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Will You Farm With Me? Dancing Roots Farm

March 15, 2012

On March 13 I posted the first of three interviews with farming couples who agreed to openly share the stories of their agricultural adventures, how they came to a common vision, the unforeseen of farming together and advice for partners considering starting a farm. Today’s interview, second in the series, is with Dancing Roots Farm in Troudale, Oregon.

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Dancing Roots Farm
Shari Sirkin & Bryan Dickerson
Troutdale, Oregon

Describe your farm and farming philosophy
Our farm is on 10 beautiful acres above the Sandy River, about 18 miles east of Portland. To the locals, this area is known as Springdale. In addition to our fields, we have a few acres of woods, tons of blackberries and lots of refuge for songbirds and wildlife.

We bought the farm in the fall of 2002 and spent most of 2003 fixing up the old farmhouse. The fields sat fallow for over 30 years, and our plans call for creating an ecologically sound and productive working farm. Our vision includes orchards and grapes, year round produce, educational programs, on-farm composting, and farm animals such as sheep, ducks, and bees! We use only ecologically sound practices, such as crop rotations, natural amendments, cover crops, drip irrigation, and provide ample habitat for beneficial insects, bugs and birds; we use no pesticides or herbicides or synthetic fertilizer.

How long have you been farming together?
We bought our farm together in 2002, and have been farming together since.

What brought you to a shared farming experience?
Shari started farming in 1997 on rented land around Portland, and with a variety of farm co-partners. Bryan was, and still is, a professional musician and music teacher. He has always been supportive, but farming was “Shari’s thing” in his eyes. We lived in our tiny house in Portland, and Shari commuted to the farm. After a few years, Bryan got more and more into it. We had a CSA pick-up at our house, and he got very engaged through that process. When we decided we wanted a farm, animals, fruit trees – things we couldn’t do on rented land or our lot in Portland. We agreed, and we started looking for a farm. We wanted to be close enough so Bryan could continue as a working musician. Since moving to the farm, he has been my farm partner. Having him, he’s my farm partner for sure. We have meetings. We figure things out together.

What are each of your responsibilities on the farm and how do you decide who’s in charge of what?
We have really defined roles. Shari does all the marketing, paperwork, accounting, everything legal or insurance, all the office stuff, for the farm. She also does the crop plan, selects varieties, the seed order. She’s the harvest manager, what’s grown when, where and how much. Bryan is the infrastructure guy. He deserves a spandex Superman costume with big “I” for Infrastructure Man. He is totally in charge of remodeling the farm house. He built all the outbuilding, irrigation, propagation house, green house and re-arranged the road. Anything with infrastructure is for him. Plus, he does almost all of the tractor work and implement maintenance. He designed our own transplanter and spreader. He’s still learning names of vegetable varieties, that’s all new to him. What we share are the staff issues. We always interview together. We each talk to the crew.

Our struggle is not making, or having, the time for US to have meetings to be on top of what each other is doing.

What outcomes of farming together are most rewarding?
We both feel so blessed, really lucky to be doing work that we love and that we are passionate about and that’s meaningful to us. That we get to do together. We get to go to farming conferences together and feed off each others’ excitement and enthusiasm. We’ve been together 21 years. For the first part, before we were farming together, we had our own worlds, with mutual appreciation and support. But now, getting to do it all as partners, that makes us feel really blessed.

Most challenging?
When we have our struggles, they are not with roles, but time constraints. Shari is living in total day-to-day, triage, one step below crisis management. It’s the peak-season of invoices, harvest, drop-offs and detail management. Bryan is not in triage. Shari is in the moment, and Bryan, because of his role, he is in the future three, four, five weeks out. He wants to know what beds to spade up so they can rest, what can be weeded. That causes tension. That’s an area of struggle. But mostly, it’s not a struggle.

Also, because we farm and Bryan is still a full time musician and teacher, we don’t get much time off together. We both can’t really leave, together. That makes it harder to do things like take vacations, and we don’t even have animals!

Least expected?
This is what comes to mind first. We’re lying in bed at 10:30 at night, and we’re talking about tractor implements. Irrigation plan. Raises. Farming plans. I never thought that would happen.

Any advice for others choosing to farm with their mate?
Advice? Take Sunday off and make it your family day. We should be having at least a monthly date to go out, just the two of us. Try to make sure to do non-farm stuff together. But, that’s the one level. The other advice is if you are getting into it, just be sure that you both have the same level of passion for it. Neither of us do this work for ourselves, we do it because we feel really called to do it. We feel committed to do it. We feel like we’re making a difference in the world. I just can’t see it working if one person was doing it to please the other person. You can’t do this kind of work for someone else, you have to do it because you care.

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