Farming challenges me intellectually, physically and spiritually, every year and every season. I can't imagine another profession where I could be learning every moment, where every year is another layer of the onion, an invitation to go deeper, do more, learn more.
Amanda is the lead farmer at Plow and Stars Farm located in Seneca, Maryland (next door to Lady Farmer HQ!). It's a family operation that includes two awesome kids - Jonah (age 14) and Sadie (age 8).
Amanda began her career as a pre-med student working at a clinic for malnourished children and their families. While working to combat the symptoms of the disparities in access to nutritious food, she found her calling at the source: in farming. She worked as a community garden organizer and educator, a farmer at a homeless shelter for pregnant and parenting teens and their children, a farm apprentice at a beautiful educational farm outside of Boston, the urban agriculture manager at The Food Project, a farmer at a farm owned by a Buddhist college in Boulder Colorado, and the manager at Waltham Fields Community Farm for a decade before starting her own farm with her husband Mark in late 2014.
The realization that many families in my own city lacked the resources and/or knowledge to provide healthy food for themselves, combined with my growing awareness that I didn't want to spend my days in a hospital or office, put me on the path to farming.
Reflections on farming, sustainability, and her role as a Lady Farmer
Farming challenges me intellectually, physically and spiritually, every year and every season. I can't imagine another profession where I could be learning every moment, where every year is another layer of the onion, an invitation to go deeper, do more, learn more. The goal of being part of the creation of a healthy food system that provides nutritious, thoughtfully-raised food to people of all income levels and backgrounds is what continues to inspire and drive me as a farmer. I love feeding my community. I love the return on that investment in soil and sweat and tears, whether it's goodwill, a box of canned tomatoes, a thank-you card from a 4-year-old, or the satisfaction of seeing a child take a big bite out of a turnip. I love growing food that people recognize, appreciate, cook up like their grandmothers did. I love raising animals that do what animals are supposed to do -- graze, root, breathe fresh air, play and rest.
Ecological, economic, and personal sustainability are things that we are always striving for on our farm and in our lives. I feel like we are still working out what that means for us on our farm -- particularly the personal part. What is the scale that will enable us to make a little income, contribute in a meaningful way to our community, and get a little break every once in a while? What are the products that are most fun for us to create? How do we bring joy into the world along with the food that we raise? And how do we do that in a way that does the least harm, and in fact maybe in a way that creates a little healing in the world? That's sustainability to me.
I think that as I get a little older I'm re-thinking my role -- I'm not the mother of tiny kids anymore, so that means I have a little more time and should have more to offer -- but I definitely still feel like a learner. The term "Lady Farmer" doesn't really connect with me because I have never felt much like a "lady" -- I'm a hardworking woman with lots of experience to share and lots of things still to learn. I long for community though -- we had a beautiful community of farmers in Massachusetts that I feel like I have yet to recreate here in Maryland. But it's coming, slowly, and it's easy to get stuck in your own day-to-day, especially if that's farming, and not make those connections a priority -- but they're so critical especially as we get older!
Advice for Aspiring Lady Farmers
GO FOR IT. You can do it. Find a mentor and learn as much as you can from her. Become a farmer. Do it your way. Don't be afraid to start your own business, or to work for someone else -- both are totally fine and have their own joys and pitfalls. Support farms and woman farmers by buying local. Make a personal connection with the people that produce your food, flowers, as many products as you can. Take pride in doing more with less, enjoying the incredible bounty that you can find close to home. Give up labels -- "organic" isn't as important as we'd like it to be, especially if we can have a conversation with someone whose practices we might learn go beyond that label. Raise your children (if you have them) to be fierce advocates for justice and peace and restoration, whether ecological or social. Make your own beauty.
Who inspires you?
Lee Langstaff. She's incredible. Kevin Bowie. Harriet Tubman. Lin-Manuel Miranda. I'm searching for role models who are middle-aged women to help me take the next step in my own life too.
Thank you Amanda!
Take pride in doing more with less, enjoying the incredible bounty that you can find close to home.