Farmer Heroes | August 7, 2005

Kristen Kordet: “I am a farmer now because I don’t want to be anything else.”

Madison, Wis.

Upon graduating from college in 1999, Kristen Kordet never thought about farming as a possible career option. Like most of her peers, she thought she’d land a meaningful job related to her environmental studies major at school and tackle the challenges of improving natural resources management.

Sure enough, her first job out of school as an environmental planner enabled her to put into practice the things she learned at college. What she didn’t expect, however, was how this job would set in her in a different direction pursuing a very different life.

“There was something mysterious and exciting about what those farmers did. I started wondering about soil. I found myself wanting to know how to grow food. It seemed like an important thing to learn.”

Somewhat to her surprise, the people with whom she was most in contact about environmental planning and resource management were farmers. “I talked to farmers about their land. I asked them not to plant too close to the streams and to plant grasses to trap chemicals that flowed from their fields into the water. I was the ‘expert,’ whatever that meant, and I thought the farmers could learn a lot from me.”

Little by little, Kristen became fascinated with the farmers she came to know and with their close connection to the land, water and soil – things she cared deeply about. “There was something mysterious and exciting about what those farmers did. I started wondering about soil. I found myself wanting to know how to grow food. It seemed like an important thing to learn.”

Increasingly, her work as an environmental planner seemed further and further removed from the place she wanted to be: on the land. So she decided she would begin to look for a farm that would employ her and teach her how to grow.

“By any standard, I was unemployable. To my surprise, there are farmers out there, great farmers, who hire people like me. They accepted the challenge and put a hoe in my hand. They put me on a tractor. They sent me under the hood of a pick-up. And so I learned things. Farming, yes; more importantly, patience, attention, persistence, forgiveness — mostly, the ability to forgive myself. There is no college degree that prepares someone for a life in farming. It is not a career or a job; it is truly a life.”

Hired as an intern at Roxbury Farm in New York, Kristen began her career as a farmer at age 23. Her passion then drew her to the Midwest and the CRAFT (Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training) program managed by the CSA Learning Center at Angelic Organics in Rockford, IL. The CRAFT program links prospective farmers like Kristen to farmers who teach and mentor young people how to farm, everything from basic farming skills, to whole farm and business planning, to start-up and connections to land, capital and markets.

“I made lots of mistakes, but I was driven and I loved working on the farms. I had the experience of having everything to lose when I had nothing to lose. I bruised my knees. My hands calloused over. I bruised my ego. I had graduated college at the top of my class. I used to be an expert. Farming brought me to my knees.”

In 2004, after completing the CRAFT program, Kristen and her business partner Jake Hoeksema started their own vegetable and pastured poultry farm. Blue Moon Community Farm produces 40 different kinds of vegetables on four acres of land they rent on the outskirts of Madison, WI. In their first year of operation, Kristen and Jake started a CSA-farm (Community Supported Agriculture) with 20 members; in 2005 they doubled the CSA membership to 40 and sell at two weekly farmers markets in Madison.

Kristen’ s vision for the farm is to expand the number of acres and members of the CSA. With land values in southern Wisconsin reaching as high as $30,000 per acre, there are serious obstacles for young farmers like Kristen who want to be America’s next generation of family farm food producers.

Undaunted by the challenges before her, Kristen is determined to keep on going – just as family farmers have always done.

“I am a farmer now, because I don’t want to be anything else. I’ m not so much a grower but a witness to growth and beauty. Every day I am challenged and reminded how much I have to learn. I’ve always loved the words of Kentucky poet-farmer Wendell Berry who said ‘If we do not live where we work and when we work, then we are wasting our lives and our work too.’ The best way to learn farming is to live like a farmer. Let it soak into your pores and fill your senses. Let it seduce you.”

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