When I was in my twenties, I loved to prepare elaborate dinners for my friends. I'd spend a week shopping for, prepping, and cooking an Indian food feast that included everything from home-made chutneys and samosas to start, to galub jamun and burfees for dessert, or a multi-coursed meal prepared to the letter from the Greens Cookbook by Edward Espe Brown. The table would be decorated in the theme, and as this was long before Instagram, the whole thing would be enjoyed without so much as one photo taken, it was just for the fun of it and nothing else.
Friends would rave at my cooking skills and sometimes would urge me to profit from them..."start a catering business!" I'd hear. It sounded glamorous to me - starting your own business - I liked the idea of setting my own hours, doing something I loved to do to make a living, and being able to use my creativity. Plus, I was a waitress at the time with no real plans for a future career. My best friend at the time had started her own jewelry business and was doing quite well with it. I loved that she had her own office and employees and how empowered she felt by all that. Her gumption and fortitude inspired me and I wanted to challenge myself and grow.
I'd gone from working retail for 5 years (starting when I was 16) to waitressing, and though I had grand visions of becoming an interior decorator or a children's clothing designer, I had no concrete experience in either field and no apparent way of getting it. I was not a seamstress and my vague book of design ideas were not enough to launch a career in either field. What I had done since a young child though was cook. At ten, I'd enhance our canned soup with a mixture of herbs or spices from the cupboard, having gone thru and tasted every jar to familiarize myself. I was obsessed with cookbooks and early on, started the habit of reading them cover to cover like a story book. My playhouse was a restaurant, with menus, a sign out front and fake foods made of baking soda clay and plants from the garden.
So in 1994 I started home cookin' in San Francisco. I worked out of a friend's commercial kitchen in the Mission where he made ginger juice, and I started with one private client, making all his meals and delivering them to his house every week. My business grew from that first client to several dozens so I took on my own 1000 square foot commercial kitchen and outfitted it with the necessary equipment, all financed on my credit cards as I couldn't be bothered doing the paperwork for a bank loan. I added wholesale accounts and made soups, quiches, and casseroles for cafes that didn't have their own kitchens but wanted to serve lunch to the dot comers that were swarming the city. I also catered for parties, weddings, art openings, fashion shows and raves. I was a young woman with my own business working my butt off and taking on everything that came my way.
My whole family were so supportive of my business. Number two Step-Mom became number one chicken de-boner, Dad became the janitor, and Mom the polenta queen. Besides the family help, I had employees, my own commercial space in the heart of the city and more and more accounts asking for my goods. I had turned what was my play-time fun as a child into a career and all was going very well.
It had taken a bit of courage to take the leap and end being an employee to start my own thing, but only a little. I was so incredibly burnt-out on waitressing and so ready to use more of myself. I was young, a bit reckless, and had no idea about long-term goals or sustainability. I hadn't spent much time weighing the possibilities or calculating outcomes. I just was taking it day by day and so, after a few big life events happened, and a few years passed, I was back working for someone else and working as a server.
Flash forward to now, May 2019. I have around three weeks left of my "day job" in tech before I take the big leap, this time with Simon by my side, and become a full-time farmer. I have been looking forward to this moment since we started the farm. Man, it's been tough, this last year and a half. It's been hard to be at the computer inside while Simon is out in the field working away at a big project on his own and not be able to be out there contributing and taking on some of the weight of the work load. It's been tough sitting thru hours of conference calls, cooped up inside when it is a lovely spring day and the birds are singing and there is a breeze in the trees.
But it was how it had to be. We had to get the farm to a certain point with the support of my salary before we could even consider losing that. As much as it slowed us down having most of the work be done by Simon alone this last year and half, it was how we had to do it to be rational and practical and within our means. I was there by his side to at least help with the big projects like harvesting up all the corms out of the field last summer and then replanting those 50,000 plus dears back in the ground, and harvest of course. Even during my busy days of being on the computer, I usually managed to run out to the field with a thermos of cold water and a snack between my meetings to see what he was up to, bolster him on, and feel part of the action.
It seems such a luxury to be able to spend the entire day farming. Truly. I am so excited to soon do this on a regular basis. Day after day, to just be able to focus on the farm. It feels as though I am embarking on a permanent holiday, though that is a laughable idea when you consider that "holiday" entails endless hours stooped over in the hot sun doing repetitive, taxing jobs like weeding. Ha! But I won't be in front of a computer and inside. (I wonder if I will long for the chance to SIT DOWN and stare at a computer screen so that I may rest?).
My first real hands-on farming experience came at my daughter's school's farm in Santa Rosa. The gorgeous, large, biodynamic farm was a place that I spent every spare hour I could volunteering and learning and feeling recharged and relaxed. I was a single mom, working two jobs and going to school, but the time at the farm made me feel so good It was like yoga for my soul.
I get that deep enjoyment and fulfillment from farming now. Yes, it is a chore and so exhausting sometimes and there are definitely jobs that I do not look forward to, but overall, I really feel I am doing what I am meant to be doing when I am tending our plants and raking out chicken poop from the coop.
Now that I am older, wiser, and more aware of the perils of the world than I was in my twenties, I am definitely trepidatious about the fact that paychecks will no longer magically appear in my bank account and my health insurance will not be quite so posh. Daily I am purely giddy at the idea of saying goodbye to the corporate world, but at night, my dreams betray my worries. The worries are there and real and may plague my peace of mind more dramatically as the date approaches of my emancipation. Let's hope we have the fortitude, luck and skill to keep this farm growing and going and that I don't end up looking for another day job at someone else's company again.