This chef left the kitchen behind to become a farmer

By Amelia Levin

We’re hearing more and more stories like these. Stories about office workers and others ditching the daily grind for a new, more passionate grind –  farming and feeding others.

Perhaps one of the most recently surprising story was that of 29-year-old Jason Brown, a Saint Louis Rams center who walked away from finishing out a $37 million contract with the NFL to pursue farming in North Carolina and help feed those in need. “No, I’m not,” Brown had to say to his agent, who insisted he was making a huge mistake, according to Daily

Alice and Craig Skipton left their big-city Seattle jobs — as a communications consultant and landscape architect, respectively — to farm on Bainbridge Island across the waters. What started with a small egg operation has grown to a 25-acre farm where the Skiptons grow a variety of crops, and they raise pigs and cattle for meat production. Most recently they added a dairy production for a micro-creamery to make cheeses. Heyday Farm also offers bed and breakfast boarding as well as space for events and classes on whole-animal butchery, canning and other culinary topics.

“Craig grew up with his parents growing a lot of their food,” says Alice Skipton. “Also, the changing the current state of the food system is a source of passion for us.”

For the Skiptons, the most satisfying part of farming is “being a part of a community with people and animals and the land. We liked our jobs very well, but had a dream, saw an opportunity and took it.”

And then there is farmer Rick Reddaway, of Abundant Fields Farm outside of Portland, Oregon, who quit jobs in graphic design, project management and even poker dealership to return to his roots: his wife’s family farm, not unlike his own parents’ farm growing up.

We caught up with Reddaway to learn more about how he made the move to the food world.

ACF: What were you doing before the farm?
RR: I had various ‘desk jobs’ for 20 years before taking the plunge into farming. I have a degree in graphic design, and did that for a few years. After that I worked my way up to a Regional Coordination Manager for a large elevator company. I moved for the company a couple times, but eventually made my way back to the Portland, OR branch, but was laid off in 2009. After that I was a poker dealer for a few years, which I actually enjoyed quite a bit. My wife got pregnant, so I decided I needed a ‘real’ job and was hired as a project coordinator for a re-branding project with a local knife manufacturer, Gerber Blades. Then I quit after six months to start farming.

ACF: What drew you into farming?
RR: It’s definitely a lifestyle choice. I grew up on a small farm and loved it, and so did my wife. We want the same for our son, Brenner. I am much more comfortable ‘digging in the dirt’ and working for myself than I ever was sitting behind a desk. There is also a pretty close community with other farmers in the area and being around others that have that same interest is great!

ACF: What is the most satisfying aspect about farming?
RR: Farming gives me pleasure to do something that has a direct connection with other people. When I worked for the elevator company, and I spent all that time and energy coordinating the procurement and installation of an elevator, there wasn’t any real satisfaction. When the building was complete and a person went in and rode the elevator, I never felt like there was any ‘connection’ between them and myself or what I did to make it possible. With farming, I plant the seed; nourish and grow the food; harvest and bring it directly to someone who truly appreciates it. There is a direct connection between myself and the customers at the farmers markets, in fact it gives me goose bumps when I talk about it. When someone comes up with a basket full of fresh vegetables and is excited about it, that makes it all worth it. I know this is cliche, but I’m not in the for the money, which can be scarce at my scale of farming.

ACF: What did you not like the most about the jobs before farming in comparison?
RR: It took me a while to realize I wasn’t happy sitting behind a desk. There were times that I did enjoy what I was doing, but I never really ‘loved’ my job. I did my job, but wasn’t passionate about any of it. Eventually, I realized that my job was with me 24 hours a day. Even when I came home, it was on my mind. I couldn’t let it go. However, this is also true with farming, to an extent. I do think about the farm business, crop management, pest management, marketing, etc. quite often, but I embrace all that. There was also the bureaucracy that went along with working for a huge international company. It became way too much for me.

ACF: How big is the farm and what do you grow?
RR: I currently only farm on a little over an acre, which doesn’t seem like much, but it’s just me doing all the work (my wife Heather helps out when she can). I grow 30+ varieties of vegetables using organic practices that I sell at a couple local farmers markets, as well as a couple processor accounts and a restaurant. I am going to be offering CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) shares for the 2016 season and will start to focus on providing fresh produce for some other local restaurants.

ACF: Would you recommend others passionate about food quit their day jobs and if so, why?
RR: Yes, but carefully. If that is what you truly want to do, than do it. Don’t hesitate and put it off, because you will always find another excuse to wait. It’s scary as heck, but I’m glad I did it. Do some homework first. I probably could have done a bit more prep work and planning, but I have managed to work it out. One other very important thing to consider is your partner, if you have one. Are they on board with what you want to do? Really pay attention to that. If you really want to pursue your passion, but your partner has very little or no interest in it or you feel they won’t be supportive in any way, then reconsider. Also, have a contingency plan. What if you make the leap, and then realize it really isn’t what you thought it would be like? Will this new endeavor pay the bills? For me, it was a complete lifestyle change. Literally overnight, I went from having the decent salary, the nice place to live, the cars, the ‘toys’, etc. to living with my in-laws, relying on my wife’s meager salary and my very little seasonal income to support the three of us while I try to grow and build the farm business. You need to be comfortable with the possibility of a big shift in lifestyle. Part of my success with the farm was due to the Headwater Farm Incubator Program.

Photos courtesy of Heyday Farm

Photo credit: Paul Dunn