I Quit My Art Gallery Job to Become a Farmer

Tiffany Noe and her partner Muriel Olivares are two women from the art world that started an urban farm in Miami called Little River Cooperative. If you think that’s an odd transition (or an odd job), I couldn’t agree more. That’s why I called Tiffany, from the comfort of my air-conditioned office, and made her tell me everything about it. Our call cut out a couple times — she took it from her pick-up truck, en route from farm to restaurant — but we managed. Read on to hear her about her fascinating everyday routine.

My business partner Muriel and I have an urban farm. It’s three acres, located on an empty residential property in the middle of Miami. There’s an actual agricultural area called Homestead about an hour and a half away, but we’re right in the city center. We’re like in it, you know?

We do typical farming stuff, but since we’re in the city, we do other things like take care of edible gardens for restaurants, too. If we were in the middle of Wisconsin on a normal gigantic farm, we wouldn’t be able to do that. We wouldn’t be surrounded, literally, by people who care about eating organic, locally-grown food. We also have a cool plant nursery — it’s in a neighborhood that’s even more in the urban core — where we grow plants in a greenhouse and tend a garden where we hold lots of demonstrations and workshops.

Because we’re an urban farm, we drive around a lot. I think that’s one of the things that makes our job so unique. I imagine that normal farmers live on their farms in their cute houses and walk outside in the morning and do romantic farming things like milk their goats and ride tractors. But we live in the city. We swing by the local coffee shop on our way to work, drive around town in our old, beat-up pick-up truck, deliver produce to some of the fanciest restaurants in town. It’s a weird contrast.

I drive a 1992 electric blue Ford Ranger and wear spandex shorts every day because it’s so hot. And I’m always filthy. I’ll often leave the farm from a day of harvesting and drive my truck — which is loud because I don’t have a muffler — up to the valet at Soho House. And the valet people will roll their eyes like, “Here comes that farmer girl again.” I think they’re grossed out by my car, but some of them are really nice. Then I’ll walk in all filthy and the chefs will be like, “Yay, Tiffany’s here!”

Before this, I managed an art gallery in Berlin for eight years. But I kind of got over it, so I left. I pulled one of those, “I’m abandoning my whole life” kind of moves. I quit my job and I left my partner and I moved to America and I drove around the country for a year to figure out where to go and what to do for a living. I’d gotten into gardening by then, and I imagined I might work somewhere in the responsible food system. Perhaps at a non-profit, in an office, helping people with food inequality issues or food distribution or something. I knew I wanted to do something with organic food and responsible farming, I just didn’t know that I would become a farmer myself. Or a tropical farmer!

I’m from Miami, so I just went there to visit my family — I didn’t intend to stay — and that’s when I met Muriel. She also has an art background and she had a little farm and, because of our mutual interests, we started collaborating. And then it all just kind of happened. Neither of us were like, “I want to be a full-time farmer or a gardener.” But someone asked us: “Do you want to rent more land?” And then someone else offered, and then someone else was like, “Can I buy veggies from you?” and someone else was like, “Can you look after my garden?” It was a domino effect. And now we do it for a living.

It was a transition though. I definitely had a moment where I paused and wondered: Should I quit my job and do this full time? I was waiting tables when I first got here, and then at some point I realized that if I kept waiting tables then I’d never put enough into the farm. So I quit and though, Okay, here’s hoping! At that point there was enough business happening so we could make it work.

We’re in the subtropics, so farming here is really different and quite difficult. There’s been a lot of stuff to work out on our own. Like, all the other farmers we follow on Instagram aren’t dealing with the same things that we are. Hawaii is the only place that’s similar in terms of weather.

Every day is different, but on a typical day, I’ll go to the farm in the morning, meet a bunch of volunteers and part-time employees there and we’ll got on our knees and harvest an eight-foot trailer full of vegetables. Radishes or salad greens or lettuce. Then Muriel might stay there while I leave and go take care of a garden. That will include driving to a nursery and packing the trailer full of shovels and filling my car with plants, maybe driving over to one of the restaurants where we take care of the gardens. We have four really big restaurant gardens that we tend, and we spend a lot of time at those. We’ll to the chef about what kind of specials can be included that day or show them some new plants we just got in stock or talk about which parts are edible — a lot of education. Then I’ll get home really filthy from digging, weeding and watering at three different gardens, with my truck full of compost. It’s usually dark by then.

Our work is very seasonal. Winter is our busy season. In January, we’re probably working around 70 hours a week, six days a week. One of the reasons we do that is because we have an off-season (summer) during which we need to have an income. So we’ll hustle really hard for five months in the winter and then pare it back a bit. Like this week, I’ll probably work 25 hours. Around this time of year, there’s time for vacations and hobbies, being lazy, going to the beach, all that. In the summer we leave for six weeks and close our business. This July, I’m driving up to the New York farm area to do a little research road trip, and Muriel’s going to Brussels. But even on our days off we’re still working a bit. We’re really passionate about what we do and making our business successful.

For eight years I had an office job. I was working with artists from around the world, in a gallery with creative coworkers. I had what I considered to be the coolest job possible with this great company. But I wouldn’t go back! I love not working at a desk. We do spend time in front of the computer because we’re a business — we have to send a bunch of invoices and emails — but I love that each day is so different for us. I love spending time outside, I like being physical. I get that there are other people that might not want to do this for a living, but we kind of designed this lifestyle for ourselves, by building our business in this way. We love it.

The only part that I dislike is always being so hot. It’s summer right now and it’s 105 degrees out with 90 percent humidity! But really that’s nothing. I feel like the luckiest person to do what I do. Muriel and I have amazing clients and we go to a farmer’s market every weekend and sell to community members and garden for people all over town. Chefs and tastemakers and artists and poets. We love being surrounded by this community we’ve developed. Everyone’s really supportive and we’re very proud of what we do. We feel like we’re making a difference. There’s not a lot of organic farmers in Miami, especially not urban farmers that are really accessible. We’re so closely connected to the people we’re feeding. We also do a lot of kids’ workshops about bugs, pickling, fermentation, tropical fruits. It’s all super rewarding. I wouldn’t change it for anything. I imagine I’ll work with plants and my body for the rest of my life.

Of course the job has its challenges; running a business is never easy. Muriel and I are both really strong-willed. We’re full of opinions and sometimes they’re not the same and sometimes we annoy each other. But we’re very close. We started as friends with a common interest, you know? Our challenges as business partner is part of the fun. Growing with someone else, being mature about disagreements, convincing each other of things, it’s all part of it.

When I meet people and tell them what I do, the most common reaction I get is surprise that my job even exists. People are always surprised that we make enough money to be happy humans living in Miami, Florida — which has such high rent, higher than LA right now. But yes, we do this for a living! It’s our job and it works. If you’re really passionate about something, I think you can find a way to make it your job.

Photos by Gesi Schilling; follow her on Instagram @gesischilling.

Haley Nahman

Haley Nahman

Haley Nahman is the Features Director at Man Repeller.

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