Getting Paid for What I Love to Do

Reader Contribution by Cam Mather

I planted my first vegetable garden when
I was 16. I have no idea why. I lived in suburbia and was a pretty
typical teenager. I liked rock music, bought a long coat like the one
the members of the band Foreigner wore on the cover of their first
album, couldn’t wait to get my license to make it easier to date girls …
the usual stuff. But for some reason I decided to start a garden in the
solid clay that was left behind after the topsoil had been stripped off
in suburgatory. It was so bad that after rain the soil/clay would form a
solid mass that nothing could break through. I would have been smarter
to have made pots with that clay.

I kept putting in gardens
everywhere that I lived. In the small house that Michelle and I owned in
suburbia years later there was a black walnut tree in the back yard
that poisoned the soil, so we grew our vegetables in the front yard. By
the time I was growing corn in my front yard I knew it was time to move
to the country.

Every year for the past 13 that we’ve lived here
the garden has gotten bigger. And I’ve grown more stuff, some for us and
lots for friends and family. We grow great vegetables and people rave
about them. But really, anyone can give food away and be successful. The
question was could I make money doing it.

We have ramped up our
garlic production over the last 10 years and grew 10,000 heads this year
and managed to sell all of it. We keep selling out, and I’m not sure
what the threshold will be for our garlic.

But all our other
vegetables, that was still another story. We decided with the downturn
in book sales with the economic mess it was time we looked for another
source of income. Our friends Hans and Carolyn at Bon Eco Studio in
Tamworth own the corner lot in Tamworth and offered it us if we wanted
to set up a stand to sell our vegetables. I guess it helped that we have
been giving them veggies for years. And we decided to take them up on
it. We are very grateful for their generosity.

So we started
selling our produce about the middle of July. I had low expectations but
really hoped it would work. Each weekend we sold a bit more as people
discovered us. And it was the greatest summer ever! We weren’t getting
rich but people were paying us for the vegetables we’d grown! What a
concept.

I am very grateful to all our customers. Tamworth has a
group called “The Grassroots Growers” which promotes gardening and local
food, and its members were totally amazing in their support of our
venture this summer.

Michelle put together an e-mail list over the
summer, and each Friday she sent out an email to everyone letting them
know what we had. And people came and it meant a huge amount to us.
Selling something you’ve taken decades to learn how to produce is
extremely validating.

I am really grateful to Heidi, Susan M,
Millie, Carolyn S, Carolyn B, Meredith, Mary Jo, Susan H, Susie, Brian
and Rosie, and everyone else who came out and purchased vegetables from
us this summer.

It’s
given me the confidence to plan on running a CSA next year. With a CSA,
or Community Supported Agriculture, people buy a share of the harvest
and the farmer is guaranteed an income upfront. I’m totally pumped about
it. I’m madly enlarging the gardens, again! I’m finally getting the
greenhouse/cold frame built in the barn foundation. I’m expanding the
raised beds in the barn foundation. I’m ordering more drip irrigation
equipment after the horrendous drought we had this summer. I’m preparing
garden beds like never before. There is a new urgency to it. People are
going to want vegetables next summer, lots of them. I’ve got get
moving. What a great way to spend the fall!

When I think about
earning some money from growing vegetables, planting that first garden
as a teenager is starting to make sense. I keep coming back to Steve
Jobs’ speech to the commencement at Stanford in 2005.

http://news.stanford.edu/news/2005/june15/jobs-061505.html

He talks about the long and windy path to where he ended up and observes:

“Again,
you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them
looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow
connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut,
destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and
it has made all the difference in my life.”

There
was something that was telling me to get my hands dirty and grow some
vegetables every year. I think in a past life I must have been a farmer.
It didn’t matter where I was living or how I was earning a living – 
selling computers, running an electronic publishing business, living in
the suburbs – something at the back of my consciousness said you need to
keep gardening.

It’s like Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars kept
saying… “Cam, this is your destiny, come over to the green side.” (OK, I
know I’m paraphrasing Darth Vader, but really, did you want me to
suggest Darth Vader was guiding me?)

Each year I couldn’t connect
any dots, but now, looking back the dots have been connected and I’m
pretty grateful the way it’s all come together.

I’m totally pumped
about how much money I made growing food this summer. It’s the same
amount I made in 1-½ months of working for a big corporate customer in
the city, and it pretty much took me 6 months to do it. With the amount
of stuff I’ve got to do this fall, and various projects over the winter,
it’ll be 8 or 10 months worth of work next year. I’m hoping we can
double our revenue, which would be the equivalent of 3 months worth of
money earned the old “soul sucking” way.

But I can honestly say I
am getting further and further away from making that comparison. My real
income earning days are over. I’m into my “eeking out a living” days
now. And it’s pretty awesome. I stare out my window as I write this and
I’ve got about 100 things I need to do before the snow flies. No 100
things I WANT to do before the snow flies. That includes planting 12 to
15,000 heads of garlic. Yikes!  Enough lolly gagging. I’ve got to get
cracking!

Photo by Cam Mather. For more information about Cam or his books please visit www.cammather.com or www.aztext.com