Crystal Sands couldn’t find a home for her words. With over two decades as a writing teacher and freelancer under her belt, she was no stranger to the publishing world. But as she increasingly wanted to write about her connection to the land, she found a void in the publishing world.
Sands and her family have lived in Eddington on a homestead, Sands End Farm, for the last 10 years. Homesteading, she said, was “life changing,” and gave her a new lens to process and write about her experiences — a lens, unfortunately, that mainstream media didn’t have space for. She recalled receiving multiple rejections from publications for a personal essay about processing the grief of her miscarriage through losing a clutch of baby chicks on her farm.
“I would get feedback that would say, ‘It’s pretty interesting, but cut back on the chickens,’” Sands said. “This thing that I really wanted to say, there just didn’t exist a home for that kind of thing. I wanted to make that home.”
Sands and her husband, Ronald, decided to start their own publication, Farmer-ish, a quarterly online journal that publishes essays, poems, recipes and art about farming and homesteading life, all told by farmers. Sands said it was the rush for baby chicks as the coronavirus lockdowns kept more people at home that gave her the kickstart she needed to commit to her idea.
“It was in my mind for a long time, but it was really [during] the pandemic when I could see that there’s such a need for education,” Sands said. “Farmer-ish in my mind was both art and education.’”
Sands started reaching out to potential contributors through online creative nonfiction writing forums and Facebook groups. The response was overwhelming.
“It just went crazy,” Sands said. “I couldn’t believe there were so many people with this interest.”
The educational element went beyond teaching readers how to raise chickens, too. Sands wanted to use her experience as a writing teacher to show farmers how to tell their own stories.
“There are quite a few farmers who have contacted me who have never written before but wanted to share their stories,” Sands said. “I can help some of those voices publish for the very first time.”
Farmer-ish publishes quarterly, tied to the seasons, and Sands tries to choose pitches and pieces that reflect that. Aside from that, though, she tries to find stories that resonate with her experience, hoping that they will do the same for readers.
“One of the very first submissions that I ever got was called ‘Asparagus = Hope’ [by DK Crawford],” Sands said. “The things that the author was talking about are words that I have said to my husband about my struggles to plant asparagus. If we are arriving at this independently, who else is thinking this?”
Since their first online issue in the summer of 2020, Farmer-ish’s audience has grown considerably. Sands said that Farmer-ish has had 20,000 unique visitors since the site launched, and hundreds of pageviews every day.
In many ways, Sands said she is out of her element when it comes to managing some elements of her project — namely, social media.
“I struggle with marketing,” she admitted. “I am just kind of naturally an introvert, so I’m all kinds of out of my comfort zone trying to spread the word about this, but definitely it helps when I get to publish someone who I think is magnificent for the first time in their lives. I’m just so motivated by that.”
Luckily, Sands knows when to ask for help. Sands recently formed an advisory board for Farmer-ish, which she said is “full of…women with amazing expertise both from farming and academia and publishing as well.”
“I am excited and grateful,” Sands said. “Farmer-ish is growing, and I got some amazing, just humbling help.”
Sands’s immediate goals are to release an annual print edition of Farmer-ish and launch a podcast, which she said will be starting in March. It is Sands’s first time dabbling in audio storytelling, and she is nervous, but excited about the format they have crafted.
“We wanted something that would reflect Farmer-ish,” she explained. “The plan is to include interviews with farmers [and] to close with the reading of a poem or literary passage that will kind of combine this kind of arts and farm life that we live.”
As the project grows, though, the financing will become more challenging. Sands has been using the proceeds from her Etsy shop called Farmerish, selling items like upcycled homemade candles and homemade quilts, in order to pay her contributors and keep Farmer-ish as accessible as possible.
“In terms of long-term figuring out the financing, I [want] to keep the bulk of it free and online because there’s so much education — some of it practical education, some of it education of the heart,” Sands said.