Every journey starts with a first step. Sometimes that first step was caused by someone pushing us. After roughly six years of farming, I would like to share what pushed me to give up a rather cushy desk job with a great company in exchange for the tumultuous life of an entrepreneur.
I did not grow up in an agricultural family. I lived in middle-class suburbia in Connecticut on 1/8th of an acre with neighbors on all sides. I never had dreams of becoming a farmer, I didn’t have any connection to where my food comes from, and made mashed potatoes from flakes in a box.
I went to the University of Connecticut with no idea what I wanted to do. I got into the School of Fines Arts and got a Bachelor’s Degree in Design & Technical Theater with a concentration in Scenic & Lighting Design.
What that boils down to: I was an electrician and a carpenter for theater and television.
During and immediately after my senior year of college I freelanced around New England putting almost 1,000 miles on my car a week, but making decent money.
The driving ate away at my soul so I moved to New York City where there was more consistent work and I could leave my car behind. The freelancing continued until I found a solid gig where I would work until I would leave NYC roughly four years later.
The Howard Stern Show
In September of 2007, I became the house electrician and light board operator for the Howard Stern Show on iNDEMAND Networks. The same guy I listened to on the radio while painting warehouses to help pay for college was now my boss.
Working for The Stern Show was fun. I won’t go into specific stories but let’s just say I saw my fair share of weird stuff over the few years that I worked there. I got the opportunity to work with some amazing people, my pay was solid, and I got an amazing amount of paid vacation (10 weeks, let that sink in for a second).
My blog post today isn’t about the time I spent there, but rather the moment I decided to leave.
In as simple terms as I can put it, Howard had a contract with Sirius Satellite Radio and iNDEMAND networks for a set period of time. He had a radio show on satellite radio, and I was part of the crew filming that show for people to watch on-demand on their televisions. After a period of time time there were contract renegotiations as to whether he was going to stay, and how much the companies were going to pay him for his talent.
It was during my time there that one of those contract negotiations was to happen. As the end 2010 approached, there was no information as to whether he would re-sign.
From my observations, no one knew if he would come back and if we would all have jobs after the end of the year. Day after day, we would show up to work and there was no news.
This was troubling in a number of ways. There were people there that had been with the show for decades. There were also people like me who had been there a few years and had grown accustomed to steady work and a steady paycheck.
Day after day, I saw my co-workers slowly start to freak out, sharing gossip and hypotheticals in the hallways as we continued on without certainty of our future.
To watch several dozen people grow increasingly worried and stressed as the carrot of our livelihoods was dangled out of our reach and beyond our control was depressing.
That’s corporate life though. This kind of thing happens all the time. I am sure Howard was fighting for us, and I’m sure the powers that be were just doing their due diligence to make sure there was a good deal for everyone. But for the low guy on the totem pole, forced to sit on the sidelines and in the dark about my future, it was something I no longer wanted part of.
Enter My Ridiculous Idea...
At the time this was happening, I became obsessed with the marriage of two ideas: sustainable agriculture and long distance bicycle touring.
As everyone freaked out around me, I developed a plan to ride my bike around the world with (my then girlfriend) Kate, visiting farms and breweries along the way. I had paid down my student loans, saved some money, and was prepared in many ways for the life of a vagabond as I found what my new direction would be.
All dramatics aside, the contract was resigned for another three years and everyone was able to come back to work after our short holiday recess.
Even though I could keep my job, the damage was already done. I had already told everyone about my plan to leave The Big Apple and live on my bicycle.
I was also broken of the illusion of long-term employment and job security. The idea that someone could dangle my future in front of my face yet out of my reach would never sit with me. It’s bullsh** and I was done.
So, are you really going to do it?
When the contract was resigned for another three years everyone turned to me to ask, “Well kid, are you still going forward with your bold and ridiculous plan?”
“Of course!” was the one and only answer I had.
At the end of that new three year contract, everyone was going to be in the same position as they were three weeks ago but I’ll have had the chance to reinvent myself.
Now over 6 years past that moment in my life, I can tell you that the contract was not renewed after those three additional years and all my co-workers have gone on to other gigs and in some cases other professions.
Getting laid off doesn’t have to be that bad.
I was facing termination of my employment and I decided to do something about it. At the same time, I had become disillusioned with City life and I had begun to dig into the inner workings of our broken food system. I became focused on the freedom that comes with long distance bicycle travel.
Late in the Spring of 2011, Kate and I would embark on a 5,500 mile journey that would take us by bicycle from New York City, New York, West to Seattle Washington, and South to San Diego California over a period of about 10 months.
During our ride we visited many small farms, even more craft breweries, and met some of the most interesting people you’ll ever hope to encounter.
We faced physical, mental, and emotional adversity. We crossed seven mountain ranges, got caught in a sandstorm, had elk walk through our campsite in Yellowstone, biked through some of the worst neighborhoods in the Country, slept on the side of the road, got hospitalized for dehydration, and almost got ran off the road by more logging trucks than I can count.
All of that to end up within an hours’ drive of where we both grew up in Connecticut farming on 52 acres that we now call home.
The stresses we face today are no less challenging than those we faced on the trip or the stress of facing unemployment years ago. What makes our current lives more palatable is the ability to control what tomorrow looks like. We now have the ability to shape the land, make decisions that affect our financial future, and at the end of the day we are in complete control of our food chain.
If I had to do it all over, I would not change a thing. If every decision I have made in the past six years had led me to a beautiful piece of land, a healthy and intelligent daughter, a solid marriage with a partner who challenges me to be a better person, and a community of people who share in my goal of seeing a healthier planet then I can’t imagine changing a thing.
That push of almost losing my job was a first step in a lifelong journey to try and do my little part to make the world a better place. I started that bike trip a little resentful of the structure of my former career and came back grateful that it has led me to where I am today.
My future is now in my hands. It is up to me to make sure that my farm is ecologically, economically, and emotionally viable. Life is a process of constant improvement. I’m not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, and I don’t know that I ever will be. That won’t stop me from waking up tomorrow and trying.
Sussy Say Goodbye to Howard Stern
Here's a video someone posted of my exit interview with Howard Stern. BE WARNED that one of the staffers moons the camera (shows his butt) at the end of the clip.
I was a young and naive guy searching for purpose. I wouldn't change a thing.