I don’t know how many of you know that I have a part-time job off the farm. On the surface it may not seem as “glamorous” or interesting as my delicious, sun-filled farm life so I don’t talk about it as often, but I have been working part-time at Midwest Environmental Advocates for a very long time now.
I began volunteering for the environmental law center way back in college. They were looking to hire a volunteer (yes, hire) to digitize all of their paper files and I was looking for some direction. I was nearing the end of a gap year that started with a month-long trip to Italy and ended with me falling in love and transferring to UW-Madison’s School of Agriculture & Life Sciences. I was considering many possibilities for my life (as one does during a gap year). I was thinking about law school, a career in public policy or the non-profit sector, and/or starting my own business. I had settled on a degree I loved, but the rest felt like a complete mystery. This volunteer opportunity felt like just the thing to explore a few of my ideas.
I will never forget biking across town to what felt like a very intense job interview. I knew it was a volunteer position, but the women I’d been emailing with were taking things very seriously. They were professional and polished and I was immediately intimidated by the way they conducted themselves so I put on my nicest outfit, hopped on my bike and headed across town full of young excitement and enthusiasm.
The women loved me. I loved them. The work felt important and necessary. They hired me on as a long-term volunteer and I got to work pretty much immediately. Before the time of podcasts, I spent hours (and eventually days) scanning important legal documents onto MEA’s new server—all the while learning all about how the organization used the power of law to protect environmental rights for Wisconsin citizens.
I loved everything about the organization, its sunny office and its rockstar attorneys. I volunteered with them for three years. I finished the scanning project and eventually moved on to helping them with their website redesign, implementing a fundraising database for the first time, and helping them organize their first sustainable agriculture forum.
Eventually I began working as an hourly employee and then a couple years later, around the time we started our farm, I came on staff as their Administrative & Financial Coordinator. I worked there part-time during the first seven years of our business working my way up to Office Manager and then Administrative Director.
So why am I talking about all this now? Why do I feel the need to tell you about my off-farm job in so much detail?
Well for one, I find it incredibly important to share the full story when it comes to building a farm business. I hate the lies that exist in the farming sector– especially the ones that say if you work hard enough, you’ll be successful. It’s simply (sadly), largely untrue for most who try.
My Carrot and I have found success in our farm business for many reasons and consider ourselves incredibly lucky. We have access to affordable family land that allows us to lease our acreage for as long as we need. We have access to family capital that has helped us scale our business. We have access to incredible markets that know how to support local food. We have healthy young bodies that can handle this much manual labor.
And in addition to all that, one of us had a wonderful, flexible, accommodating off-farm job that helped fuel our dreams. Many (if not most) farms have at least one off-farm salary. It’s a truth that deserves to be shared. My off-farm job, in a lot of ways, helped us build a strong, resilient business. Don’t get me wrong. We also worked our asses off for years. But that’s only part of the story.
I also share this long beautiful saga because it’s finally come time for me to leave this amazing organization, and they deserve at least this small piece of acknowledgment for their huge part in my journey.
To say MEA has had a large role in my life would be gigantic understatement. It has been one of the biggest and longest chapters of my life. It has been so much more than an organization or a job to me. It was a true gift that gave me the structure and stability we needed to build our farm dreams. It was our solid ground whenever our business turned rocky in those tumultuous early years. It connected us to half our CSA site hosts and most of our early CSA members.
And that’s just the big stuff. It also taught me boundaries and communication and how to conduct myself professionally. It gave my husband and I the separation we needed when we were too immature to handle true business partnership as young spouses. It taught me about government, policy, environmental laws and regulations, management, hiring, Human Resources and benefits management, fundraising, bookkeeping and email marketing. It has given me hundreds of skills I cherish and taught me how to be a true leader. It has taught me what real social impact and change takes, and what the journey to get there looks like.
I still truly can’t quite believe that the solid foundation MEA gave me while my husband and I slowly built our dreams is no longer needed. Even though we’re eight years into this crazy farm adventure, I’m somehow still surprised it’s time to leap full-time into entrepreneurship and even bigger dreams. I won’t be fully off the payroll until early June (a decade of knowledge takes a long time to transition into other people’s’ minds) but the plans for my departure are well underway.
What’s next is going to be one hell of a beautiful wild ride. I have huge dreams, new partnerships and so many ideas for how I want to use my gifts and fill my time moving forward. I truly cannot wait to share it all with you.
But for now, just do me a favor and check out this amazing organization that has filled so much of my heart for so long, consider joining their email list (or donating to their incredible cause), and then let’s all eat some shaved Brussels sprouts.
My love to you,
SHAVED BRUSSELS SPROUTS WITH RED ONION & BROWN BUTTER HAZELNUTS
Takes 20 minutes
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup roasted, chopped hazelnuts
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt + more for seasoning
1 pound Brussels sprouts
1 small red onion, very thinly sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon maple syrup
4 twists freshly ground black pepper
1 pinch ground cayenne
1 pinch cinnamon
- In a small saucepan, brown your butter. I ask you to do this a lot so I feel like you know how to do this by now, but if not: start by melting your butter over medium heat. Once it is melted, reduce the heat to medium low and let it get a little crazy. It will start to foam and sizzle a bit, then calm down and turn a kind of golden clear. It’s very close, keep an eye on it and a spatula near by at this point, stirring occasionally until it smells nutty and turns a darker shade of brown. Remove the pan from heat as soon as it starts to brown. Toss in roasted hazelnuts and 1/2 teaspoon salt.
- Meanwhile, shave your Brussels sprouts. I know this sucks. It’s the worst part of this recipe. I promise. Also, if you really hate this step, note that some innovative local (to Wisconsin) companies are selling them already shaved now!! Toss Brussels sprouts and red onions in a large bowl. Add brown butter and hazelnuts. Toss to coat.
- In a small bowl, whisk together remaining ingredients and a pinch of salt. Whisk until smooth and emulsified. Pour over Brussels sprouts mixture and try not to devour immediately. I know I said this serves two but that is definitely as a side. I easily could eat (and have ate) this whole recipe for dinner.