EDDINGTON, Maine — Crystal Sands and her husband James farm their acre and a half of land in Eddington. While James brought a bit of farming experience to their union, Crystal really did not — but she quickly discovered that tending to their chickens and and working the soil, fed her in ways she had never imagined.
Crystal is also a writing professor, so the next step for this newly minted farmer seemed rather organic.
"When we started our homestead and farm in 2014, I just dove in," she said. "So wholeheartedly. I’ve loved the chickens and the ducks and I was just researching constantly. Studying them and learning about best practices."
She often wrote about what she was learning as she discovered her love of farming.
"I could see that there was such an interest in what we do," Crystal said. "I had written an essay about my experience with personal trauma and how working on the farm actually helped me process that and deal with that. And what I found was, admitting to publishers, they were like, ‘Can you talk a little less about the chickens?’ But for me the chickens were ... they were the point."
The comfort of her animals, the satisfaction of the soil, and the rhythm of the seasons were laying the groundwork for her next endeavor.
"I had had a dream for years to start a journal but I didn’t really have a purpose or a voice," she said. But Crystal found her voice and launched an online journal documenting the joys and challenges of tilling a small corner of the earth, and how that shaped her sense of self.
"After the initial sharing, when I first shared the call for submissions, it just lit up!" she said. "And I couldn’t believe how many people were also having these experiences and wanted to tell their stories and wanted to have a voice for this kind of experience."
Crystal said there has been quite a range of responses from her readers, some who are not yet farming, but dreaming of it. Some are starting with container gardening or have a few chickens in their backyard. Others are larger scale farmers who make their living from the land.
The name of this new endeavor came about in a casual conversation.
Crystal remembers it this way: "My husband, growing up in Montana, he didn’t consider what he did as a child — farming, or what we do on this small scale — farming. He said, 'No, no, farmers have tractors. Farmers have cows and big plots.’ And so I said, 'Okay, well, if we’re not farmers, we’re farmer-ish.' And so that was how it came about. So you know, it was like, 'I’ll bet there’s a lot of farmer-ish people out there' … that would understand what we’re doing."
And she was right.
"We have writers who contribute from across the United States and in to Canada as well," she said of their free, online journal, published four times a year on each solstice and equinox. At the end of last year, they produced their first printed version of the "Farmer-ish" journal.
Crystal is proud of the work that the state of Maine is doing around backyard farming.
"Maine is doing so many things right when it comes to, just everything from our food sovereignty laws to our Constitutional amendment about the right to grow food," she said. "I think there’s so much that we do right that even though our audience and our writers are national, I feel good about having that Maine leaning because I think there’s a lot that other places would like to learn and see about what we’re doing here."
Crystal believes that many of the Farmer-ish fans gave in to their dreams of farming on a small scale when COVID changed the their lives.
"A lot of the submissions that come in tend to be focused on how the pandemic led them to this or how the pandemic re-awakened some of the urges they had had prior," she said. "So many of the stories are just about the universal human experience about working with the animals, living this connected to the land, what it does for your mind and body and soul."
That is something she has experienced in her own backyard.
"One of the biggest things I noticed was just how my life and my body lines up more with the seasons," she said. "I used to be so much more detached from the seasons and now I’m so much more aware, so much more connected to the light coming back for example right now in the Spring and what that means for the chickens and what that means for the earth. It’s been really profound for me."
And Crystal adds this. "This is my healing, and I think it is for so many people. I think some people just don’t know it yet!"
Crystal and James hope to continue to expand the reach of Farmer-ish, and they have just recorded their first podcast. If you’d like to learn more, or perhaps might like to submit an article, click here to find the Farmer-ish journal.