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Green Acres Spotlight: 1 Year in the Life of a New Farmer

julia picJulia Asherman, of Rag & Frass Farm, who’s presenting at the annual conference’s Feb. 22 “Farm Genesis: One Year in the Life of a New Farmer,” session, answered some questions for us.

Asherman will be speaking at the 17th Annual Georgia Organics Conference, Green Acres, Saving the Planet One Bite at a Time, which will be held on Feb. 21-22 at the Jekyll Island Convention Center.

Whether you are going to the conference or not, Asherman’s answers are inspiring!

Can you describe your farm and tell us how long it’s taken to get where you are?

Rag & Frass is a small (2.5 acres) diversified farm in Jeffersonville, GA.  I grow veggies, fruit, cut flowers, herbs, mushrooms and sell at two farmers markets, a few restaurants, and starting this year to a small CSA and a roadside stand.  I grow as much variety as I can keep organized, I do a lot of experimenting with crops, varieties, techniques, and try to take full advantage of being in a southern climate (since as a yankee I can fully appreciate it.)  Depending on the time of year, the operation is myself and 1-2 seasonal helpers.

I started the farm a year ago, and it took me 5 or 6 months to get into full season.  It took 4 years prior to learn the ropes, figure out what I want, am capable of, and make a plan to do it myself.  It’s worth noting that there have been considerable challenges along the way, and plenty of hard-learned lessons. It’s also required a fair amount of personal sacrifice at times, which so far I have been very willing to accept.

How did you come to be so determined to farm?

I’m determined in most things that I do, and I might be a bit of a workaholic.  Anything worth doing is worth doing right, so once I figure out the direction I want to go in I usually go for it.  I like to push myself.  I knew from a young age that I wanted to live in the country, I’ve always liked problem solving, science, philosophy, activism, art and work– which all lend themselves to this vocation.  I also remember feeling as a kid that I really ‘got’ plants and animals.  It’s a perfect fit for me, and its the way I see the world now.

Have you had a moment when you realized that you were going to succeed (and if so, can you tell us about it)?

Not really, I’ve always generally believed I could do anything provided I work hard enough, so I’ve always felt any achievement is as possible as I am willing to make it.  I don’t know that I will ever think about reaching ‘success,’ which sounds like an ending point rather than a long process of re-evaluation and lists.  I wouldn’t say the farm has ‘succeeded’ either, some very initial goals have been met but I still have a lot of goals I am working towards. I am also aware of several issues within my farm system that need to be addressed in the next few years. At most, I feel on track, perhaps ‘successful,’ but not ‘succeeded’.

What’s one of the biggest misconceptions people have of beginning farmers?

That we’re all idealistic hippies.  That we aren’t competition.  That we will fail, or quit.  That all the innovations have been discovered already, that we don’t bring anything new or valuable to the table.  And here’s some just for the ladies: that we aren’t physically strong enough and that we can’t operate a tractor or a chainsaw!  Some of the misconceptions about farmers that bother me most have more to do with being female than being young.

Where did you find the most support when you needed it most?

Friends and family, but mostly from other farmers. I am blessed with an extremely supportive farming community, including lots of other hardworking young farmers.  We help each other out a lot, and we encourage each other. Lots of idea sharing, resource sharing, de-stressing, and general support.  All farmers, even farmers with decades on me, are still learning and teaching themselves as they go along. Sometimes we just need validation– especially in the beginning.  The folks who come and work on the farm are a great source of support, for me but also for the farm itself, its like extending the farm family.  And I have a few retired good ol’ boys looking out for me too, filled with knowledge and possessing every tool under the sun!

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