Sarah Leong | Mount Horeb, WI
My journey into farming began my sophomore year of college. I started thinking a lot about how decisions are made in the world. I wanted to do something that allowed me to align my ethics and morals with my decisions and practices. The next summer, I started looking into an organization called World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms in Greece because I wanted to learn how to grow my own food.
When I met my partner Pat, we decided pretty quickly to take an opportunity to manage a farm together outside of Mount Horeb. The next season we got our own little plot of land and somehow made enough money to reinvest in our business. Each year we have steadily grown our business, and I’ve never felt more fulfilled in my life.
I am in awe of the local food system here in Mount Horeb. Sometimes I can’t believe I’m a part of it. It is one of the most beautiful, amazing things I’ve ever witnessed. My quality of life as a farmer is so much better than I could have ever imagined. I’ve never felt more rich.
In the past, our weekly CSA pick-ups were a celebration. I got to see everyone’s kids and they got to play with our dog, Butternut. It was a space to hang out. Every week, families would take a walk around the farm to see what was growing and check out our animals. We had several members who would bring us baked goods and we would chat for hours, about everything.
We’re going to have to seriously limit those kinds of interactions this year. We’re encouraging people to get their CSA boxes and go, not dilly-dally or chit-chat. We probably aren’t going to have a farm party for our members this year. It’s for everyone’s safety, but it makes me really sad. It definitely takes away from the joy of being a CSA farmer.
I know it’s likely temporary. I know the world doesn’t know how to react right now. I have faith that things are going to change. And even though it may not go back to normal, things will eventually normalize and we will all move forward.
The weather has been really weird. The rain has been really weird. I’m growing in a hoophouse for the first time. I’ve doubled the size of my CSA. I’ve certainly spent more time in front of a screen than I ever imagined. Shifting our farm business 100 percent online has been a chore.
I can’t even count how many times I’ve said, ‘All I want to do is farm,’ because that’s what I like to do. It can be so tough when I know I have to come in and publish our online store for the week, send out a bunch of emails, and read the latest updates related to COVID-19 to make sure I’m relaying updated information to fellow farmers at my farmers’ market. We’ve had to update our practices, procedures and supplies for practically every aspect of our business.
It has been really frustrating. Farmers don’t tend to like being told what to do. We’re independent, free-thinking people. We like to use logic to shape our decisions most of the time, and it can be really difficult living in this hypothetical world where no one knows anything for sure.
I’m terrified that we have doubled the amount of people we’re growing food for each week. It’s a huge responsibility. In years past, we took the slow and steady approach. There was almost no pressure. It felt very easy, comfortable, sustainable. We were very confident, and now I feel so much pressure and I’m nervous about it.
This spring, for the first time since 2016, I think we might have a skimpy first share. That feels uncomfortable. But honestly, I think it’s okay. In some ways, it’s good for our members to realize that farming is not predictable.
The main reason I bought into the CSA model from the very beginning was its principle of shared risk and shared bounty. Farming is inherently risky due to weather, pests, diseases. Even your personal life can dramatically impact your farm life. You just don’t know what’s in store. But with CSA, you have a network of members who have already submitted payment to the farm in advance of the season. They are part of that journey.
Although it’s scary and unsettling at times, it’s been really great to see our farm and other local businesses being able to stay afloat with local food.
-Sarah Leong | Mount Horeb, WI
Sarah’s story is part of Love Wisconsin’s Covid-19 series. Through this series we are featuring shorter stories to offer a time capsule into life in Wisconsin during this extraordinary time.