Meet Nathaniel Dioh, farmer at Big River Farms
What was your relationship to organic food and farming growing up?
I grew up in Liberia, west Africa and to be honest we just grow things naturally – there isn’t much of a difference as far as growing organic. I worked with my family on the farm —it taught us habits of growing our own stuff.
Tell us about your farm.
Our farm name is Bethel Empowerment Farming Venture. Bethel means God’s House. It’s our way of saying this is God’s House of empowering others in our farming ventures.
To be honest, I’m pretty much acquiring knowledge right now. Farming was just the way of life for us back home in Liberia. I just enjoy doing it. Maybe in a decade or so, when we acquire enough experience through trial and error, we can actually pass that knowledge on to other farmers as well.
Will you share a favorite farm memory?
When I was four, I was given a piece of land to grow my own stuff. It helped me a lot—it showed me the work behind everything. Sometimes we just expect things are simple, and we see it done rather than being involved. It opens up the reality of how much work and time goes into it.
I grew some greens but over the long haul, I decided to just grow a tree there so that I didn’t have to maintain it so often. I was young and wanted to find a shorter way. I grew a cola tree that produced the second year. I also grew a palm tree that produced fruit we made oil out of.
What has your experience been with Big River Farms so far?
It really has created opportunities to grow and learn things I haven’t before. Especially this year, I wanted to try new things. It’s really hard to find other places that are mentoring people. BRF is open, they teach how to be independent, how to grow different plants, how to incorporate your farming ideas. It has been very helpful.
Could you share a success you’ve had recently?
Going to the farmers market, beginning to be able to sell there was a huge success because I always had the fear – maybe if I go I wouldn’t be able to sell anything. But it was surprisingly really eye-opening to see what it was like at the farmers market. It encouraged me to want to do more and more!
What challenges have you faced as an ‘emerging’ farmer?
One of the bigger challenges is doing it alone. That’s always a barrier—balancing between work and farming. It’s possible but just strenuous.
This year I cut my job down to parttime because I wanted to have more time during weekdays during the summer. Last year I lost a lot of produce because I wasn’t available during the weekdays.
Why do you farm?
I farm just because I love it. It’s a way of life for me. I don’t see it as a business or a job, I see it as this is what I should be doing, and to be able to sell it and make money off it makes it more worthwhile.
What are you growing?
We’re doing habanero peppers, okra, squash, tomatoes, and green peppers. This year we also added carrots, collard greens, cabbage, watermelon, and some squash just to see how they come up. We’re just trying little amounts to get growing experience and ideas, you know?
I was hoping to sell some fruits – strawberry, blueberry, other fruits – with our increased land this year but I wasn’t sure.
Right now, I’m farming 1 acre and I’ve planted ¼ acre. We were planning strawberries and blueberries but won’t be doing that this year. But I am trying to do some direct seeding to have a more extended season.
What’s your favorite part about being a small farm business owner?
To be honest, you connect with people more. People get to know what you’re selling. It’s really at the farmers market that you get to connect with people so they know who you are.
What are your future aspirations?
To be full time farmers. We kind of want to hopefully be fully into wholesale. That way we can know how much income we’re going to have and stuff like that. When the time is right, it’s a goal to own our own farm – but it’s always good to take it step by step.