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Brennan Washington on Farming While Family-ing

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Brennan and Gwendolyn Washington have been through a lot together: injuries, illnesses, job changes, their house burning down. But the couple keep on keeping on – together. They’ll be part of the Vows & Vegetables super panel on Saturday, Feb. 18 with Lynn and Chuck Pugh of Cane Creak Farm and Chelsea Losh of Babe and Sage Farm. Come hear how three couples maintain a bond that only farming can create in the face of injury, calamity, and random badness.

Georgia Organics: You’ve been hoping for a session that tackles relationships and the trials of tribulations of farming while family-ing for a couple years now. Why did you think the Vow’s and Veggie session was important for Georgia’s farming community?

Brennan Washington: I spent quite some time as not only a mentor for the Georgia Organics Farmer Mentoring program but also as the program manager.  One of the things I started to notice when I was working with my mentees was that we spent a lot of time discussing family issues and not farming issues.  When I stood in the middle of a field with a farmer and our conversation was not about the soil or the markets but rather was about how to explain to their spouse when their operation would actually make money and contribute to the household, this issue started to become clear to me.  I also remember a farmer who went through the GO mentoring program who left an extremely well paying position at a major grocery chain to go fulltime his farming operation and the anxiety he felt along with his family about making this significant move.  And lastly, as our business matured, it became apparent that Gwenolyn and I had different opinions about how our business should fit into our personal lives and I realized, we had never really discussed some very important issues.  I believe family dynamics in farming families need as much discussion as business planning or soil health.

What’s been the biggest obstacle you and Gwendolyn have had to overcome at Phoenix Garden, beside the fire that destroyed your home of course?

In terms of the Vows and Veggies session, our biggest challenge was to find our individual roles in our farming business and then stay out of each other’s way.  We finally settled into our roles but it took a little time and we had to go through intense “discussions” in order to help us find our boundaries. Overall, our greatest challenge has been dealing with the unforeseen events that truly tested our resiliency.  Before the fire, I had some health challenges that really affected our business and put some strain on our relationship both personal and professional.

Do you think there’s something that makes Georgia’s farming community so resilient in the face of adversity?

Farmers are by nature a resilient bunch to begin with.  From having to cope with the vagaries of nature to dealing with volatile markets, farmers need to have a resilient attitude to survive.  In terms of the small scale, sustainable farming community in Georgia I truly feel that the isolation many farmers feel from the larger conventional community has caused many small farmers to draw closer together and help each other in times of need.  Witness the work being done by the Farmers Fund and the grassroots support that farmers provide when a disaster strikes such as when we went through our ordeal with our fire.

What do you hope attendees will take away from the Vows and Veggies session?

The major thing I hope attendees take away from the session is that family dynamics and quality of life issues need to be factored into the farm planning process and that, if left unattended, can lead to just as many problems as an extended drought or a crop failure.

 

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