only were they still alive, but they were thriving. It’s still amazing to me that something so small and delicate could survive such a downpour, but time and time again the plants surprise me with their resilience. It’s a trait that I’m trying to take to heart.

A few days ago I woke to find my hand completely numb. I was unable to bend my fingers, and even once I warmed it up, had very little grip strength. The likely culprit: the two hours of hand hoeing and weeding that we had done in the celery root the day before, combined with making sure the garlic had been tied tight enough that it wouldn’t slip out of the twine once it began to dry.
Two months into the apprenticeship, and still I’m running into challenges that I never would have expected, just like that rainy day with the watermelon. I’m grateful though, because so long as I’m still being challenged it means that there’s still more for me to learn. There are still many more difficulties to come, but along with those are the sweet rewards that are sure to follow if you persist. I plan on being there for all that will come my way, the good and the bad, and try my best to learn and be resilient, just like the plants. I just might need a new pair of boots first.

Claire joins the cohort from Westerville, Ohio. She received a degree in business finance from Kent State University and while she formerly worked in the business sector in Columbus, she knows that her heart is in agriculture. She first became interested in sustainable farming after reading The Self Sufficient Life and How to Live It by John Seymore and has recently spent time volunteering on local farms through WWOOF. As someone with no background in agriculture, she has been excited to apprentice at Sunbeam Family Farm because it is a balance of hands-on experiences and classroom education.



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