Our Apprentice Graduates are doing really cool things!
I spent the year before I came to Urbandale working at a print shop. I had graduated from MSU with an art degree and found that job right out of college, but it was a lot of sitting behind a computer in a basement, and I was really unhappy with that. I started to realize that I really valued working with my hands and valued just doing work.
When I learned that there was an apprenticeship program in my town and that it was paid so that I wouldn’t be completely losing all of my income, I decided that was a good next step. I grew up on a little hobby farm south of Howell, so I knew it was something I enjoyed and something I could be really good at.
Urbandale gave me a really great starting point: learning about different crops, learning about different management techniques, the importance of record keeping. It was a good foundation, and going on to Roots after let me take the knowledge and make it more concrete.
I came back to Urbandale because I love this place. I think that not only do I love the work and the mission of the Lansing Urban Farm Project, but for me this place and this neighborhood kind of represent the values that I want to live.
Because this is my first year managing this space, there is a lot about the land that I’m learning on the ground running. The soil in each of the different lots is different. The weed pressure in each of the different fields is different. Getting familiar enough with the different pieces of land in order to fit a crop plan into places where everything makes sense is one of the challenges of urban farming. I’m learning that I need to be on the land all the time.
I’ve always had a knack for horticulture. When I was in high school, I did part of a vocational program that was involved with agriculture. I tried different colleges, and, last year, I decided why not give it a shot back in agriculture.
I found out about Urbandale’s apprenticeship program. I went to a meeting and met Laura and Linda and Sarah, and they kind of inspired me and let me know I was a possible candidate, so I pursued it.
The program expanded my idea of what it was to be a gardener. In my mind, a big garden was a big rectangle that has all your corn on one side. That was the garden I was used to, not 36 inch beds with everything growing in them. And it was exhausting, that’s for sure. It was only four hours a day, five days a week and the occasional market, but you realize how much physical labor and how much thought goes into food production.
I’m out at Lansing Roots now. There are 10 farmers out there. I have a quarter-acre plot and I’m applying the principles I learned at Urbandale. It’s still a learning curve. It’s different from Urbandale, the fun quirks of being in a city versus being out the country. But I’m learning different crops and their seasonality and you can’t grow broccoli in the middle of a hot summer and how to bend with the weather.
I’m in the service industry, I’m a waiter, but I don’t want to do that for the rest of my life. I’d love to have a farm that makes a living for me, to grow a lot of my own food and to put some money in the bank and make that work.
I found Urbandale after about a year of unemployment and a decision that I no longer wanted to work in “the media.” I had been a TV guy for over 20 years. I was laid off after a merger added too many engineers to the pool. I was fine with that. My souring taste for monitoring morning television programs and the editorial decisions of a corporate-owned news department made the decision for me long before I went through the ritual of returning my keys. A kick in the butt out the door was just what I needed. I have been lucky since to have an amazing woman aiding my new direction toward parts still unknown. I could not do this without her.
Urbandale gave me the experience I needed to consider my next steps into organic farming. It was hard work. The hardest work I’ve ever done. The arrival of the mosquitos almost did me in, but I kept going. My aching body every morning reminded me of the age difference between me and my fellows, but I kept going. The crisis and conflict of doing something new that helped the planet as opposed to going back to a soul-crushing-but-steady job fluttered in my brain like an angry moth, but I kept going.
I am still at a crossroads, deciding whether to courageously pursue a life in the spirit of an entrepreneur, farming or otherwise, or find another job that makes someone else wealthy instead of me. Either way I am very grateful for my time at Urbandale. I highly recommend the experience to anyone wondering if this is the life for them. It is still one of the few decisions I’ve ever made without an ounce of regret.