By India Fleming-Klink, Community Fellow
Lately, people have been asking me the same, dreaded question that every young person in their 20s is asked at the close of a chapter and beginning of the next: what will you be doing next? So, I’m writing this blog post so I have something to refer to people when they ask me this question again… just kidding!
This year has been filled with many growing pains– both physical and emotional (if you don’t have a foam roller and you're a farmer, get one!!). But it was also filled with immense joy and deep fulfillment.
One of these joys came very unexpectedly: Geezer Farm.
Jones Gardens (my Community Action Year work site) was looking to expand our growing operation and acquired a plot of land across the train tracks from where our current garden is located. As expected, we were met with challenges and difficulties from the city and, ultimately, we were not able to grow on the land. Though we hope to carry out this vision of expansion by next growing season, in the interim we began growing at Geezer Farm.
About ten years ago, Norm Shafer converted his backyard into what is now Geezer Farm, a quarter-acre CSA farm right outside of Staunton city limits. Norm is liked and known by everyone in Staunton, especially those connected with AMI – as he always says, “some of my best friends are from AMI.” After the second year of the pandemic, Norm decided to retire from farming.
Having heard that Jones Gardens was looking for a place to expand, he offered his growing space to us right away, without any hesitation. Growing on and tending to his land meant that we had access to all of his tools (BSC, hoes, shovels, rakes, and digging forks), supplies (drip tape, row cover, seeds), infrastructure (wash/pack area, High Tunnel, Cat Tunnels, walk-in fridge), and Norm's invaluable farming knowledge– all for FREE.
During this past summer, I spent all of my time growing food at Geezer Farm for Jones Gardens, and Norm quickly became a very dear friend of mine.
Because of his giving nature and heart, he was outside with me every day, telling me fun stories from his past and sharing his knowledge about farming and starting a self-run/owned business. Norm also quickly learned how much of a farming nerd I am, and listened to me talk about my hopes and dreams of contributing to a more just and equitable world through growing and sharing food with people. I looked forward to coming to work every day and was in constant awe of the beautiful vegetables we grew and the land we were stewarding. One morning in the field, kind of out of the blue, Norm said, “I’ve been thinking, and if you want, you could stay here and run the farm next year.”
I have known what's next for me for a while now, but have been slow to tell people, as I needed time to feel fully confident in this new venture. I wanted to have all the moving pieces in place and feel a sense of certainty. I keep having to remind myself, though, that it's okay to have some uncertainty – in fact, it's necessary in farming. As I thought more and more about next year, I kept coming back to the feeling that I am not ready to leave the Blue Ridge Mountains that have come to feel like home. There are relationships that I have built here that I want to deepen and work I want to continue working on. And so, managing Geezer Farm has become more and more intriguing for a couple reasons.
First, Norm offered to mentor me along the way, offering farming knowledge around crop planning, sharing his CSA clientele list, and providing access to his tools and land. This felt like an opportunity I could not pass up. Second, having an extra year of farming experience and gaining new experience as a farm manager would provide me with meaningful opportunities to continue my learning, growth, and development as a farmer and person. As a whole, running Geezer Farm will allow me to continue to gain the skills and knowledge, and experience necessary to pursue my dreams of contributing to a more just and equitable world around me through farming and food systems.
So, if you’re interested in being a CSA member next spring, let me know!