The Life of a Gardener

When it began to rain this afternoon, I gave up weeding and moved onto the porch to read Growing a Farmer: How I Learned to Live Off the Land, written by restaurateur-turned-farmer  Kurt Timmermeister.  It’s a story that’s popular with publishing houses and readers these days: an urban businessman in Seattle, who once helped raise a few vegetables in his parents’ garden, decides to leave the city behind to earn a living on the 13 infertile acres he purchased on Vashon Island.  The learning curve is steep;  the author prevails.   I never get enough of narratives like these.

One of the things I like about this book is that Timmermeister moved to his land 20 years ago.  He writes from the perspective of someone who has committed to a piece of land long enough to write about his successes and failures with the understanding that only time allows.  He’s gratifyingly honest about all the things that can go wrong when you set out to plant an orchard, or tend a garden, or raise livestock.  Part of becoming a gardener is accepting that every year there will be disappointments.  Yesterday, I stood with a gardener in Morrisburg, Ontario, who was fretting that the Cinderella pumpkin seeds he’d planted have not germinated.  The rest of his 1/2 acre garden is magnificent and well on its way to an abundant harvest,  but he couldn’t stop staring at the bare dirt where pumpkin vines should have been. Timmermeister writes about planting 130 apple trees one year, most of which he promptly lost to deer browse.  He’s been on an annual  program of replacing trees lost to one hardship or another ever since.

We had our own disappointments at home this year.  The eight varieties of heirloom tomatoes and three varieties of specialty peppers we carefully selected from a catalog and babied in seed flats in the house all spring withered up and died right before planting time.  I’m blaming the potting soil we used, but who knows?  We bought replacement plants and vowed to try again next spring.


2 Comments on “The Life of a Gardener”

  1. Ellen Beberman says:

    I heard the author interviewed a few weeks ago. A bit heartbreaking for those of us who would like to make a living selling produce: Timmermeister was not able to find any type of veggie production that was profitable, even given his close proximity to Seattle and its substantial population. If I remember correctly, hand-crafted cheese made from his own cows’ milk turned out to be the best product for him to sell, and that was sold mainly to high end restaurants.

  2. Jill Breit says:

    Timmermeister has tried selling vegetables, milk, meat, and finally settled on value-added products for best profitability. His conclusion was that you can’t compete with the supermarket for basic commodities. The value-added product for the milk from his Jersey cows is cheese. The value-added product for the fruits and vegetables and meats he produces is to host weekly dinners at his farm, charging $100 per person. The entire menu uses ingredients from Kurtwood Farms, with the exception of flour, salt and pepper. He brings cooks in to prepare the meals. Timmermeister reports that the weekly cash flow from the dinners is key to keeping the operation solvent.

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