Two weeks before Thanksgiving this year, we got a message from our friend Max Smith. Max, like many others, is just starting out into full time farming. We first this soon-to-be-friend in the middle of last winter at a dinner hosted at his mom's house. He hosted several of those winter dinners to pitch of his idea of starting a CSA he calls the Missoula Grain and Vegetable Company to potential CSA share-holders, the combination of nerves, excitement, and enthusiasm barely contained in his rail-thin frame.
We were busy starting our own farming operations then, and we decided we couldn't afford the $300 membership-- we were busy with our own investment of seeds, irrigation equipment and fencing and hoped to be successfully growing our own vegetables and grains, anyway. However, over the course of the summer, we developed a certain feeling of kinship with Max as rumors began to float down the valley about this young farmer who was growing an acre of carrots, living in a tipi with three farmhands, and, like us, going through growing pains. In May he offered us some of his young quinoa plants as part of a trial program. We took him up on the offer, and then, late one night when we happened upon him at one of the local dumpsters we frequent to pick up organic food waste for our chickens and compost, we had a long conversation that sealed our friendship. Despite a long list of challenges, including the departure of most of his help to return to school and teaching, Max was glowing with enthusiasm from his first year of really trying it out on his own. He grinned and held out his forearms to show how a season of weeding and pulling carrots had built new muscles, so much so that his right arm was larger than his left.
When we found out a few weeks ago he was offering turkeys for this Thanksgiving to help fund his turkey flock for next year, including an expensive but necessary incubator for eggs, we jumped at the chance to help him. Max is a growing number of beginning farmer friends we have who seem to have a deep intense need to farm, as part of their role in the world. We admire them, working to grow food against tough odds.
Our $90 Thanksgiving share included potatoes, onions, squash, garlic and carrots in addition to the turkey to make our Thanksgiving dinner complete. Of course we could have found a cheaper meal option--even sticking with organically grown foods with a larger travel distance, we could probably have found a better deal. But it's an investment in future potential, as well. Max took out a $28,500 loan to help bankroll his efforts this first year, and the late fall shares were an important part of managing to pay that FSA loan back within the first year. With less than 70,000 farmers in the US under the age of 35 - or well less than one percent of the US population, we all need to do our part to help support beginning farmers.