I’m on the Seattle light-rail train, rumbling through the industrial area south of the city on my way to the airport. There is snow on the ground and more falling from the sky.
I’ve been in Seattle for the past week, catching up with friends and taking care of errands in between moving off the farm and heading back east for the Thanksgiving holiday. It feels appropriate that my transition off the farm was marked by a very obvious transition of the season. It rarely ever snows in Seattle, so a visible blanketing in mid November is enough of an event to make for a lot of “it’s a winter wonderland!” facebook status updates. It’s cold. The leaves are gone from the trees. It gets dark at 4:30 in the afternoon. So it makes sense, I keep telling myself, that I’m waking up in Seattle instead of on Bainbridge. I miss the farms, but there’s no farming to do right now! So it’s time to change it up and settle into a winter routine.
After Thanksgiving, I’ll be spending the winter working a software job in Seattle. I decided that I want to farm again for sure next season, and I lucked out – with this short term contract job I should be able to save up enough money to make it possible. I could see myself doing this dual life thing for awhile: working and living in the city December thru March and then spending the rest of the year farming. A transitory lifestyle clearly has its drawbacks — the post office’s forwarding address system is probably going to short circuit itself trying to keep up with all my recent moves — but being in new places and meeting new people also keeps life interesting.
So as much as I miss the daily life on the farm, I am really looking forward to a Seattle winter. I miss the farm “family” (Betsey, Brian, and the girls). But this week reminded me that I also have an awesome Seattle “family” of really dear friends who I can spend more time with now. This week was great as so many of my friends are unemployed or underemployed right now that I was never at a loss for friends to hang out with, even during the day on weekdays! A big goal for my winter is to spend tons of quality time with these people… you know who you are :-). I also want to log lots of miles on my bike, build something, re-learn Lindy Hop, and learn how to drive stick finally. (This last being a very necessary farming skill that it would behoove me to pick up before next season!)
Of course, when I started the internship I was looking at it more as a temporary break from “regular life” rather than a permanent shift in lifestyle. There are some important issues I’ve been putting off addressing that I’ll need to deal with soon if I intend to keep farming. For instance, I have a cavity I need to get filled, and I need new tires on my car. Questions to think about: Will I ever be able to resume adding money to my retirement accounts? Does that matter? How much private health insurance coverage do I need versus how much can I afford?
I didn’t fully appreciate how cushy my former job as a salaried software engineer was when I had it, with its high salary and great benefits. I could have been saving more. Now, though, it feels good to be making more conscious decisions about the amount and type of work that I do, how much time I take off, and how much money I really need to spend on “stuff.” Paying for healthcare out of pocket makes me appreciate it more. Trying to look on the bright side here. What I really love is the feeling of being a producer of something tangible. As an engineer I got used to a steady paycheck that didn’t depend at all on what I actually did that week. As a farmer, there’s a more direct relationship between work and reward: I make money by creating (growing) a product through my own effort & skill and then finding a way to sell it directly to a consumer. The amount I make feels a lot more tied to my own ability to work hard and work smart. Of course the regular paycheck is great, and I couldn’t argue with you if you pointed out how dumb it seems to purposefully walk away from a career with that kind of security. But I feel excited about growing food in a way I never felt about computers, and I feel like I’m reaching for the “work to live, not live to work” ideal. We’ll see if I can pull it off.
To that end, I’m visiting a few farms in the Puget Sound area to “interview” for a position for next year. There are two that I’m really excited about at the moment and I would be thrilled if either of them worked out. I feel sad when I think about not spending another season with Brian and Betsey after how much I loved being there this year. What if I don’t love my next farm as much? But I know that I’ll learn much, much more by moving on to a new place. Everyone has their own ways of dong things and it’s best for me to see several so that I have more information going into my own potential future farming endeavors. I’m looking for a slightly larger-scale farm for next year, growing a wide variety of crops and selling through a wide variety of market channels. I’m looking for a new community of people and a new piece of earth to get to know.
Ok that’s about enough. Kudos to you if you made it through all of that. Happy Holiday to all — let’s enjoy winter as we look forward to spring!