Thoughts of a Wannabe Farmer – Three Years Later

In About Me by James3 Comments

1,095 days, or three years ago, I began exploring the idea of becoming a farmer. This is the annual update of where that exploration has taken me in the past year, and what I plan to do going into the next year of the journey. 2015 was a great year personally and in the realm of my journey into farming.  Last year, when I wrote Thoughts of a Wannabe Farmer – Two Years Later I ended the post with a commitment to give more attention to review and reflection.  To be able to do this you have to be committed to keeping records and doing weekly and monthly reviews. I achieved this by using David Allan’s Getting Things Done methodology via Evernote. What happened in 2015? First, events that are farming related: I read and published book reviews for 15 different books (all can be read on this site). I started making homemade yogurt and bone broth. I successfully managed a 64 plant indoor-hydroponic kit. I started and led a year-long project where a group would make homemade soy sauce and paste starting from planting the soybean plants (more on that later). I traveled to China for the first time and stayed with a Farm Family for a week (more on that later). I found a place to apprentice next year in the U.S. (more on that later.) Non farm related events in 2015: I got married and quit my job. Usually “I got married and quit my job” doesn’t pair well, but… more on that later.

Highlights From 2015 

The Kong Project


The first big highlight from 2015 is The Kong Project. I had the idea of learning to make traditional Korean soy sauce and soy paste from start to finish. I wanted to start with planting the soy seed and follow all the steps to turn the seed into fermented soy sauce, thus it became a year-long project. We planted in June and spent the summer months mostly weeding and pruning. We harvested at the end of October, and made meju during the first week of December. Currently the meju is undergoing the fermentation process. In February we’ll meet one more time to put the meju into a salt brine where it will continue to ferment for another three months before producing the first batch of soy sauce. The entire process – seed to sauce – will end up being a year-long process. So far the project has been a success. When I first came to Hansol Farm three years ago and had my first farming experience I would have never imagined I’d be leading a year-long project at the same farm in three years time. I’m very thankful for the opportunity Kim Byung Soo and his wife Euna have given me over the years. To read about the project click on the Kong Project link at the top of this section.

China and the Sun Family Farm 

IMG_8559The next big highlight from 2015 was visiting China for the first time. I’d been living in the region for nearly seven years and had never traveled to China.  Considering it would be my last year living so close to China I figured it was time to go.  I hemmed and hawed about where to go and what to do and eventually purchased a China WWOOF membership because I wanted to experience a Chinese farm. China WWOOF I soon discovered is not nearly as developed as Korea WWOOF but after scouring the website and contacting ten different hosts two of them replied.  They both said they’d be willing to take me but I needed to be able to speak Chinese otherwise it wouldn’t work. I wasn’t able to learn Chinese, but I was able to get my friend Kota Fukuyama (who speaks Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and English!) and his wife Sachi to join me for the adventure. I spent about two weeks in China, and before heading to the Sun Family Farm – which was hands down the highlight of the trip – I spent a few days in Chengdu city which is the capital city of the Sichuan province. After Chengdu, the Fukuyama’s and myself headed to Jiuzhaigou National park which has been described as China’s most scenic national park. It lived up to the hype. Ultimately though, as I mentioned, the stay at the Sun Family farm was by far the most memorable part of the trip.  Kota was amazing, fluently switching back and forth between three different languages and was a great travel companion. We both made it onto local T.V. and both left the farm with renewed inspiration for the future. The Sun family were so warm and welcoming and spending only a week with them left me with rejuvenated inspiration for the farming lifestyle. Read about the experience Here.

Shady Grove Ranch 

11169555_1066122473415405_7018661587621721369_o-2The final farming/dream related highlight of 2015. Going into this year I knew to continue the dream of becoming a farmer I would need to find a mentor. This means I would need to find an internship or apprenticeship. Three years of reading about it, writing about it, and periodically experiencing it needed to shift to actually doing it full-time, every day. It was time to make the leap. One of, if not the biggest leap in my life thus far. For a long time I had my sights aimed on Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm which is probably the most famous farm in America – go big or go home, right? They receive over 200 applicants every year for their 4 month internship program. Of the initial applicants they choose 40 who are invited to the farm for a two-day check out work trial, and of those 40 they end up picking interns for the following year. The competition is stiff to say the least. Well, I nor my wife Anna made the first cut. I was a bit disappointed but I knew the odds weren’t good so I immediately moved on and placed an ad for Anna and myself on Eager Farmer which funny enough is run by Joel Salatin’s daughter-in-law Sheri. A few weeks after placing the ad we were contacted by the Cadmans of Shady Grove Ranch and started a dialogue. After several back-and-forths via email, and a lengthy phone conversation it was decided that we’d be heading to Shady Grove Ranch in East Texas to begin our apprenticeship as farmers. Despite my initial disappointment of not making the Polyface cut it turns out that this could be an even greater opportunity for Anna and myself.  Shady Grove Ranch is a fully operating and successful pastured meats ranch, farming exactly the way I want to. They are still small compared to a place like Polyface, they are still growing, so there is a lot of opportunity for a couple like Anna and myself to immediately add value to their ranch, and if the fit is right and we find ways to expand the operation it could turn into something more than an apprenticeship – very much like what Polyface does with some of their satellite farms. We’ve gotten to know the Cadmans the past couple of months and they are a wonderful family who farm with integrity and thoughtfulness – plus they’re engineers so they can build stuff. We’re extremely grateful to have made the connection with them. Check them out at Shady Grove Ranch.

Final Thoughts of a Wannabe Farmer 

aj2016 is going to be a milestone year in the journey to becoming a farmer and pursuing my dream.  As I mentioned in the opening paragraph “I got married and quit my job.”  Usually you don’t want to be quitting your job as soon as you get married, but for me the second half of that reads “…in order to start my next career.” Always better than “…and signed up for state sanctioned donations.”  Some people are pursuing their dream by themselves, and others, like myself, are doing it with a spouse or partner. When you add in the extra person it will make or break your dream – especially if your dream looks nothing like their dream. This is why it is essential to have conversations and planned meetings with your spouse where you talk about and define your values and lifestyle goals – hopefully these conversations are happening well before marriage.  Anna and I have been pretty good with that, in fact that’s what we’ve been doing for the past three years leading up to this major transition point. Not only have we been actively communicating on a regular basis about the farming lifestyle but we’ve been experiencing it the best we can together. Two years ago we spent our “vacation” doing a 5 week internship in Australia together. That experience taught us a lot about what it might be like to live in a rural farming area, along with working with cattle everyday. In addition, Anna has been managing a CSA and her office is an hour outside of the city on a farm, where she works with… farmers. Anna has actually had more on farm time than myself and I’m grateful for that because this crazy idea was mine, so it’s even more important that she arrives at a place where she can take ownership of the dream as well.  The more of an insider she feels she is, and not just somebody following my dream, the higher the odds are that it’s going to work.  There are plenty of different dreams that can be pursued among spouses, but the dynamics of “family farm” will not allow for anything less than both people being fully on board with the same vision. I’m sure the same goes for any other small family business. Among all the great things that have happened to me over these past several years during my exploration of becoming a farmer by far the greatest thing that happened was marrying Anna. I’m very grateful to have found somebody like Anna who is so supportive, intelligent, and has such a wonderful sense of life – and I’m thrilled that I can say “my dream” has become “our dream.”

In 2016 I’ll continue to post on this blog about our journey of becoming farmers and achieving our dreams. I’ll probably be writing less book reviews and more on actual first hand farming experience. Perhaps 2016’s theme will be that of the apprentice. Thanks for everyone who has read, commented, and supported me on this journey and I wish you all the best in pursuing your own dreams and turning them into reality.

Now matters more than any other time in your life, because it’s what you are doing today that is determining who you’re becoming, and who you’re becoming will always determine the quality and direction of your life.”

~ Hal Elrod, author of The Miracle Morning


  1. Addye Thole

    Congratulations James and Anna!!!!!
    What a life learning & changing journey these past three years have been for you both!
    To watch you challenge yourself and pursue a dream and go to other parts of the world to experience how other cultures live their lives has been amazing for me.

    You and Anna are an inspiration because of your unwavering zest for life!!
    I am blessed that you two are in my life and my hope for you both is that you continue your journey together with open hearts and minds and enjoy the ride!!

  2. Author

    Thanks for reading and always showing great support. It’s nice to have people rooting for you – especially your mom. 🙂

  3. Pingback: Thoughts of a Wannabe Farmer – Four Years Later | I Wanna Farm

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