Daniel Spiro continues his interview series with recent graduates from the School of Adaptive Agriculture.
High atop the list of reasons for going into this challenging and noble profession of food production is surely a love of good, healthy food. For Sarah Tobias, recent graduate of the SAA, it was this love that propelled her to leave her job working in the conventional food-service industry in upstate New York, and move to a farm in Colorado. Having worked at both chain restaurants and small artisinal groceries, she was ready to see where the food really came from. In Colorado she was offered a job managing a farm if she went and got some training, which was what led her to the SAA. As a student in the spring term this year, Sarah brought to the community a critical thinking mind and, as many of her fellow students can attest, strong cooking skills and aspirations. This usually translated into a steady stream of delicious breakfasts, often with pancakes and/or crepes, and big weekly Friday night dinner meals.
Sarah and I talked at the end of the term before she headed back to Colorado. She’s also a gifted illustrator, and the drawings in this post are ones she made of her time at the farm school.
Daniel: Tell me about how you ended up out here in Mendocino County at the SAA.
Sarah: I moved out to Colorado to take advantage of a living opportunity that included farming. I wanted a change of scenery and a friend of mine found a farm that had a work for rent situation that he turned me onto. I was going more for the living situation than the farming aspect but ended up falling in love with the farming aspect. I’d done gardening before, but as an actual farming situation, this was my first experience.
I was working on the farm for my rent and working at a bakery to supplement my income. As much as I really liked the people I worked for and the food we were selling, I realized I didn’t want to be in customer service anymore. So I quit the bakery and my landlady, who owns the farm, offered to me that if you enjoy doing the kind of work that we do here, and you went and got training, I’d give you a job. She gave me John Jeavons’ book and told me to look through it, read about the concept and the context of sustainable farming and we’ll find you some training and. I took a look through the forward of the book, googled sustainable agriculture training and the school page was one of the first that came up.
D: What about working in the food service industry pushed you to farming?
S: Anyone who really loves food who’s forced to work with it in the current industry can see that there’s a crisis that food isn’t really being handled properly. It was comforting to see that there were so many others who were seeing what I see. There’s real hope in that, not just an odd person here and there, but a whole movement seeing the problems and want to do something about it.
The first job I had was at Red Lobster, highly corporate, chain restaurant, omnipresent in America, and it was seafood so it was food that really has to be handled in a certain way for it to be safe to eat. Learning about how those restaurants treat their food, prepare their food, and sell their food, a lot of frozen food, processed food, food I didn’t like but I had to sell it to people as something desirable, and doing that kind of work destroys your self-esteem a little, makes you fee like you don’t have integrity.
D: What have you really enjoyed about the farm school?
S: I really enjoy being able to see so many different styles of farming and ideas, just being introduced to all these concepts. There are so many that I wasn’t even aware they existed! There’s such a wide spectrum in the ecological, sustainable world of agriculture that it’s almost like a choose-your-own-adventure kind of thing. I don’t know if I want to own and operate my own farm, but I do want to stay with agriculture in some way, and seeing that there are a lot of different ways to participate in the ecologically conscious agricultural world – the world that’s trying to change the system – is encouraging.
S: Part of working with dairy operations on the homestead has kept me interested in cheese. We have Nubian goats, and I made a few fresh cheeses when I was there. What attracts me so much to farming is not just the ability to make my own food, but to make my own ingredients. The closer I get to the source of the ingredients, the better the food comes out, If I know the farmer who sold me these vegetatbles, I just think they taste better. Ultimately food is healing and medicine, and that’s what I’m working on.