Saturday, December 28, 2013

So You Want to be a Farmer? What I Learned My First Year of Running My Own Farm!

Tara harvesting haricots verts in September.


In March 2013, I wrote a post for Strictly Nutritious explaining why I had left my corporate job to pursue a career working in the dirt... with plants. The post was published on the eve of my first season of running my own farm, Serafina Says Farm - a vegetable, superfood and wellness farm in Canton, Connecticut. Today I'm back to share all the unexpected revelations I had during my first season!

I was prepared for the hard physical labor, the dirt and bugs, and even for the long days of monotonous labor that ended in happy exhaustion. I had adjusted to these aspects of farming during my apprenticeship. The demands on a worker bee, however, differ from those on the solo-preneur starting and running her own company. During my first season as a farmer, the physical labor became secondary to the transformation my thinking underwent. Physically, yes, I changed - I put on 7 lbs. of muscle this summer. But my greatest transformation has been in how I view myself and the work I do.

Napoli and Dragon carrots ready for CSA pick-up

Revelation #1: How do I define success?

The big question everyone asks me is this - "Was your first year of farming a success?". Answering this question, however, is not so simple. What does it mean for me to be "successful"?

In the past, I measured success based on the metrics provided to me by the institution I was a part of. In school, it was grades given to me by teachers. In the office, it was projects I was assigned to, the reviews and promotions I was given, and the way my financial compensation grew over time (with a big emphasis on financial compensation). In life, success and progress are usually measured via a comparison to others. Suddenly, as a start-up farmer, I had no metrics by which to measure success. I had to really ask the question - "What does success mean to me?".

Tara washing parsnips, October 2013.
Answering this question led me to yet another question - "What do I value?". Do I value money? Time spent with family and friends? Time spent with plants? Do I value helping others achieve greater health? Do I value growing and offering beautiful, nutritious, delicious produce? I had never asked myself these questions. Someone else had always told me how to define success. The realization that I have the ability to shape my own metrics for what a fulfilling life looks like was a completely new concept.

Yes, my first year was a success based on the metrics that I lived each day full of joy, that I continually learned about plants, food, business and health, that my farm customers ate very well, and that both my health coaching clients and farm clients experienced improved health and lived more authentic lives with greater vitality. But... this is still a work in progress. For my second growing year, I am learning to set concrete metrics to lead to a clear vision of what personal and business success means to me.

Revelation #2: Forget the To-Do List!

What does it mean to be productive? Is productivity working 60 hours a week? Is it being connected 24/7? As an entrepreneur, it is too easy to think that one is never working enough, as there is always more work to do. Halfway through the summer, I had an epiphany - I am a farmer... I don't have a To-Do List. I have a This-Is-All-Happening-In-Warp-Speed-Right-Now-So-Just-Try-To-Hold-On-The-Best-You-Can List. Life happens without me. Plants grow without me (and can I just add an aside here?: Hallelujah! Thank you for this miracle!). So even though I have a long list of tasks as a result of my business plan, life is still happening, pointing me towards the most important task - making sure the vegetables on my farm grow into a delicious harvest.

Which task do you think takes priority?

The potato field on July 4, 2013.

After one season, my business is no longer run on a static business plan-generated to-do list, because following a to-do list does not ensure that the required end result will occur (I suspect this was always the case, but I never realized it before being 100% responsible for the end result). Now my weekly activities are directed by the following dynamic considerations - the weather, bugs, weeds, plants, the external aspect of the business, the internal maintenance work and then the annual business plan.

The result of following a more dynamic list dictated by external circumstances versus my own internal plans has changed the way I work. First, I am more aware of what is happening around me, and I react more quickly to situations and make decisions immediately. Second, I procrastinate less. I have witnessed firsthand the destruction that not making quick decisions has on a farm. For example, in June I noticed squash bug eggs on my summer squash. I started to pick them off, but they kept appearing and I realized I needed to take more drastic actions. I researched the various options available to me, but I was unsure as to which approach to choose and therefore, did nothing. By the end of July, my summer squash were gone, and I had lost the winter squash crop too. I learned then that it is better to make the wrong decision than to make no decision at all.

Cherry Tomato harvest, September 2013

Revelation #3: Perfection does not exist.

I recognized one reason that was holding me back from making quick decisions - I was worried about not making the right decision. I didn't want to do things the wrong way. Well, perfection does not exist in nature, and certainly not in human beings. The realization that I will never be a perfect farmer translated to me realizing I will never be perfect in anything I do. What a liberating realization! Releasing myself from the expectation of perfection has freed me to take more risks, to create more, and most importantly, to have more fun with work! After all, if I am not having fun, then what is the point?

By mid-August, I was exhausted from the long weeks. And I realized that my mindset was similar to what it had been while I was in my corporate job - I was thinking and reacting the same way I had while going to work in an office every day. I asked myself: what was the point of changing careers, countries and leaving my comfy, cushy life if my own mindset didn't change?. From that point forward, I started working out of joy rather than out of obligation.

I realized that changing circumstances does not necessarily change a person. We have to be ready to change ourselves.

Tara selling microgreens, sprouts, wheatgrass and artisanal raw food at the winter Coventry Regional Farmers' Market, November 2013

Revelation #4: Transformation is liberating.

As 2013 wraps up and I start my planning for 2014, I see the steps I took this past year as an integral step along the path towards living my own authentic life as a steward of the land. To live authentically means to live liberated from conceptions, judgments and the expectations of who you should be. It means to be present in each moment, embodying courage and joy, and living in peaceful harmony with one's environment. Leaving my corporate job to follow my dreams was one step towards living authentically, but the plants and the world still have much to teach me, and I still have much to experience and realize about myself.

A few months ago in an interview, I was asked at what point during my first season did I feel like I had arrived? As a farmer, I do not feel that I have arrived, yet that is OK with me because the realizations and tranformation I have undergone this year have made the journey much more fun!

Tara Tranguch is the owner, farmer and health coach behind Serafina Says Farm - a vegetable, superfood and wellness farm in Canton, Connecticut. If you would like to join the farm's Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Farm Share for the 2014 season, or you would like to learn about her Wellness Workshops, sign up for the farm's newsletter at or contact Tara at

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