We went into our workamping gig at White Rabbit knowing that farming is no picnic. The week we were leaving White Rabbit, things got interesting. The State of Florida’s Department of Agriculture threatened to shut down Brian and Valerie’s store for non-compliance. It was an incredibly sad week before we left, and in this interview, taken just two days after the shake down, Brian and Valerie aren’t too thrilled with farming.
Did You Know Food Grows in Dirt and Poo?
Apparently, some city person got uppity about the open air aspect of their store, and sent a letter to the Ag Nazis. Maybe this idiot was there when the pony walked inside (he often begged for treats), or Jerry hanging out by the cooler, or they got eggs that might have had some chicken shit on them (gasp!). We assume it was a new customer who didn’t like knowing exactly where their food came from, and was uncomfortable buying it in such close proximity to dirt, cow shit, and flocks of chickens. It could have also been a cash-strapped government agency just looking for money, and White Rabbit, with all of the attention focused on it thanks to our recent marketing efforts, was an easy target. In either case, everyone loses thanks to government interference.
The gist of it is that the store didn’t meet the requirements for selling non-produce food items — they resold many organic products other than veggies — and thousands of dollars in inventory had to get pulled from the shelves unless Brian agreed to comply by spending thousands of dollars to enclose the building. As he says in the video, doing so would go against the reasons he became a farmer. Meanwhile, Vero Beach locals will have to drive an hour in either direction to find the kind of selection of organic foods that White Rabbit had.
Two months on the farm wasn’t nearly long enough to learn the ins and outs of everything, but we did manage to get a good idea of what life is like as a professional farmer. Growing what you eat from seed, raising animals and “processing” them, and making people happy with your organic products are such huge rewards. Once, when I was working in the store, a regular customer started telling me about his cancer battle. He picked out his dark leafy greens, then he simply said “You guys are saving my life.” I’m not sure there’s a desk job that could give that kind of satisfaction.
Making a Living as an Organic Farmer: I’ll Pass
My own personal discovery while living on the farm was that now I know I definitely do not want to be a full-time farmer. I like the ability to take time off, way too much. I’d be happy with a hobby farm some day, but I don’t want to depend on it entirely for our income. The amount of debt I could see us getting into if we had a real farm is terrifying, and I don’t know that much about farm equipment to be able to maintain it. We just aren’t cut out for full time farming, and until we get the travel bug out of our system, I can’t see being tied down to such a huge commitment. But, we are definitely cut out for a small garden that would feed us, and any guests if we had a resort property, some day. And I do want my Farmall too, darn it!
Farming for Fun and Profit in Winter 08/09
Later this year, barring any unforeseen circumstances, we will go back to the farm for another winter season. Brian and Valerie have offered a small plot on their farm for us to cultivate from the beginning, on which we’ll grow veggies and sell them at the Fort Pierce market under White Rabbit’s name. I like this idea. It will be a challenge for me to farm in Florida soil, but I like the thought of carrying out a project like this from beginning to end.