This would mark the first day of my fifth class of Central Illinois Farm Beginnings. As soon as I said it in my head, I started to question myself, and wrote down the years of the classes I had been a part of in my notebook. The numbers on the paper confirmed that this would, indeed, be my fifth time through. My next thought was, will I ever graduate? That is not the point for me, of course, but I did find myself drifting off to my imaginary farm with woods, a stream, some animals, fruit trees, herbs–lots of them, flowers, veggies…I was in deep, but managed to pull myself out and re-focus on the presentation in front of me.
In the ninth session–the last day–of Farm Beginnings, the students will present their finished business plans to their peers, and staff members from The Land Connection. The document itself is a tidy packet of papers with a lot of vital information about starting a business, but getting there is a process that involves countless hours of writing and researching, input from dozens of people, difficult conversations with your farm partner, if you have one, and the answer to the question, why am I doing this? Which is exactly what the 16 people sitting at tables arranged in a semicircle in front of me were being asked to answer right now.
Mallory, our facilitator, was passing out worksheets that would help the students define their values in ways that would inform their mission and vision statements. As the students worked through the exercises, I sipped my coffee and read through the list of more than 50 words that represented values, while the class was asked to cross them out, until finally, they were left with only three. I always love to see what words people choose when they are forced to narrow it down–and I love the fierceness with which they describe their frustration in having to do so. Some words that came up often this year were faith, family, and independence.
Independence also described, I think, the farmers who presented their business and farm plans to the class. These were farmers who had graduated from Farm Beginnings, and had several years of farming experience behind them. It felt good, sitting in the back of the room, knowing that this community of sustainably minded farmers was growing, and that in some way, even if I am not a farmer myself, that I have been a part of that growth.
By the end of the day, when everyone’s minds were tired, we got out of the classroom, and toured the farm. I followed behind on the perfectly cool fall afternoon while the students meandered through the withering gardens and met the goats who were on their way to the milking parlor.