Getting Paid for What I Love to Do
By Cam Mather
I planted my first vegetable garden when I was 16. I have no idea why. I lived in suburbia and was a pretty typical teenager. I liked rock music, bought a long coat like the one the members of the band Foreigner wore on the cover of their first album, couldn’t wait to get my license to make it easier to date girls … the usual stuff. But for some reason I decided to start a garden in the solid clay that was left behind after the topsoil had been stripped off in suburgatory. It was so bad that after rain the soil/clay would form a solid mass that nothing could break through. I would have been smarter to have made pots with that clay.
I kept putting in gardens everywhere that I lived. In the small house that Michelle and I owned in suburbia years later there was a black walnut tree in the back yard that poisoned the soil, so we grew our vegetables in the front yard. By the time I was growing corn in my front yard I knew it was time to move to the country.
Every year for the past 13 that we’ve lived here the garden has gotten bigger. And I’ve grown more stuff, some for us and lots for friends and family. We grow great vegetables and people rave about them. But really, anyone can give food away and be successful. The question was could I make money doing it.
We have ramped up our garlic production over the last 10 years and grew 10,000 heads this year and managed to sell all of it. We keep selling out, and I’m not sure what the threshold will be for our garlic.
But all our other vegetables, that was still another story. We decided with the downturn in book sales with the economic mess it was time we looked for another source of income. Our friends Hans and Carolyn at Bon Eco Studio in Tamworth own the corner lot in Tamworth and offered it us if we wanted to set up a stand to sell our vegetables. I guess it helped that we have been giving them veggies for years. And we decided to take them up on it. We are very grateful for their generosity.
So we started selling our produce about the middle of July. I had low expectations but really hoped it would work. Each weekend we sold a bit more as people discovered us. And it was the greatest summer ever! We weren’t getting rich but people were paying us for the vegetables we’d grown! What a concept.
I am very grateful to all our customers. Tamworth has a group called “The Grassroots Growers” which promotes gardening and local food, and its members were totally amazing in their support of our venture this summer.
Michelle put together an e-mail list over the summer, and each Friday she sent out an email to everyone letting them know what we had. And people came and it meant a huge amount to us. Selling something you’ve taken decades to learn how to produce is extremely validating.
I am really grateful to Heidi, Susan M, Millie, Carolyn S, Carolyn B, Meredith, Mary Jo, Susan H, Susie, Brian and Rosie, and everyone else who came out and purchased vegetables from us this summer.
It’s given me the confidence to plan on running a CSA next year. With a CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture, people buy a share of the harvest and the farmer is guaranteed an income upfront. I’m totally pumped about it. I’m madly enlarging the gardens, again! I’m finally getting the greenhouse/cold frame built in the barn foundation. I’m expanding the raised beds in the barn foundation. I’m ordering more drip irrigation equipment after the horrendous drought we had this summer. I’m preparing garden beds like never before. There is a new urgency to it. People are going to want vegetables next summer, lots of them. I’ve got get moving. What a great way to spend the fall!
When I think about earning some money from growing vegetables, planting that first garden as a teenager is starting to make sense. I keep coming back to Steve Jobs’ speech to the commencement at Stanford in 2005.
He talks about the long and windy path to where he ended up and observes:
“Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”
There was something that was telling me to get my hands dirty and grow some vegetables every year. I think in a past life I must have been a farmer. It didn’t matter where I was living or how I was earning a living – selling computers, running an electronic publishing business, living in the suburbs – something at the back of my consciousness said you need to keep gardening.
It’s like Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars kept saying… “Cam, this is your destiny, come over to the green side.” (OK, I know I’m paraphrasing Darth Vader, but really, did you want me to suggest Darth Vader was guiding me?)
Each year I couldn’t connect any dots, but now, looking back the dots have been connected and I’m pretty grateful the way it’s all come together.
I’m totally pumped about how much money I made growing food this summer. It’s the same amount I made in 1-½ months of working for a big corporate customer in the city, and it pretty much took me 6 months to do it. With the amount of stuff I’ve got to do this fall, and various projects over the winter, it’ll be 8 or 10 months worth of work next year. I’m hoping we can double our revenue, which would be the equivalent of 3 months worth of money earned the old “soul sucking” way.
But I can honestly say I am getting further and further away from making that comparison. My real income earning days are over. I’m into my “eeking out a living” days now. And it’s pretty awesome. I stare out my window as I write this and I’ve got about 100 things I need to do before the snow flies. No 100 things I WANT to do before the snow flies. That includes planting 12 to 15,000 heads of garlic. Yikes! Enough lolly gagging. I’ve got to get cracking!