From a very young age, I wanted to farm. The dream was impossible, of course, so I fell into a soul-sucking job within Corporate America. It was supposed to be temporary, but kids and mortgage caused twelve years to pass by in the blink of an eye. The mid-life crisis triggering layoff was one of the best things that ever happened to me. Rather than get another job, I spent a year writing a book. It quickly became obvious that writing would never feed my family, so after a year of floundering, Tiny Farm Duluth came into being.
Following a series of iterations and failures, such as producing on borrowed land that wound up being lost to a real estate sale, I settled on maximizing the resource we already had: our own lot within the city of Duluth. Tiny Farm Duluth is an urban farm focused almost exclusively upon our family’s 50 X 140-foot urban lot within the Lakeside neighborhood. Space is at a premium here, so we must focus on crops that are both profitable and can be grown on a small land base. Thus, we focus on microgreens, a premium salad mix, radishes, turnips, and sometimes carrots and baby beets. You’ll find us at the market all season long, where you can also find prints of my wife’s artwork. Shawna Gilmore is one of Duluth’s rising stars in the art community, so she naturally serves as the farm’s visual propagandist in addition to her indispensable role in packing microgreens twice each week. Our entire household economy relies on the two of us collaborating and working together, while building community outward in the process.
Again and again, I’ve discovered that the problem is the solution. For example, a small amount of land required us to focus on small crops with a higher profit margin. Due to a lack of capital, as well as my wife’s unwillingness to move out of town, we were forced to work with resources on hand rather than taking on a quarter million dollars in debt to build a more conventional farm. I’ve learned that smaller can indeed be better. There’s much less stress by eschewing debt, and profitability can be achieved almost immediately with short-cycle crops.
My advice to young would-be farmers is to start today, and start small. If you have no land, grow produce in your parent’s yard. The goal is to learn before you earn. This isn’t rocket science, but it does require getting out there and failing. Eventually, you’ll become more proficient and discover what it is you like to grow. Furthermore, intern with a more established farm. Finally, to all the eaters out there, thank you! We couldn’t do this without you. The more of your budget that you allocate to high quality, nutrient-dense, local food, the more we can produce. Even this tiny little farm, Tiny Farm Duluth, can produce far more food than we are now. Far more than I can even imagine at the moment, I’m certain, as demand increases and resources come in, triggering further efficiencies and ingenuity. Additionally, this results in more stable farm families, who are happier, less stressed, and more secure. This, of course, leads to greater food security, health, and happiness, for all.
Thank you kindly,