By Helen Skiba
There is this amazing book by the Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön called Comfortable with Uncertainty. It is basically my bible right now, in the midst of the COVID crisis, of the blossoming and challenge of the Black Lives Matter movement, with this unseasonably early frost coming on us, and with my transition from employee to farm owner hanging in the balance. In the book, she says, “With all the messy stuff, no matter how messy it is, just start where you are—not tomorrow, not later, not yesterday when you were feeling better—but now. Start now, just as you are.” And that to me is the way forward, the way of courage, compassion, and love.
So right now, I’m working with my partner, Nelson, to put together enough money to buy our own farm, a place for my business, Farmette Flowers, to operate. We’ve been fortunate to have some savings and maybe some inheritance, and a few years ago I started investing money saved from my first farm into stocks and bonds. Nelson has bought into some cryptocurrencies and expects to make a good return there. We have recently launched a partnership with his family to sell their tulip and narcissus bulbs through my online store, and each year I sell dahlia tubers as well—we’re always hustling, adding to our savings, hoping to meet our goal.
Trying to stitch together all our goals and aspirations to make a beautiful home where we can share resources and joy, we are working with Nelson’s brother and sister-in-law to find a place we could potentially own together. This, of course, carries its own uncertainties, from joint mortgages to setting up family rules to dividing ownership in farm enterprises, plus many others that I’m sure I haven’t even begun to think about.
My first transition from employee to farm owner happened almost without me knowing it, and without a lot of risk: I was offered ownership after one season of interning, and had to learn incredibly quickly how to run a business, from marketing and customer relations to website building, bookkeeping, employee management, floral design, and, of course, how to grow things in the wild Colorado climate. My business grew incredibly fast, and I wasn’t prepared. I crashed and burned, developed an anxiety disorder, lost a lot of weight, and finally, lost my land. I wasn’t sure that I’d even want to ever farm again. But spring came, and my fingers got itchy. Since then I’ve used everything I learned from that first disaster to become a better farmer and person, and my need to farm has only grown more profound.
My deep desire for my own farm has pushed me to be more of a risk-taker than I’m naturally; it has pushed me to take decisive action and make quick choices—to start now, right where I am. It’s a difficult juxtaposition of feelings and principles — wanting a forever-farm, a place to grow old in — while being forced by the craziness of the housing market to “jump on it” and act quickly. I wish I could live somewhere for an entire year and grow to love it, and then decide to buy it. I suppose I’ll have to be satisfied with choosing and then learning to love, despite its faults or deficiencies, like an arranged marriage.
I also feel the pressure of age — as my body hurts more, the more I feel that I must, right now, have a farm, to use the last strong decades to build something lasting. I’ve always thought about the fact that I started farming late, and even if I farm until I’m 80, I’ll only have had fifty or so seasons in my lifetime. Fifty is not a lot of chances.
Buying a farm combines crazy hope with sheer terror: I feel at once completely equal to the task and deeply vulnerable to stinging failure. Why would I give up a stable paying job in this strange time? How will I sell what I grow? What if I can’t pay my mortgage? What if no one wants what I’m selling? What if there are pests, or drought, or hail? But then—what if I could watch the soil improve over the years? What if I could provide food and flowers and employment to my community? What if I could know a place intimately for many years of my life? What if I could build an oasis and a place of rest for my family and the families of birds and insects and mammals and toads? Isn’t it worth doing then?!
I have absolutely no idea which scenario will come into being, but I have no doubt that it will be nothing like what I expect. I challenge myself every day to look deeply into that uncertainty and get to know it. Thankfully I have this amazing farming community around me — so many people who have offered examples, advice, compassion, and empathy to me as I try to do this hard thing. I am grateful every single day.