I was recently interviewed by a writer for the magazine Today's Dietitian for an article about unique or non-traditional jobs that registered dietitians (RDs) have. I am not the only RD-Farmer and I would guess that several might be interviewed also, but I certainly do have a non-traditional job as an RD. Knowing that the article will be able to include only snippets of my answers, i.e., the vast majority of my responses will end up on the cutting room floor from editing due to space limitations, I thought I would show you all the questions and my complete thoughts. These were good questions. They made me think, and I enjoyed doing so!
Today’s Dietitian - Unique Jobs in Dietetics Feature
Name: Diana Dyer
Title/Credentials: Farmer-Author, MS, RD
1. Please describe your job (title and typical job duties) and what makes it unique from more traditional dietetics opportunities.
After nearly 40 years of growing and preserving a lot of our own food, my husband and I took the plunge of doing what we have always wanted to do and finally purchased some property to begin a small organic farm in 2009, growing 40 varieties of organic garlic to sell to local restaurants, personal chefs, and at several farmers' markets, so for a job title, I am a Farmer. I know there are other RD-Farmers, so I am not unique, but it is a small (but growing!) group of RDs who are also commercial farmers.
I am still an RD-Author (my book A Dietitian's Cancer Story
has been in print since 1997, with the 13th printing in June, 2010) and I am still frequently invited to speak at cancer meetings and events, maintain a long-standing website at www.CancerRD.com
, and write all the content for my three (3) blogs: www.DianaDyer.com
, and www.CancerVictoryGardens.com
. Recent speaking engagements have focused on the benefits and the importance of developing local sustainable agriculture and food systems. In addition, I have enjoyed having a dietetic student from Michigan State University spending time with me on our farm this summer.
2. Please describe a typical day in this unique dietetics job.
There is NO typical day, which in our case is probably at least partially due to the fact that we are still very new farmers and still on the steep end of the learning curve in terms of the business management side of farming. Planned activities always depends on the projected weather for the day and the week so we can decide whether to start with outside or inside projects (which is always subject to change based on, how can I say this, "crisis management"!).
Barn building, hoop house planning, determination of future crop plantings, the actual planting, maintenance of the crops (i.e. weeding, watering), walking and observing the fields/beds while making notes about how various crops/varieties are growing, record keeping (i.e. time spent on farm chores, income, bill paying), networking, researching, developing the myriad aspects of marketing (logo, business cards, farmers' market displays just for starters), education (recipes, newsletters, queries for suggesting articles about our farm, just for starters), general reading to keep up with my professional interests and dietetic practice groups listservs, cooking (lots), cleaning (not much), laundry (everyday),, etc, etc, keeps us both very busy and sleeping well at night. (This is not even mentioning that we are still repairing and remodeling the house at the farm and we have not even moved in yet, a full year after purchasing it.)
3. What skill sets are needed to perform effectively in this job?
Critical thinking, problem identification, problem solving, and execution, along with creativity are all skills needed to be a "dynamite RD" in any work setting. Being a pioneer critical care/ICU dietitian in the initial years of nutrition support also taught me how to be a team player, network, and market the strengths and attributes that my nutrition knowledge brought to patient care. These same skills are beneficial and will help us both see and make the connections in our local food community in order to make our farm profitable as a local business.
Being a member of Nutrition Entreprenuers' Dietetic Practice Group (NE DPG) has been invaluable since I made a career move ~15 years ago from the ICU to having a private practice (that's a big jump on the health care spectrum and skill set needed!), then subsequently became an author, public speaker, website and blog writer. All those same skills needed to manage my multi-focused business as a nutrition entrepreneur have been beneficial to have under my belt as they are easily transferred to running the business of a farm! Being a member of the Hunger and Environmental Nutrition (HEN) DPG has provided me with a large group of RDs who hold similar values about the importance and benefits of sustainable farming along with the friendship and professional support to "go for it!".
4. What attracted you to this job and how did you find or pursue it?
My husband and I both love having our hands in the soil, our face in the sun (or rain), feeling the wind in our hair, growing and preserving our own food, and knowing where our food comes from, all of which we have been doing together to some degree even before we were married! We are long-time "farmer wanna-be's" and almost dropped out of graduate school in the 1970's to start an organic farm. We were convinced to stay in school and obtain our professional and graduate degrees, have had multiple conventional jobs and careers over the last several decades, but finally decided we were not getting younger !! and it was now or never to (at last!) have our farm. We view our farming as our next career (not retirement!) and indeed refer to it as our "encore career".
5. What holds your interest in this job?
We like the wide variety of what we need to do. No two days are alike. In addition, we both love being on the steep end of the learning curve as my husband and I apply all our collective skills and knowledge to a new business plus all the interesting people we meet each and every day. We love growing food, knowing where our food comes from, educating people about food, and are committed to helping to both diversify and rebuild Michigan's economy by growing "Good Food" (healthy, green, fair, affordable/accessible) for our local community. We also LOVE the positive feedback we get from people who purchase our food.
6. What challenges do you face in this job and do you think these challenges are similar or different from those encountered by RDs in more traditional jobs?
What is different being an RD-Farmer is needing to fully understand all the factors that allow us to be at the starting point of "we are what we grow" instead of "we are what we eat" (which is the typical starting point of how dietitians' traditional training has us usually think). Moving that understanding back several steps to "we are what we grow" encompasses all the concepts necessary for creating and maintaining the soil's health, bio-diversity, and sustainability plus all federal, state, and local policies that influence what food is grown and sold. In addition, obviously RD-farmers are running a business so we need to know all aspects of how to do that profitably all the while knowing that extreme and unforseen and uncontrollable weather can undermine all your planning in a minute.
7. Please describe what you enjoy the most (any perks) of this job.
Being outside nearly every day of the year, meeting interesting people who share a passion of good food and good food for all, and educating people about food and nutrition. I also love developing this new business with my husband!
8. What do you enjoy the least?
The sense of "controlled chaos" or disorganization that comes from being a "new" farmer. There are too many things to do with not enough hours in the day to do them all, and they all feel like they should have been done yesterday. (I still insist on cooking our own food and sleeping on most days!) I hope each year gets less disorganized and develops more of a comfortable rhythm.
9. What advice would you give for RDs looking to get into this dietetics niche or break out of traditional dietetics jobs in general?
Get involved (i.e. volunteer) with your all of your dietetic communities (local, state, national/DPGs, your university/internship) and network, network, network. Your RD colleagues and friends will be your biggest fans and marketers when you do something non-traditional!
If you want to be a farmer, start by growing as much of your own food as possible, volunteer to work on a farm or a community garden in your area, get involved in your local food community (i.e., a local Slow Food chapter), start a farmers' market in your hometown or hospital, offer to teach nutrition and/or cooking classes using locally grown foods at your local farmers' markets, your local schools, etc, get involved anywhere and everywhere you can think of where you will meet people who share your interests.
Explore, there are no limits, jump in, create your dream job, and go for it!
10. Other comments:
As an RD, I have now worked at both ends of the health care spectrum, the first 20 years in the ICU's as a nutrition support dietitian with the sickest of the sick, jumping to the wellness sector in order to provide "information and inspiration" to cancer survivors for the next 15 years, and now I have moved even further to the far other end of the spectrum to focus on disease prevention by actually being a farmer and growing the good food that my community needs to become a healthy community.
In my view, farmers are really our front-line health care practitioners
by maintaining the healthy soil that grows healthy food that nourishes healthy people who create healthy communities. I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to be a new farmer (even an "old-new farmer"!), and I am both proud and honored to be an RD-farmer who is "walking the talk" by growing, selling, educating, and advocating for healthy food for all within my community. I look forward to the day when (1) all RDs are required to have both knowledge and "hands-in-the-soil" experience in sustainable agriculture and food systems and (2) the farmers who are growing healthy foods to eat are our society's "rock stars" or "celebrities". :-)
Our farm name is very simple - The Dyer Family Organic Farm. However, our 'tag line' ("Shaping our future from the ground up") has a deep meaning to it. Our farm is doing just that, shaping the future of our personal lives plus that of our local community by growing healthy food in healthy soil, literally from the ground up, a grass-roots effort. We are a small part of the process of developing local/regional agriculture and food systems that will produce "Good Food", which in Michigan's newly adopted Good Food Charter
is defined as food that is healthy, green, fair, and affordable/accessible.
My "touchstone" as a farmer is the following quotation, which I hope is one that all RDs will find to be a good professional fit in the near future:
"Soil is the tablecloth under the banquet of civilization."
~~ Steven Stoll, The Larding of the Lean Earth, 2002
I love that image and find both joy and meaning while working every single day as an RD-Farmer.
"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"
Diana Dyer, MS, RD