Historically winter has been an off-time for me in the garden. Sometime in November I’ve been able to put plants to bed under blankets of straw or a cold frame shelter, and I’ve only disturbed the dormant to harvest winter salads or sweep off snow accumulation. I spent the free hours ice fishing mostly. And I got pretty good at it, too. I caught a lot of fish, found some new favorite places in my home state, and had a steady flow of freshwater protein through February.
As a beginning farmer, it turns out the winter months are not off-season. So it’s a good thing there’s no ice fishing in southwest Virginia to distract me. Lately my time has been spent killing grass and weeds, planting cover crops, and building structures when the weather permits. And when it doesn’t, I’ve been building spreadsheets to plan my crops and probing the internet for my many needs and supplies. I’ve also taken a lot of time to meet people involved in the local gardening, agriculture and food distribution scenes. The stack of business cards from people I’ve had appointments with is ever growing on my desk.
I’ve had problems with malfunctioning computers and flaky Craigslist dealings. But both of those are issues I’ve dealt with before and I’m sure I’ll see them again. The truth is that the receptions to my ideas and business concepts have been inviting and exciting. People are enthusiastic to work together on this idea of community restoration through food cultivation. There have been scores of people and organizations that have come before me and carved a path through which my business can flow.
And I’m so excited to open the flood gates. It will be slow at first, because small is what I’m capable of now. But as I learn more about what exactly my place in this market can be and how my urban farm can thrive, I have confidence that it will grow at a sustainable pace. Winter is always a season of excitement and anticipation for gardeners. We have time to imagine and daydream about everything that next year can bring. And we consider how to get the upper hand on those pests and mistakes that have thwarted our harvests in the previous year. We browse seed catalogs and watch educational videos on Youtube for hours on end. It’s been a challenge for me to not let that imagination run away with my livelihood, to treat this as more of a business than a hobby. But I think I’m striking a pretty good balance thus far.
The work is rewarding every single day, whether I’m on my knees in the dirt or on a chair in front of the computer. I’ve never worked so hard, so consistently for anything in my life. And truly I’m just getting started. The ultimate rewards are yet to come. When I’m yanking carrots out of the soil and plucking strawberries in the summer, I’ll sample a berry or two before they ever get to market, and it’s hard to imagine right now just how sweet it will be.