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May 13, 2009

we quite our jobs to start a farm. Here's our story. . .

We're both Pittsburgh natives....well sort of. I'm actually from Northern Virginia but have spent a large part of my life in Pittsburgh. Nate and I were living in England where he worked for a company designing toys for children with special needs. Nate became bored with his job. He enjoyed the concept of his work but was not allowed the freedom he felt he needed to really design well. The weather was awful there. It rained or was gray for what seemed like 90% of the time we were there which didn't help with homesickness and missing friends and family. I was unable to find work there which made things difficult. We did however, make some lovely friends whom we still think of often and miss. Man, it would've been rough there without them.
We had both always been very health conscious and felt that the world's food system was broken. During our time in England we began to learn more about the horrors of factory farming, confinement operations, and genetically modified foods. We decided that we no longer wanted to support that industry so we became vegetarians. After a while it became clear that Nate's body was not a fan of the no-meat diet. Despite being extremely protein-conscious, he lost weight and suffered headaches and fatigue. So we decided to begin adding meat back into our diets but found it very difficult to find natural, humanely raised meat.
Around this time we returned to Pittsburgh for a much needed visit. While we were here my mother, Jeannette, and her partner, Gerry, enthusiastically told us of the local food movement that was starting to happen here in the region. We began discussing the possibility that there was an inevitable economic collapse on the horizon and that we'd all like to be more self sustainable. We were also trying to think of industries that would be the least affected and that would be in need if such a collapse should occur. Gerry had just been to visit Joel Salatin's Polyface Farm in Swoope, VA and he showed us his book "You Can Farm". Gerry suggested that we become farmers. We glanced at the book but honestly didn't think too much of it. None of us knew it then but Gerry had planted a seed.
We flew back to England and neither of us could stop thinking about the idea. We were looking for a life change and wondered if this could be it. We Googled Joel Salatin and saw this video. We were truly inspired. He spoke of an alternative farming method of raising poultry and ruminants naturally, on pasture.... like nature intended. Like our ancestors did because it only makes sense. That is until the giant, money-hungry agricultural industries entered the picture. We immediately ordered all of his books. The first book I read was "Pastured Poultry Profits". I would read all day and when Nate came home from work, I would tell him what I learned. We became really excited at the idea of being able to change the way animals are raised while healing and improving the land. Not only could we grow our own food but we could provide quality, natural food to other people like us who care about what goes into their bodies and the bodies of their loved ones. We kept thinking of Mahatna Gandhi's quote "Be the change you wish to see in the world".
We brainstormed with our family and received tremendous support. My mother and Gerry told us that if we moved back to do this, we would have a place to stay and some financial support to get on our feet. Within a week, Nate walked into work and told them he was quitting and we were moving back to America to start a farm. You can imagine the responses he got but overall, people were supportive.
We moved back in December, 2007 and immediately started researching farming. We attended the annual PA Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) conference in February where we learned more than we could have imagined and met lots of good contacts. Following the conference we posted an ad in several places looking for space on a farm to use. We knew we could not buy a farm so our hope was to find a farmer willing to share a small part of their land.
To our surprise, we got a call from the past president of the board of PASA inviting us to come out to his farm. The farm was incredibly beautiful, they were incredibly kind and we worked out an arrangement to start up our farming operation on their land. We couldn't believe how generous they were and how committed they were to helping new farmers. We were even lucky enough to rent a house just 400 feet down the road from the farm.
And so began our first year of farming. We decided to start with poultry and work our way up. In our first season we raised over 1200 meat chickens, 26 turkeys and 100 egg-laying hens. Our first year was filled with stress, mistakes, overwhelming responsibility, HARD work, weather-related chaos, the loss of our social lives, the learning experience of working with your spouse 24/7, and the general adjustment of "city kids move to the country". However, I must say.....WE LOVED IT!
We absolutely love our jobs now. We work for ourselves, we work outside, we work with animals, and however small it may be, we are trying to make a difference. We raise all of our animals naturally, on grass and in the fresh air and sunshine. We never use any antibiotics, growth hormones, fertilizers or pesticides. We love our animals and treat them with respect. To quote Michael Pollan (author of "The Omnivore's Dilemma"), "Our animals have very happy lives with only one bad day".
So here we are starting our second season. We are in the process of looking for a farm of our own where we can really expand our operation. But for this year we plan to raise 1600 broilers (meat chickens), 50 turkeys, we have another 100 laying hens, and we just got 6 lambs.
You are invited to follow us on our journey...

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