I met small-scale grower Kaycee Simuong when she was on exchange at my university several years before she got into farming. We went to a Canucks game with some friends and saw one another at the occasional party. Needless to say, I did not think she would pursue farming as a career. I didn’t think anyone I knew would pursue farming as a career. Years later, I have come to know this strong, intelligent woman much better and farming seems like a good fit.
Kaycee spends a lot of time learning and thinking about farming practices, food, sustainability, energy, etc. She is conscious of the environmental issues we are currently facing and hopes to make a positive impact on our planet through farming. I have chatted to Kaycee a number of times about these topics. After some nagging, she took some time out of her busy schedule and I was able to get some of her thoughts in writing. You can also read more about her farming here.
Becoming a Grower
J: What made you want to be grow organic vegetables?
K: I have always been passionate about the environment so I studied environmental science at university. I did a few subjects and projects related to food miles and food security. They were my favourite topics. I never really saw farming as a career path. I didn’t head in that direction right away due to the lack of job prospects.
Instead, I got a graduate position as an ecological consultant for two years doing environmental impact assessments but it really didn’t give me that connection to the earth. I wasn’t enjoying it. So I quit and took up a three month internship at a bio-dynamic CSA farm called Transition Farm.
I absolutely loved it. It connected me to the earth, spirituality, seasons, and my food. During that time, I realized my contribution to the planet would be to produce organic veggies in a way that worked with mother nature. I also wanted to use food to connect with people and educate them about their food choices as well as the environment.
J: As a small-scale grower what are some of the challenges you’re facing?
K: Farming can be tough. You are at the mercy of mother nature and sometimes things go pear-shaped on the farm. But truthfully one of the biggest challenges is the education of consumers. Most people are so disconnected from their food; where it comes from, the hard work it takes to grow something and the risks or challenges involved. Therefore, they don’t understand the value of their food. They don’t know why they should pay more for organic produce or why those vegetables don’t look the same as the ones at the supermarket.
As a small-scale grower, it is hard to compete with the prices, diversity and convenience that major supermarket chains provide. Yet, those chains also support industrial, chemical filled, unsustainable agriculture. If people understood how broken our food system is and the impact that industrial agriculture has on the planet, they would value food more and create more demand for local, organic produce. Thus making it easier for us farmers to sustain a livelihood!
J: How has your farming experience shaped the way you cook, eat, shop for food, etc.?
K: Farming has forced me to eat seasonally and get creative. I appreciate food more when it is in season; it tastes better, you are eating the way mother nature intended and if you are buying it, it is cheaper. I now know what is in season when so I rarely buy stuff out of season.
However, eating seasonally can be tough. When it’s zucchini season, I end up eating it for breakfast lunch and dinner because I have so many of them. You have to get experimental so you don’t get overloaded. Zucchini fritters, zucchini bread, zucchini slice, brownies, curries, etc. Zucchini everything!
When I shop for food I am now willing to pay a lot more for it because, as a grower, I know what it took to get it to me. There is some farmer behind the bunch of carrots (or whatever) that busted their butt to get that food on my table.
Food has also become my new currency. I do a lot more trading of vegetables with other farmers and when I visit people or go somewhere for dinner I take them some veggies and herbs as a gift. They are always stoked and it feels really wholesome. I love it.
J: Not that long ago, you undertook an internship at a bio-dynamic farm. Before speaking to you, I actually had no idea what bio-dynamic farming involved. Could you talk a bit about that experience to give people an idea of what it means to purchase a bio-dynamic product.
K: It is a form of organic agriculture so there are a lot of similarities. It differs in a few ways though. You strive towards creating a healthy, balanced, self-contained ecosystem. This is done by increasing biodiversity, using bio-dynamic preparations (i.e. compost teas, fermented manures) to stimulate biological activity, life forces and positive intention. You also take into account lunar and astrological cycles.
Bio-dynamics has added a spiritual element to farming for me, which I love. Robin at Transition Farm was really into bio-dynamics. I learnt a lot about how astrology and moon phases affect crops. There are specific ‘root, ‘flower’, ‘leaf’, and ‘fruit’ days throughout the month. On a root day, you sow / transplant / harvest carrots, garlic, potatoes etc. Fruit days you focus on tomatoes, zucchini, cucumber etc. Also, you have to take into consideration the time of day, the phase of the moon and much more. It’s complex but mysterious and cool.
If you are buying a bio-dynamic product, it’s from a farmer who has taken organic farming to the next level; who is super connected to the earth, and truly passionate about the long-term sustainability of their farm and the planet.
Looking to the Future
J: What’s you dream farm? AKA: Where do you want to end up after all your training?
K: My dream farm would be in a subtropical climate, two acres for growing, lots of forest on the property, within half an hour of the coast and with good rainfall! So probably somewhere near the New South Wales coast between Batemans Bay and Byron Bay. I don’t know if I will ever be able to afford a farm of my own like that, but luckily there are a lot of farmers out there, either retiring or with more land than they can handle. Lots of them are looking for alternative solutions to raise income. I might end up being a share-farmer forever!
J: What would you say to other people who are interested in pursuing this kind of work? Specifically, women?
K: DO IT! It is a conscious lifestyle choice. It is wholesome, rewarding as well as physically and mentally stimulating. There is a bit of stress here and there but it’s manageable. I am outside in nature all day, listening to the birds and raising plants. I feel like I am living the dream. There are so many women getting into farming which is amazing and inspiring (#womenwhofarm). I think it comes down to women often being very nurturing and caring which draws us towards helping the earth and its people. There are plenty of opportunities to get a feel for this sort of work through wwoofing, community gardens and seasonal internships.
Where to find Kaycee…