Each month our goal is to share the inspiring stories of our CAFF members. This month we asked Patrick Mitchell from Windy River Farms to be a part of this series. When we asked why he joined CAFF, Patrick said “I am a small farmer. I work about one and half acres that I rent. I never felt like the larger agriculture organizations really cared about farms at my scale. Then I discovered CAFF, which seemed to have an eye out for small, local diversified farms. I appreciate the investment CAFF makes in policy, personal connections, and sustainable practices. I am also a fan of the Farmers Guilds and love that CAFF embraced the importance of the small farm community and support networks that the Guilds provide. CAFF celebrates what I do and that feels good”.
Why did farming become your passion/career?
“I represent the fifth generation of my family to work in agriculture. I am a native Californian and the first in my family to have the pleasure to say that. My parents and older siblings were all born in southwestern Iowa. As a kid, my parents would fly me back to Iowa every summer to stay with my grandparents on the farm. I never wanted to go. I wanted to stay in Orange County with my friends and ride skateboards and go to the beach. Instead, I walked beans, fed cattle, ate fresh picked sweet corn and went fishing in the pond. I also listened to my grandfather talk about the importance of protecting top soil, native species and how we needed to have a connection to the land we lived on. At the time I thought he was a crazy old coot. I ended up working in horticulture for two decades managing various landscapes from resorts to nature parks and historic sites. One day while staring at my computer in an office wallowing in my dissatisfaction, it dawned on me that all that stuff my grandfather had introduced me to, and my education and work experience were really just training to be a farmer. I left that job and started a small culinary herb garden and have had my hands in the soil for the past 12 years growing food and flowers for my community. Soil, Seeds, Sunshine and Soul!”
What is one of your biggest challenges as a grower?
“My biggest challenge as a grower is maintaining balance between ‘work’ and family and personal time. I have always had a problem saying no and taking on more than I should. I am all about community and sometimes that gets in the way of my time. In addition to working my farm, I also run a farmer training program and Ag education center, the Ecological Agriculture Training and Cultural Center in Norco. Occasionally, I have to step away, regroup and reset my priorities. My family has always been my source of strength and inspiration and that is something I have to remember and give thanks for. Then, of course, there are always the weeds, pests, wind, drought etc”.
Where do you see your farm in 5 years?
“In 5 years I see my farm operating on land I own rather than rent. I see a lot more flowers, a few more cows and more community engagement. I envision pockets of native habitat scattered about. I also will probably add more avocado trees because I have an unquenchable hunger for chips, salsa and guacamole. I see my farm becoming a location for community connection to local Ag. Maybe like a hybrid of an agritourism and education/research farm. Obviously, I will have to add a couple acres to make it all happen but that is what a vision is all about!”
What are some words of wisdom you would share with a farmer who is just starting out?
“Just do it! Don’t sweat the big stuff. Start small and scale up. I have heard so many people say ‘I want to be a farmer but I can’t afford the startup costs’. You don’t have to have a bunch of land, expensive tractors and all the latest technology. You have to be dedicated to making it work and put on some thick skin because there will be rocks in the field you have deal with. Grow what you love, build a network with other farmers and join CAFF. Soil, Seeds, Sunshine and Soul!”