On this week’s episode of Tent Talk, we were joined by Forrest Pritchard of Smith Meadows Farm and author of Gaining Ground, A Story of Farmers’ Markets, Local Food and Saving the Family Farm. Forrest is a sustainable farmer and New York Times bestselling author. Forrest told us the story of taking over his family’s farm, explained the impact of farmers’ markets on farm profitability, and shared how he’s able to manage his career as a farmer and an author.

Episode 7 of Tent Talk is inspirational, yet down-to-earth. It may be the push you need to become a farmer, or to finally sit down and pound out that book you’ve always dreamed of writing!

Generation after generation

Although Forrest didn’t always plan on becoming a farmer, you could say it’s in his blood. He’s a seventh generation farmer! Forrest grew up in the Shenandoah Valley, and spent summers running around barefoot on his grandparents’ farm in the Appalachian highlands. His free-range childhood instilled in him a connection to the land that would later greatly inform him as a farmer and an author. Growing up on a farm “anchors you in a space,” says Forrest. “It gives you a sense of stewardship and the longevity of human impact on agricultural practices.”

In 1996, after graduating from college with degrees in Literature and Geology, Forrest returned to the farm. That year the East Coast had been hit with an epic drought. Forrest’s family had sold five tractor-trailers full of grain hoping to earn at least $10,000 to make it through winter. Yet, to everyone’s dismay, the entire year’s worth of grain only yielded $18.16! It was then that Forrest realized they either needed to make a radical change, or they would lose the family farm. Although he had planned to only spend one year there until he found a “real job,” Forrest never left Smith Meadows.

Turning things around on a tight budget

While his parents worked full time jobs to help keep the lights on, Forrest lived and worked on the farm and operated without budget. He didn’t have much experience or money, but he did have a whole lot of time. Unfortunately when Forrest started out farming, the Internet wasn’t quite a thing yet. Forrest recalls that “the resources were pretty scattered”. So, for the first few years at Smith Meadows, there was a lot of trial and error.

Try as he might, Forrest was unable to to build a reliable customer base in his small rural community. It wasn’t until he made the leap to the farmers’ markets in Washington D.C. (about 60 miles away) that Forrest found customers who saw value in what he was doing. Now, thanks to farmers’ markets, their online store, and a select number of restaurants, Smith Meadows is grossing more than $1 million annually.

Write what you know

Not only did Forrest save the family farm, he was also able to chronicle the process beautifully in his 2013 book Gaining Ground, A Story of Farmers’ Markets, Local Food and Saving the Family Farm, which ended up becoming a New York Times bestseller. And in 2015 he followed it up with Growing Tomorrow, which was a finalist for independent cookbook of the year. Forrest says he’s able to balance his life as a farmer and an author because of the nature of farm life. It provides the type of quiet, solitude and time for contemplation necessary to mull over ideas and develop his writing projects.

Forrest credits his Appalachian heritage and the fact that he comes from a long line of joke tellers as an influence on his burgeoning writing career. Also, his time spent on the farm has given him a lot of writing material. After 22 years working at Smith Meadows, “there’s not enough beers and friends in the world to tell all these stories to over and over again,” Forrest explains, “you have disseminate this a little bit.” Lucky for us, Forrest and his co-author Ellen Polishuk release their new book Start Your Farm: The Complete Beginner’s Guide to Establishing a Successful Farm in September!

Where can I listen to Forrest’s full episode of Tent Talk?

You can listen to Tent Talk on iTunes and Stitcher. Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss any episodes. You can also stream this week’s episode by clicking the player below.

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