Written by Kait Beach, current student in the Food Law and Policy Clinic
Tilth. I had trouble even wrapping my tongue around the word at first, but the meaning was clear enough to see. We travelled to Durham, North Carolina with the Food Law and Policy Clinic, then to the Duke Campus Farm. Handling two clods of dirt freshly dug from the ground, one felt of a heavy clay-like mud and one of a crumbling, root-filled, rich-looking cake. For someone like myself who has only ever visited farms as a neighbor or tourist, there was a steep learning curve with plenty to ask about—whether it was tilth, cover crops, starting a CSA program, or rigging an irrigation system.
Beyond a lesson in the basics of farming, it was a lesson in how beginning farmers must feel. Working with the Clinic on Farm Bill issues and focusing on market access (basically, how a farmer can find and reliably get buyers), I was quickly finding out just how much information there is to master. The learning curve for a new or expanding farmer is monumental. Our short North Carolina travels certainly showed that and revealed some of the many unexpected hurdles for farms aiming to turn a profit. There are the inputs—like seeds, water, and fertilizer—and the equipment, but there is so much more to a successful production operation. Each farmer or farm operation not only has to learn a trade, they must also learn how to run a small business.