Outlining my learning goals

I feel like I’m at another big intersection in life. My last one was when I graduated from college and was faced with choosing a career. I chose farming. That was in June of 2005. In the past two years, I’ve learned a lot about agriculture. My goal was to familiarize, not specialize. Now that I’ve established a reasonable foundation of knowledge and experience, it feels like it’s time to take it to the next level.

Today I spoke with Lee Kelly, the first farmer I worked for in New York. He had a profound influence on my perception of agriculture and I often think that if it wasn’t for him, I could’ve wasted years of my life working at hobby farms and perhaps gotten so frustrated that I would’ve dropped farming altogether. He directed me away from the hype and the fluff and pointed me towards becoming a business person and a land steward.

Now that I’ve spent a year in New Mexico and am considering my next move, I thought it’d be wise to consult with him, so I wrote him a letter–a good old fashioned written, snail-mailed letter. Today he called and it was like a breath of fresh air. I’ve been feeling at a loss for direction lately. I think it’s because I realized I need to narrow my focus and deepen my knowledge, but I’m not sure how to invest my efforts. Lee told me to get a pen and piece of paper and learn about the following subjects, which are at the cutting edge of agriculture and could set me apart as a farmer:

  1. Keyline plow and the methods associated with this implement; objective is to retain water and increase organic matter; Lee had gone to a lecture by Darren Doherty from Australia
  2. Carbon Farmers of America; he said to look up the website and network; that the content might seem a little out there at first, but to dig deeper
  3. Permaculture; Lee recommended I go “back to school” and take a 2-3 week class in permaculture

Encouraged by this conversation, I wrote up a list of subjects (including the ones he pointed out, as well as some that I’d been meaning to learn more about) that I plan to study in order to further my education as a farmer. It ended up a looking a lot like a program of study for a degree program. In essence, I do see it as a practical, auto-didactic “doctorate” and I hope to pursue it as such. Here’s the rough draft I came up with tonight:

Self-directed study program in sustainable agriculture

Objective: To document my learning process so that it can be followed and duplicated by someone on a like-minded path.

Business skills

  • marketing
  • management
  • taxes
  • accounting
  • recordkeeping
  • philosophy

Machinery & infrastructure

  • welding
  • repairs
  • maintenance
  • fencing
  • construction
  • hoophouses


Soil health, microbiology

  • Hands-on Agronomy by Neal Kinsey

Livestock and crop integration

  • plant science
  • animal science
  • fencing
  • crop and pasture rotation


  • Books
  • Networking, interviews
  • Practice (on farm)
  • Notes, notes, notes
  • Journal

Any ideas, suggestions and feedback are welcomed.

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