John first deployed his farm skills with a CSA on a 1/4-acre bit of family field near Boyne City. The customer base grew, he joined with a farming partner, and they leased more land. But John concedes he began to feel burned out. After a few years, he wondered if he’d followed the wrong path and decided to try another profession. He entered a graduate degree program in environmental studies at the University of Montana. Six months in, he learned the most important lesson of all: he was going stir crazy in academia and had to get back to farming. “But I wanted to make it easier for me, both physically and emotionally,” he says.
“And that’s where I came in,” Bailey says, with a laugh. She worked to convince John that farming could be different, that farming could be sustainable for both their lives and the land. Like John, Bailey also had had no history with farming, until she started volunteering at John’s Boyne City farm. “My background is marketing and hospitality, so we fit together well,” she says. “Also, I am organized, he is not. He’s a scientist, I am not.”
With family investors, they purchased 58 acres, and with government loans built the infrastructure they needed—a greenhouse, a barn, a tiny farm store. And they set about building a new farm business based on small-scale, intensive farming. “Two acres of vegetables is not that much land, but it produces a lot of food,” John says. “We can space crops a lot closer together because we don’t use large scale mechanical cultivation equipment.”
As for advice for young people interested in following a path similar to theirs? “I’d say just go for it,” John says.
Bailey adds, “I would say get your education and experience on other farms before taking on your own debt. There are many farms that are willing to offer support and resources and to educate beginning farmers—ourselves included! Find your niche, and focus on what you’re good at, that’s how we’ve found success In farming!” Bailey has gained additional perspective in her job as a local food coordinator and events manager at Taste the Local Difference.
Thinking back to last year’s Harvest event, Bailey really appreciated that farms had a visible presence. Logos of farms providing food were printed in the program and were projected onto big screens. And of course farmers were front and center as 650 Harvest attendees sat down to a dinner of fresh-picked and delectable local food.