Becoming an Expert
By Lauren Rudersdorf | Photos By Lauren Rudersdorf 0
At some point this summer while I had my head down focused on growing, building and learning as much as I possibly could, I looked up and realized I was becoming a resource and a mentor in my field. A farmer is considered a beginner for their first ten years and honestly, I imagine in some respects he or she feels that way indefinitely. There is always more to learn, and there are constant new opportunities for growth. I know I certainly don’t feel like I know what I’m doing a lot of the time. Add in that I consider myself a generalist—a woman of many skills, interests and professions—and it probably makes sense that I never expected to consider myself an expert on anything.
That’s why when a month ago I was asked to present at the Midwest CSA Conference with my dear friend Beth of Winterfell Acres, I was shocked. What did we know? I had only been farming for five years. She had only been farming for four. How could we possibly fill 75 minutes with information? What could we tell people that they didn’t already know? Surely the farmers of the bigger, older CSA vegetable farms who had mentored us when we first started our operations were much better equipped.
The topic suggested to us was “How to Know CSA Farming is Right for You,” part of the track for beginning CSA farmers. After first feeling insecure about my skills and my knowledge, I reflected on our season. Over these frenzied months, I had held numerous discussions with a pair of friends who were in their second year of CSA farming. I had given them tips and tricks, things that worked for us and things that didn’t. And I’d also helped a farm team member and aspiring farmer realize she wouldn’t actually revel in managing her own operation and would be quite satisfied to help her boyfriend manage a farm or continue to work on one instead. I actively responded to forums and group conversations surrounding CSA management and day-to-day farm operations. Beth and I, with our different skills and knowledge, were advising each other constantly.
Having successfully managed a CSA operation for five years and interning at FairShare CSA Coalition for a summer, I realized that although I didn’t consider myself an expert on much, I did know a heck of a lot about developing a CSA program. Add to that the multitude of serious mistakes I’ve made over the years, and I found I have plenty of important information to share with my community.
I discovered that the experiences I’d had and the skills I’d gained over five years as a floundering, chaotic beginning farmer trying to run, manage and grow a CSA made me the perfect person to teach this workshop because despite my limitations and mistakes, I had staying power. As did my friend Beth. We took a nosedive into a seriously difficult profession and hadn’t broken yet. No matter how amateurish we both feel at times, to make it to five years proves that we are doing some things right. Despite a difficult career path, we have thus far endured.
My coworker Stacy has this incredible analogy about climbing a mountain. She says that every person at every level of the mountain has their own unique perspective and knowledge to share with others. Beginners at the base at least did their research, bought equipment and are ready to start; that is valuable knowledge to someone who is only just contemplating a climb. People halfway up the mountain can talk about how they got there, what they learned and what strategies they are using to climb higher. The folks atop the mountain know what it means to make sacrifices and what it really takes to succeed. Everyone along the way has value and expertise to share.
I love this analogy and find it’s especially good to remember in farming—a profession that never ceases to be challenging and never stops testing your limits. Because, although most farmers will never be an expert at everything and some won’t make it to the top, there is still knowledge to share. Every farmer is a better farmer today than they were yesterday, and tomorrow they will be better yet. At every step along that journey, be it floundering beginner or 30-year veteran, there is knowledge to share. We are all experts in the story of our journey, and there is value in that.
The 2017 Midwest CSA Conference will take place on December 7 and 8 in Wisconsin Dells. The conference provides a forum for CSA farmers and advocates to come together for discussion and peer-to-peer learning. Lauren and Beth’s presentation will take place on day two, December 8, 2017.