It's all about getting your hands dirty

I am not only impressed with what you have accomplished, but with your non-commercial, “roll up your shirt sleeves” pass-it-on approach.

— Brenda

Over the last two years there’s been a surge in urban food production and raising citified farm animals. That’s the good news. The bad news that there’s been a backlash. Why? Because folks aren’t following one simple rule – the golden rule. We’ll talk about this unfortunate growing problem (unkempt food in the front yard, discarded animals in shelters) in a future post.

Another somewhat unsettling trend that we are seeing is what farming friend referred to as “green status.” Folks shelling out green to be green – even to the point where they are hiring folks to plant, raise and harvest food for them.

Here’s a recent article > Farmers-for-Hire: The New Status Symbol?

For one thing, this service isn’t cheap. Our question is, if the money runs out will folks be able to take care of their own gardens – themselves?

We know that folks need a bit of help now and again, but we like to see folks “get down and dirty” on their own. Why pay somebody to get “farm hands” (like those in the photo) when you can get your own. That’s just buying your way up another ladder.

What do you think? Does it take “green to be green?” What do you think about this latest “Farmer for Hire” business trend.

Running a for-profit business vs encouraging people develop alternatives to consumerism — how do the economics of urban homesteading/farming work out?

For the Record

Remember that TV piece from the Food Network that aired just a bit ago? It was a pretty neat little piece but there’s a slight problem. Folks seem to think we hit the big time selling our produce and canned goods to Whole Foods, etc. To be honest that came as bit of a shock to us too! You see, that’s not entirely true. It’s true we hosted these guests and the chefs did whip up a dinner from the garden using the cob and solar ovens but you have to remember it’s TV and we are NOT selling or ever going to sell to Whole Foods, etc. We haven’t sold out and are only selling locally – via our front porch farmstand.

Hope that clear things up for the record.

Have a great holiday everyone and hope ya’ll are digging in the dirt getting your gardens in gear for summer!


  1. Marcia says:

    I enjoyed watching that Food Network piece to get a closer glimpse of your homestead. But when they talked about selling to Whole Foods I had to giggle. It made for “exciting TV”, but I couldn’t help but think that they didn’t know you guys very well.

  2. adam mclane says:

    Got a giggle out of thinking about people “going green” by hiring someone to plant a veggie garden. Rich people never cease to be a source of my amusement.

  3. heather says:

    I think people forget that you have built your homestead up over a long period of time and that there are at least 4 adults that are there working the homestead – even though you do stress these facts.
    People want to do everything at once and get burned out. Start slow and establish one thing at a time based on where you are in your life and build it from there based on where you want to be. Thank you for all your help and encouragement and for blazing a trail.

  4. Laura @ Laura Williams' Musings says:

    Farmers for hire isn’t too far fetched as that is what the American food system basically is now. The farmers are selling all their crops to corporations that then package and ship it all over the U.S., etc. But for a private citizen to hire someone to make a personal food garden for them is a little too much. What we call ritzy neighborhoods have the “gardeners” taking care of their lawns, etc. so I guess this is a new trend for them to do.

    For me though, I prefer dirt under my fingernails and between my toes. 🙂

  5. Jed says:

    I’m actually quite impressed, supportive, and thrilled to see this new brand of entrepreneurs. Though I do my own gardening, with my own dirty hands, who am I to say how another should conduct there life and property. Sure, every other house in my middle income neighborhood seems to be able to afford the “luxury” of lawn cutting, I simply choose to cut my own grass and live and let live (though the use of frequent use of lawn chemicals is a tough one to let roll off my back.)

    I’m always nervous about that whole casting the first stone and glass houses deals. To say that having someone tending your backyard garden for your personal food consumption as being somehow unacceptable, then, who is to say that going to a farmer’s market is alright. Aren’t you by default, maybe counting inappropriately on some else. Wouldn’t we be a little to fundementalist if the call was for only eating what you grow (or buy from some group sanctioned and approved venue)?

    Just my thoughts, nothing more, nothing less.

  6. Jenny says:

    This kind of service, setting up and maintaining vegetable gardens is just starting here in Tasmania and I am not sure how well they are going. I think it is great that people have been inventive enough to come up with the idea. It seems an expensive way to get home grown produce but the large estates of times gone by had gardeners on the payroll taking care of large and very productive vegetable gardens so I don’t see much difference.

    Of course if people can no longer afford the gardener they may not be able to maintain it themselves but they may have gleaned enough information to keep it going if they are determined. If the gardeners took on a teaching role that would be a great service, like having a knowledgable neighbour popping on to give advice.

  7. Chris says:

    There is a middle ground here on the “farmer/gardener for hire” here. Upon pre-purchasing our 1950’s little retirement cottage, the home inspector said, “you just need to have your yard graded so the swail of rain does not continue to run towards the foundation of your house. Since we loved the little place, we thought “no big deal”. Well, it was BIG deal. We sought out an landscaper specializing in organics to do the job, a young man who had his own organic farm and sold at the farmer’s market as a teen. We thought we were doing a good thing in supporting him as he venturing to expand into organic landscaping in a tourist area. After the job was finished, we maintained his services for a few years and I shopped the local farmer’s market seeking organic produce at least once a week and met my local organic farmers. Then I looked around my yard and said “wait a minute”, we can grow our own organic food here. From my travels to the farmer’s market, I met a lovely single mom and organic GARDENER that said, Chris … I can work along side of you and teach you how to grow your own OG food. So … I traded in my OG landscaper to work alongside an OG gardener and “got my hands dirty” with a weekly long list of “OG garden homework projects”, recommended reading, mutual sharing of new experiments and growing techniques (many based on what you are doing at the homestead), etc. I call her my OGMA (Organic Gardener Mentor Angel). We help support her endeavors, we both learn from this unique growing situation as we tear out traditional perennials in favor of edible Organic landscaping and trying to grow OG 365 in New England with my southern exposure sunporch, etc. I love her, I love you the Dervaes family, I love my yard, my produce and marvel at my dilapidated hands. Haven’t had a manicure since. My apron and my PTF trowel are my Homegrown Revolution weapons of choice. I joined NOFA and our local OG Garden/Farmer’s Club. I am not where I need to be, but By the Grace of God .. I’m not where I was and I hope to be setting an example to my family (especially my younger sister who has lupus and my 18 month old baby nephew), that Yes ANYONE can .. GROW SOMETHING ORGANIC! Just wanted to share another viewpoint. Thanks for listening and all that you do!!!

  8. Chris says:

    PS .. As we work towards our retirement, our goal is to be where the Dervaes family is at now but we don’t have 20 years and it’s just the two of us. Our goal is to become as self-sufficient and hands on as we can, getting off the grid, producing as much OG homegrown food as we can, as eco-responsibly as we can … downsizing, downsizing, downsizing in EVERY area of our lives. Getting rid of “stuff”, giving back to community, being a blessing to others and in doing so honoring the legions of REAL farmers in America which were and are the backbone of America that exemplify Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

  9. Laura @ Getting There says:

    I’ve never heard of people hiring others to do vegetable gardening for them…seems a strange idea at first, but I guess it’s not much different from rich folks hiring gardeners to landscape their yards. In fact, it’s better than that, if they are asking for something productive to be done with the land instead of just installing shrubbery. I guess there are worse ways to spend money! 🙂

  10. Shelley says:

    I am having a hard time reading articles due to the floating “share” bar that you can use for tweeting, FB sharing, etc… is there any way that it can be moved?

  11. Charley says:

    It can work both ways, depending on the people involved.

    Where I had my computer troubleshooting business a lot of people would be quite happy for me to take it away and do a full reinstall/rebuild but quite often I would come across people who actually took an interest in what I was doing. I was quite happy to teach these people how to do the basics to maintain their machine and show them more advanced things when I thought they could handle it.

    I got this attitude from various people from mechanics and panel beaters through to builders who had helped me become more self-reliant over the years, including one mechanic who helped me strip down and completely rebuild an engine block about 20 years ago. He let me do most of the work and make the less serious mistakes myself, but stepped in help out when things got a bit to complicated for me.

    I currently have a couple of self-employed, intellectually disabled guys who come round every week or two to mow the lawns etc as my business takes me away from home quite a lot. It’s quite a symbiotic relationship as I get work done that a lot of time I am not available to do. And in return I get to teach them a bit about how to do things in the garden they wouldn’t normally do and help them improve their business.

    It takes all sorts to make the world work, but a gardener rather than a landscaper sounds like what you need if you want to learn gardening.

  12. Charley says:

    I don’t have that problem. I’m running Firefox with No Script, so that could explain it. Post what browser you’re using etc and the girls can probably find a work around for you.

  13. Alexander Supertramp says:

    My two cents: to each his own. I’m inching toward self-sufficiency mostly because I’m cheap and I have trouble paying for goods and services I can provide myself. I also like it. I work in an office all day so swinging a hammer, stacking wood, and tending the garden are a real nice diversions to office life. the organic yields and environmental benefits are really secondary to me.

    All that to say, I can see someone paying someone to plant a nice vegetable garden to watch grow and from which to eat. I think they are missing out on a rewarding process but it beats paying someone to grow stuff for you that you can’t eat.

  14. heather says:

    I do think it is better to have someone plant and tend your veggie garden than not do one at all, but I also think one of the messages here is self-sufficiency. And if that is your goal then having someone tend for you is kind of defeating the purpose.

  15. Debbie says:

    Silly people. Advertising sure works on some people I guess. Glad I’m not one of them.

  16. Amy says:

    This is just an extension of the whole greenwashing that makes me sad. Instead of truly going back to a lower standard of living and simplicity the whole public has been duped into believing that we can just buy our way to a safer, healthier planet. As long as people believe that they can live the same way modern technology has always allowed by just replacing all their gadgets with green ones, same size house with solar panels, hybrid cars, and now hiring others to garden, we aren’t making any real progress or change.

    None of this surprises me though.

  17. Laura says:

    I understand where you are coming from. Where I live, there are mostly commercial farms. The owners of a lot of these farms have little to do with the animals they are raising and openly comment “I’d rather just go to the store and get my food.” In a way, it is similar except they are not reaping the benefits of organically grown food either!

  18. Chris says:

    Update for Today … I don’t want people to misunderstand. Hubby and I are “trying” as hard as we can to learn as much as we can by shifting lifestyle gears. From our attendance at last year’s Northeast Organic Farming Conference, WE (alone.. solo) constructed a 3 bin composting system via a workshop from Dr. Lee Reich. We did our spring clean-up, left all debris in piles to compost. Hubby constructed the system and today we filled it for the first time. While we had our first small compost bin the past year and half, today filled two bins with debris from our yard in hopes of making 2 yards of compost in a 2 month period following Dr. Reich’s method. We are trying to research some of the most effective ways of bio-intensive OG gardening in a small space as hands on as much as we can. Two years ago, I didn’t even know what a garden zucchini plant looked like. I only bought zucchini from my local farmer’s market. Last year we grew our first zucchini plant in place of a perennial I tore out. I watered it when it was 6 inches went out 3 days later in the middle of July and the zuke was HUGE. I went to one of the OG farmers and they told me .. oh Chris, you must check it everyday and harvest right away. Who Knew? Anyway, we’ve had so many laughs including today with the MASSIVE amounts of yard debris we are turning into black gold … (fingers crossed). It’s all good and we are so blessed!!!

  19. Chris says:

    PS. Based on last year’s zucchini experience, I was thrilled to find a zucchini seed variety at … Evidentally, this variety “freezes beautifully” you can pick it small and it is a high yield plant!!! My seedlings looked fantastic and I was able to share several with novice gardeners as well as some of the more experienced farmers from my ocal organic farming/garden club. I can’t wait for the first harvest!! Thanks Dervaes family!

  20. Kattfirmin says:

    I don’t see much difference in paying someone to do one’s vegetable garden in one’s backyard than I do joining up with a CSA. It’s still paying someone else to grow your food for you. I even think that in today’s economy, this can be a positive thing. People who may not have access to acres of land can still make a living “farming,” providing much needed jobs, and helping secure a more local food source.

    My concern would be it’s those who already can afford to buy food are the ones that can afford to pay someone to garden for them. I don’t see how having a personal gardener will do anything to help provide those that truly need it with fresh produce.

    I know that having a personal gardener is in no way moving toward the lifestyle that the Dervaes advocate for, but I don’t think it’s an all bad thing either.

  21. Barbara says:

    The only problem I have with people hiring farmers is that they are removing themselves from the food system and leaving it for the poor folks to eat whatever the food corporations want to feed them. And I would hate to see tenant farmers. I would rather see farmers tending their own farms than rich people’s. But if this is what it takes to have more people eating well, than I guess, it’s better than nothing.

  22. Sylvana says:

    I’m with the people that say that although it is not ideal, as in they are really not getting everything out of a garden that they could, I think that it certainly a step in the right direction. The less grass that is grown, the more diverse wildlife we have, the better the soil will be, and the less flooding and pollution we will face. Perhaps being closer to their food, these people will see what it takes to make their food. They may even eventually become more interested in the process.

    It is important to remember that in order to get real change, we must let go of idealism and work with realism. Not everyone has the time, energy, or interest for gardening. I have friends that have the space for a vegetable garden, but are just too busy to grow one. I can’t stand to see the wasted garden space, so I garden for them. They get some of the food and I take the rest to either use myself, or to donate to the food bank. If I didn’t do this, that piece of property would virtually be wasted space. And I don’t really care that they may not really care enough about gardening, what I care about is that they are allowing their land to contribute to the cause. The more food that is grown on these unused plots means the less that will need to be grown on massive corporate farms.
    There is more than one path to the goal 🙂

  23. jess says:

    there is a big trend of that “hire a farmer” thing happening in the PNW. I can think of at least 5 companies employing several people each who are tearing up turf and installing strawberry beds, vegetables, annuals and perennial, and offering services from weekly tending and harvesting to mentoring/training…. depending on how dirty you want to get and how much money you have. It never occurred to me that those people are selling out – most of those homeowners would just hire landscapers if they weren’t hiring the organic veggie gardeners. And most of the gardeners would either have office jobs or work on a farm around here if they couldn’t make a living installing garden beds and tending other people’s rhubarb. I don’t think that people who would otherwise learn to grow food are going to miss out because of this “trend.” I perceive it to be the next generation of landscaping, and honestly, it’s a welcome reprieve from the totally inedible, unwelcoming landscapes they’ve been dumping buckets of money on for the last 50 years.

  24. allochthon says:

    I know this is a week late, and none of the other commenters will read it … but I am a subscriber to one of these backyard farm setups.

    In my case, I’m doing it for multiple reasons:

    1) It’s a CSA model, but since it’s in the city, there’s that much less oil being used.
    2) They use some of the money from the subscribers to run an organic garden exclusively for a food shelf.

    3) If and when I can’t afford to hire them any more, I’ll still have a beautiful organic garden to use myself
    4) I’m converting the rest of my lawn into an edible forest, and I don’t have time to do that AND an organic garden.

    5) I’m busy starting my own urban food business, and can only garden so many hours in a day
    6) If and when we run out of oil, it will be critical to have an urban food system already in place. These backyard CSAs are only one part of that, but they’re an important part.
    7) The people doing the work are often beginning farms themselves, and this is a wonderful learning opportunity
    8) and those who aren’t beginner farmers get an outside job they love, instead of a cube job they hate.
    9) The program is only in its second year, and it needs funding. I believe in their cause. I’d rather spend my money on this than on material stuff.

    I haven’t been green washed. I see only positives to this. What are the negatives?

  25. allochthon says:

    p.s. That smiley should be point 8.

  26. Bonnie says:

    I think there is a mentality that you have to do it full on to make an impact. Sometimes it starts with small changes.

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