Some Thoughts On Being a Tenant Farmer

Tenant farmer:

n: a farmer who raises crops on land owned by someone else.

A main part of my vision for Herb Angel is growing herbs.  A huge part of my vision for a happy life is having a beautiful garden and tending lots of plants.  The thing is, I don’t own land.  In the last 6 years I have lived in 4 different places.  Every place had a garden to some degree.   But as they say, Rome wasn’t build in a day.  And gardens certainly aren’t either.

Right now I rent a place on a spacious lot in the city, with mature trees, chickens and established fruit trees.  It is lovely.  And small.  And all those mature trees do not a garden make.  I am blessed with the opportunity to garden at two other places.  One spot is on a small mushroom farm.  Dreamy!  Beds that have been tended for years and a seemingly never ending supply of mushroom laden mulch.  But it ain’t mine.  Nor do I have anything other than a friendly agreement with the person who lives there.  The other garden I tend is in town.  The property is owned by a lovely couple who head to northern climes for the summer.  They have graciously allowed me to use the land they don’t.  Again, we operate on a handshake level.

A friend of mine operates a home based agricultural business.  Over the years she has invested tremendously in the space – putting up a hoophouse and installing a commercial kitchen for example.  And she rents.  I asked her once if she had reservations about investing so much in something she didn’t own she said: “no matter where you are, you have to do what you love”.  How inspirational!

The nature of gardening and farming is such that, with tending, it gets better every year.  As with any relationship, it deepens over time.  There is a certain vulnerability when someone else owns the land you are in relationship with.  Or when you are a transient gardener, in some ways you aren’t reaping the full benefit of you labor.  This is when renter’s mentality can kick in.  In those moments, I remember the words of my friend.  Then I do what I love.

Sometimes owning land seems impossible and out of reach.  The average age for farmers in America is 56. Land prices have risen to a prohibitive level for many.  So many young people have crippling student debt. What does an aspiring farmer do?  (See this recent NY times article)  Fear not gentle reader! The solution lies within the problem. We are creative! We are resilient!  Here’s  just a couple examples: here, here, here.

For my piece, I will continue doing what I love.  I have left gardens behind and imagine I will again, hoping I leave it better than I found it.

 

-angel

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