This story is part of a mini-series exploring The Farm at Butler, its methods, and its mission. Part two of six.
Tim Dorsey first started gardening because he wanted to become more self-sufficient—to give something back to the world around him. He wanted to become more connected with the Earth and its people, and he wanted to learn something. So he got his hands in the soil and taught himself to create something from it.
Dorsey never had much exposure to farming growing up in suburban New Jersey, and he says he didn’t really start paying attention to anything seriously until after college. But that’s when he realized most of his newfound interests—from environmental issues, to rural communities, to local economics, to health and nutrition—all converged in the concept of agriculture.
“My mind started slowly reeling, and I had some ideas for the future,” he says.
He’d recently graduated from Taylor University, where he studied philosophy.
“So, like all good philosophy students—unless you’re in the 0.1 percent of those who go on to become a professor or something—I ended up doing other random things afterwards,” Dorsey says. “But I don’t think that’s wasted. I think it kind of shapes you.”
Between shifts at a local health food store, Dorsey spent his post-college years practicing sustainable farming in his backyard and a few other spots in his Indianapolis neighborhood. As gardening grew into a little more than a hobby, he started meeting more urban farmers and reading every book he could find on sustainable food. He started a small community-supported agriculture (CSA) program—a sort of produce subscription service—and sold a few vegetables to local chefs. He dreamt of eventually finding a few acres where he could scale up.
Then, he found out Butler University was looking for someone to take over the farm that a group of students had planted.
Dorsey started as Butler’s Farm Manager in 2011. For the first three years, he worked as long as the sun was up, teaching himself the job. Now he’s making due with fairly regulated hours, but he always wishes he had a little more time. It’s rare for him to leave The Farm with a completed checklist.
Still, he says The Farm is “an ongoing attempt and demonstration at what can be done on this small parcel of land. And I think in that regard, we surprise a lot of people with what can come out of an acre that’s not even fully utilized.”
For Dorsey, the need to experiment with sustainable, organic farming methods is a no-brainer.
“We have to do something different,” he says. “We can’t think we just know all the answers. And we’re getting an even clearer sense of how locally-based, small-scale agriculture can actually meet the challenge of production.”
The Life of a Farm Manager
Every day on the farm brings something new, but here’s a glimpse into some of the tasks you might find Dorsey working on.
- Watering and harvesting crops
- Filling produce orders for local restaurants and Butler Dining
- Prepping for the weekly Farm Stand (Thursdays, 4:00-6:00 PM)
- Planning and establishing new growing areas
- Hand-weeding crop beds
- Cleaning harvest crates
- Mowing grass
- Installing electric fences, flash tape, and other pest-control methods
- Teaching Butler classes
- Leading community tours
- Supervising farm interns
- Facilitating student research projects
Part 1: Getting To The Root of It: How Butler’s One-Acre Farm Has Evolved In a Decade
Part 2: Farming Full-Time: How Tim Dorsey Discovered the World Through Agriculture
Part 3: A Crash Course on Nature-Focused, Hands-In-The-Dirt Growing
Part 4: Sustainability on the Syllabus
Part 5: A Model for Urban Farming in Indianapolis
Part 6: So, Where Does All The Food Go?
Explore the full Farm at Butler mini-series here
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