Avant Gardens in Crozet, Virginia
UPDATE! We were delighted to receive an email from Allison at the end of her first growing season. Here's what she had to say:
"My season has been wonderful. I'm enjoying myself, and have produced just enough to sell at two markets per week. I have 27 hens and about a half acre in veggies. I use my shovel and think of you often! Am making plans to continue on next year at this same property." -- Sept. 21, 2015
And in a p.s. a few weeks later:
"A busy week, planting garlic, cover crop, taking out most of the tomatoes. It is a beautiful time of year and am so thankful for everything." -- Oct. 12, 2015
We're thankful, too, for Allison and all the other women who are passionate, courageous and resourceful enough to farm on their own! Being even a small part of the lives of these women enriches ours, immeasurably :-)
Allison Jewett visited our booth at Monticello on a rainy day in 2014, her passion for farming in no way dampened by the weather. We reconnected again at the 2015 Pa. Association for Sustainable Agriculture conference and asked her to share her story, which is even more inspirational than we'd realized . . .
I'm Allison Jewett...I'll be 39 in May!
I've long felt at home while outside working in the yard. When I was very young, I spent many hours harvesting acorns into a frisbee. As an adult, I explained to myself and others that perhaps I was a farmer in a former life, or that if I lived in a previous century I could have had the life of a farmer...
Meanwhile, I made my way on a career path in another direction - classical music. I landed my dream job playing flute and piccolo in the Houston Symphony. A few years thereafter I began to experience irregularities in the fine motor control of my facial muscles. I was diagnosed with focal dystonia and resigned my position.
I felt heartbroken and defeated. In time, I came to appreciate the opportunity to savor other joys in life. I lived a year in Sweden where I immersed myself in training Aikido, a peaceful martial art. This helped me find a reservoir of peace, strength and courage inside myself. While abroad, I ended up working on a vegetable farm and immediately had this incredible sense of relief, knowing I could feel passionate about a new career - as a farmer!
I decided to return to the US and work a season-long farm apprenticeship to learn the ropes. Then, I searched for land to start a small farm of my own and am now embarking on my first growing season! I am excited about providing organic produce for my local market, and supporting and inspiring folks to grow more of their own food. With a spirit of adventure, I am experimenting with ways to grow food without tilling, dependence on fossil fuel or disposable plastics. I'm proud to be unconventional, hence my chosen farm name, 'Avant Gardens.'
So, for any woman who wants to pursue farming and do so alone, I say, "Go for it!" For me, solitude and independence feels quite peaceful, and I really enjoy working according to my own rhythm from day to day. Even though I have decided to run the business myself, I know I'm not truly alone. I've assembled a team around me that can fill in my gaps and answer my questions. If there is anything I can't do myself, I ask for help! Sometimes, I feel frustrated when there are some things I don't know how to do, or if my body says "no" to certain jobs or long hours. I don't believe in cutting corners, so using ergonomic movements and properly designed tools is an important part of my self-care plan. One of my least favorite parts of farming is doing work in the cold, so I make sure to invest in high quality work clothes, gloves and boots.
Ultimately, farming, like playing music, is possible for me because it brings me joy. I couldn't have spent thousands of hours practicing flute if I didn't love it. Likewise, I believe it is my enjoyment of working with nature that will make me a successful farmer. For any person who feels passionate about something, there are no limits to what can be achieved!
-- March, 2015