forums and websites and blogs abound to help newcomers become old
hands at the various tasks involved in livestock and plant care.
only problem (and it’s a doozy) is that there’s really no way of
knowing if the person counseling you is knowledgeable and experienced,
or full of compost.
said person (if that is, in fact, their real name) lives near
you (if that is, in fact, their real location), it’s really
difficult to tell if they know what they’re talking about, or if
they’ve just been doing the same thing you have—wandering the ‘net
and gathering links—only they’ve got a more authoritative timbre to
their typing and a really earthy avatar and web-name.
you ask a question like, “What kind of chickens should I get?” you’ll
get a gabazillion different answers--all of which may be true…for that
person, in that place.
Honestly, the best way to ensure success of your budding farming
endeavor is to ask real people in your real neighborhood
(of course, you must finish this particular article first).
the web forums are regional and some worldwide, but chances are
there’s someone from your neck of the woods online. Look at this like
cyber-dating except the stakes are higher—soul mates are swell, but
learning to feed your family is invaluable. Test the waters. If
you’re getting along online, arrange a meeting in a public neutral
place—anything from the farmers’ market to Starbucks will work.
here to tell you it’s a crapshoot. On one forum I’m on I’ve met 100%
true blue people who are exactly as advertised, but on another there
have been some…disappointments.
meeting new people, seeing how others run their farms both in my area
and far away in different climates. I can honestly say our circle of
“people we could call to bail us out” has expanded enormously since
we’ve made it a point to get to know our online friends in person.
they’re without exception absolutely To-Die-For cooks and bakers.
live far away from your online friends, you’ll have to take your
search to the streets, err….fields.
you’re thinking, “Well, that’s easy for YOU to say, but I don’t know
any farmers locally. What am I supposed to do? Drive around till I
see a vegetable garden, stop and knock on their door and ask, ‘How did
you do that?’ ” That’s actually a viable option and has worked well
for me more than once.
you’re not quite as…gregarious as I am, I suggest you call your local
Ag extension. It’s in the phone book under “U.S. Department of
extension agent will be happy to assist you with everything from soil
analysis, to pamphlets on which veggies grow in your area, to how to
irrigate your garden no matter its size, to hooking you up with a
4-H’er to buy livestock from.
option is garden clubs; people tend to think of garden clubs as All
Roses/No Rutabagas, but most gardeners have an interest in all things
with roots, not just the floweredy ones. The Chamber of Commerce in
your town (or nearest town) will most likely have information for the
garden clubs and a calendar of events for them--things like annual
plant and seed sales are common garden club fundraisers and a great
way to meet the members.
frequent the farmers’ market, ask the sellers about the different
varieties they’re peddling. Then be sure to ask them if they were
grown “around here”. Most of the time there are rules about “locally
grown” but sometimes things slide in when locally grown isn’t quite
ready or past its prime.
above may score you what you really need: a mentor.
Someone you know face to face, someone you can dig in the dirt with,
pluck chickens with, milk goats with. Someone to learn from who knows
what works and what doesn’t in the microcosm that is your patch of the
Learning from someone who knows what they are doing in your very own
climate is doubly important when dealing with animate objects.
Plants and animals are living things that require (not only desire)
respect and knowledgeable care or they grow sickly and die.
“shopping your mentor”, really look at their place. Even if it’s not
fancy and new, is the garden plot producing, the livestock healthy,
the fences secure? If any part of their farm equation strikes you as
a bit “off” or “alarmingly weird”, ASK THEM about it. Sometimes there
are good reasons for things being as they are, and sometimes the truth
is…they don’t know much more than you do no matter how expensive all
their stuff is or how fancy their website, videos and books are.
obvious that for whatever reason, the connection is just not going to
work (again, think first- date test) thank them sincerely and beat
feet outta there.
Finally, it’s not imperative, but it sure makes for a more satisfying
time if you and your mentor(s) can be friends of sorts. Shared
beliefs and goals make for a more willing teacher and a more attentive
here’s the best part.
best part is that once you know someone and work with them, you’ve
formed, if not a full-blown BFF bond, at least the inklings of a
community. And that, my friend, will be the most valuable asset to
have of all if the going continues to be rough—mightier than a flock
of all-purpose chickens, more powerful than ten years worth of
hermetically sealed seeds will be the banding together of people for
mutual benefit of all. Community.
Local. Eat Local. Learn Local.