Joneve Murphy: Farmer Seeking Roots

Staci Strauss

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Editor’s Note: Farmer Seeking Roots is an ambition project created by Joneve Murphy.

She’s seeking funding for a trip to experience how farmers around the world run their farms.

In explaining the purpose of her enterprise, Ms. Murphy had this to say:

“I always come back from these trips full of inspiration, I discover new techniques and new varieties, and I have been able to make a connection with foods that I had been accustomed to my whole life, but had never seen in their natural state (coffee, tea, spices, fruits, etc.).”

We recently spoke with Joneve about this exciting idea. May we suggest you consider becoming a part of her Indiegogo campaign?

You’re the farmer for Inn at Little Washington. What’s it’s like to grow for such a quality restaurant? What kinds of things do you grow?

Joneve Murphy: Growing here has been a great learning experience.  Before this job I had never gardened before. I had been growing for restaurants for years, but always in a market garden capacity; a minimum of 5 acres and selling to multiple outlets. This is the first time I have worked on such a small scale and it has created an even closer intimacy with the plants and the garden as a whole. I’m amazed each year at the yields that you can get out of a small space when you have the time to get to know every plant. We have about ½ an acre total here and last year I harvested over 8000 pounds of boutique produce. I grow approximately 200 varieties of vegetables, edible flowers, culinary and tea herbs. I grow a lot of micro greens as well, about 20 varieties that rotate seasonally. We try to focus our energy on growing things that are difficult to get in terms of variety or size, and we experiment with a few new things each year. This year we will be planting goji berries, Thai Roselle and Gotu Cola, last year it was square cucumbers, tiny Indian eggplants and Litchi tomatoes.

Talk about the value you see in getting your hands in the dirt every day.

JM: I love to grow food. I love the cyclical nature of it. Farming requires most, if not all, of my energy during the growing season, but I also get almost all of my energy out of it. I come home at the end of the day and my body is tired and dirty. I’m sore and exhausted but I know I have accomplished something, and I’m ready to get up in the morning and do it all again. Growing food is a miracle every time. Every time a seed pops, a flower blooms or a fruit ripens I am amazed. It never gets old.

From where does your obvious love for the magic of growing, the importance of real food, and your social consciousness come?

JM: My first year of college was spent with the Audubon Expedition Institute, where you live on a bus with both students and professors and travel a specific region of the country studying environmental and social issues. This is when I first became interested in the issues surrounding food production and distribution. There had never been a lot of processed food in my house growing up, because my mother thought it was unhealthy and my father loved to cook, but I was unaware of the issues that were inherent in our food system until I got to college. I went all out; became a vegetarian and even a vegan for a time. I did my shopping at the local co-op. After I finished school and decided that I didn’t want to become a biologist like I had planned, I was a little lost in terms of what to do. Since food issues had become so important to me I decided to get a job on a farm for the summer just for fun. Within 3 weeks it all “clicked” for me. The sun, the labor, the dirt, the bugs and green growing things, it was all there and I was hooked.

Every time a seed pops, a flower blooms or a fruit ripens I am amazed. It never gets old.

So, Joneve, tell us about your project, Farmer Seeking Roots. What’s the premise?

JM: Farmer Seeking Roots has developed from a lot of different directions. I spent some time in Asia while growing up and caught the travel bug young. As I’ve gotten older I have taken every opportunity to travel that has arisen. The climate in the Northeast creates an automatic down time, and I have taken this time each year to travel and volunteer on farms or explore agricultural areas in other countries. I always come back from these trips full of inspiration, I discover new techniques and new varieties, and I have been able to make a connection with foods that I had been accustomed to my whole life, but had never seen in their natural state (coffee, tea, spices, fruits, etc.).

I want to spend a year following the harvest through Europe, Asia and South America, volunteering on farms in an effort to highlight the numerous and tenable ways that the food makes it to our plates. I will volunteer on the farms for a week or two and learn about their growing techniques, then follow the food home with a consumer to cook and eat a meal together. I want to have a conversation with both the farmer and the consumer about why they have chosen to grow/eat organically/sustainably. It is in general not the easiest path, requiring more money, time and labor in all respects; growing, shopping, and cooking. What is their inspiration? I’m hoping that through this project I can help to inspire others to eat/grow consciously, and to do things in their own community to nourish others.

How is the farming you plan to do abroad different from your job, farming for the Inn?

JM: Though I will still be helping to grow food, I think that may be the only thing in common with what I do now. I have chosen a plethora of different farms. I want to explore many avenues of food production. I plan to visit farms both large and small, urban and rural, community driven and privately owned. I plan to highlight farms that are innovating new ways to cope with the food issues in their communities; difficulty with production due to space or climate as well as difficulties in accessing and distributing food.

Tell us about the purpose of your planned travels. How did you choose where you will travel? What do you expect to learn from this experience and what will be your role on these far away farms?

JM: My purpose is to learn, and share the knowledge that I gain in an effort to inspire others. My plan of travel is based around following the sun and the harvest as much as possible. I wanted to travel to both developed and developing nations, to show methods of agriculture both modern and traditional as well as a blend of the two. I hope to learn new methods of growing vegetables, raising animals and creating value added products, and I hope that I can help the farms as well with whatever skilled labor I can contribute during my stay.

How do you plan to use the knowledge you gain? How do you plan to share your newfound learning with others?

JM: I have started a website where I will be posting a weekly blog focused on what I am doing. I will show what I have been up to through both photography and writing. If I can raise enough money, I hope to show my progress through video as well. The knowledge that I gain during the course of the year will surely help me in my career, but I hope also to share that knowledge with whomever is interested in learning. The innovation of farmers is amazing, they all have a little of the MacGyver inside of them and I think we can all learn a lot from observing other peoples methodology.

How much money do you need to accomplish your goal? What will you do it you fall short?

JM: I need to raise about $10,000 to do the project that I want. If I raise more, that money can go towards getting to some places that require more flights, adding a video element, hiring translators, etc. I have saved $10,000 towards this project so I am going regardless but the duration of the trip and places highlighted will change if that is all I leave with. I won’t be able to go to Europe, and will probably only travel for 6 to 8 months total. I will still write the blogs, take photos and share all that I gain. I am selling almost all of my possessions back home as well, in an effort to raise a little more money. This trip is really on the cheap, I don’t plan to stay in hotels much at all. I hope to get room and board in exchange for my labor on most of the farms, and I’ll use couch surfers international for the in between times. Most of the money will be going towards flights, visas, health insurance, traveling between farms and the costs of maintaining the website.

Do you plan to use your learning upon your return from your yearlong trip? How will the “folks back home” benefit?

JM: To be totally honest I don’t know what I expect to happen at the end of this year. I intend to remain open to all of the possibilities that may arise out of this adventure and I hope to share all that I gain with any of the “folks back home” that are interested through my blog. Whatever I do at the end of the year, it will involve my hands in the soil in some capacity.

What do you hope your efforts in this endeavor will reap?

JM: I hope that I will inspire others to make an effort to contribute to the nutrition of their community. I hope that I can show the “farmers back home” some new techniques, or highlight a new variety. There are farmers and families all over the world battling the inequalities and struggles within our food system. If we share their methods of coping and thriving, maybe someone can use that information to alter what they are doing in their own farm or community. I hope to inspire others to start their own food endeavors and finally I hope to inspire consumers to make conscious choices about what they eat and how they obtain their food.  The current food system is driven by the dollar and we as consumers must make decisions that support farmers in their efforts to grow sustainably.

Any last words? What haven’t we been clever enough to ask?    

JM: This adventure is larger than a trip around the world. Our personal health is larger than ourselves, it is dependent on the health of others and the environment that surrounds us. I hope to create consciousness and inspire others through my travels, and I hope that I can make an impact on the food movement that is quickly gaining momentum around the world. If mankind is going to flourish we need to change the current way that we are growing and distributing food. 

Just a quick note about the perks I’m offering for my campaign: I’m offering prints of my photos, a gardening guide that I have been writing the last few years, and consulting either on scype or in person to help with all of your growing needs. I think that everyone can grow something towards their own nutrition, let me help with your projects large or small. 

We’re inspired by Joneve’s ambitious project and would like to suggest you consider contributing to her Indiegogo campaign. 

Photo credit: Molly Peterson