Seven years ago, Jamie Newlin volunteered at our farm. Like most people who venture here, she was unhappy with her office job. A still small voice told her she needed to go outside and get her hands dirty.
Jamie listened. She acted. She changed her life.
Changing career paths is always scary. You never know where it leads or how it will alter your lifestyle. Jamie’s parents had a similar itch for the country when she was a child. They left city jobs to try their hand at ranching. After a year or so, their neighbor gave them some harsh advice.
“I think you should head on back to the city,” he said.
And they did. Which might explain why Jamie took small steps at first. Indeed, volunteering at an urban vegetable farm seemed fairly harmless. A dose of dirt and her nature deficit would be cured. Little did she know that she was planting a seed that would grow the most unexpected fruit.
Today is Jamie’s last day at Green Gate Farms. Her journey from volunteer to workshare member to farm worker to farm manager is now taking its biggest leap yet – to Wisconsin and the start of her own farm with her partner Jacob.
Among the many crops that farmers raise, growing new farmers is the most rewarding. Yet it’s never easy watching them leave the land they tilled and the community they helped cultivate. We’ve had other employees who’ve become farmers but Jamie has been here so long and given so much that she feels like family.
Jamie was here in good times and bad. She’s farmed in droughts and floods, worked with bumper crops and busts. Those experiences have prepared her well for the challenges that come with growing food, whether in hot Texas or cold Wisconsin. But perhaps the most valuable skill she takes with her is working well with people. Over the years she has dealt with every customer situation imaginable and yet has always kept showing her beautiful smile. Keeping people happy – on the farm or off – can be the hardest work of all.
One of my favorite photos from our farm is a group of volunteers planting garlic. Our first farm manager, Katherine (who is now a farmer in Alabama) is demonstrating how to space and bury the cloves. Jamie is there along the row with them, fourth from the left, and appears to be paying close attention. Her attention to details, her gift of organizing and analyzing, which she honed during her years working for HUD, has helped thin the chaos that used to thrive at Green Gate, along with the pig weed and the nut grass. All the documents and systems she has created will make life easier for future farm managers here.
As for Erin and me, life at Green Gate already seems harder without Jamie. We have a great replacement in Katie Tritsch but she’s been here only two weeks and Jamie is taking with her seven years of history. All parents feel this way at first. Employers, too. How could you leave after all this time. How will we manage without you?
Yet here, in this young vibrant couple, is the very proof that my own dream – of leaving the city and living off the land – has been inspiring and fruitful. Like that single garlic seed, it grows and cloves where ever it is planted.
As we speak, Jamie and Jacob are drying out our multiplying onions to plant in that northern soil. It’s a well-earned gift and one that, like their new pursuits, will do well and multiply into bounty.