I moved to the country from the NYC suburbs when I was 24. Although my mother was an avid flower and vegetable gardener and we enjoyed her bountiful harvest, I never really appreciated how food got from the farm to my table. Moving to the country opened my eyes. In rural central NY most of the farms in the mid 1970s were small, family owned dairies. As agribusiness grew and milk prices dropped, these small family farms struggled and many went out of business. Though I’m not an expert on what really happened, I noticed that farms that had diversified, had enough land to grow and sell grains and hay, seemed to stay in business.
The opportunity to move to Cherry Valley arrived in the form of a “job” as a property caretaker for an old sheep farm owned by the poet Allen Ginsberg. He named the property “The Committee on Poetry” in the exodus of city to country that occurred in the late 60s and early 70s. After a few years he went back to his city life but held on to the place. My experience there was remarkable. Spoiled suburban girl living “off the grid”, no electricity, for three years. The “farming” I did there with my co-caretaker and boyfriend was random and interesting. Boyfriend grew up on his family dairy farm and had just returned from driving a “combine” [tractor] for the annual massive wheat harvest from the Midwest to Manitoba. He was no stranger to hard work. Though we weren’t technically farming, there was no getting away from the fields and small barns that called to us to farm. Within a few months we had a massive garden with more produce than we could ever use. We had chickens for eggs and I learned how to milk a goat. Twice a day. EVERY day. We cut hay and loaded it by pitch fork [no baler] into the loft of the barn for Winter supply for the goats. We offered free veggies to our friends and neighbors. I traded goats milk, eggs and homemade bread for Yoga classes. It was quite a time and thus began my awe of small, independent farmers. Hard work and you have to love it!
I had a vegetable garden nearly every year from then until my most recent move to a community that has the most remarkable farmer’s market imaginable. I decided that I had grown enough zucchini and made enough zucchini bread and relish for a lifetime. Now I would let the experts do the growing and I simply purchase and cook! I have no regrets, because I am IN LOVE with the Saratoga Farmer’s Market.
I am in awe of the young people who have taken to sustainable agriculture. They are well educated, determined and hardworking. In our surrounding farms they work together with older farmers, sharing knowledge, expertise, equipment, resources. They are always smiling and helpful at the market. Their passion shows in the beautiful produce and farm products they sell.
This Saturday I filled in at market for a vendor. Chrissey of The Joy of the Journey Farm needed some help so that she could be be a vendor at another event, so I volunteered and spent the morning with farmers! Before market opened, everyone running about saying “hello” to their market friends and colleagues, laughing, sharing stories, helping each other, visiting before the bell went off at 9 AM, when the customers began to shop. Rick, the beekeeper stopped off to see Chrissey and visited with me for a bit. Arnold, the Saturday market manager [and market vendor] toured to make sure everyone had everything they needed and stopped by to welcome me to market. Andy helped me set up. By the time the bell rang I was filled with a sense of belonging, if only for one day, to this loving, supportive community of farmers. Wow, in awe again!
I can’t imagine my life now without the market. The food is extraordinary. We love supporting the local economy and sustainable agriculture. The passion I sense from our farmers is contagious. I leave the market smiling and delighted with my purchase.
I see a connection, in my own peculiar way, to farming on this sustainable scale and personal transformation. Life needs to be “like this” in order to be sustainable. The determination, hard work, acceptance of “what is”, surrender to loss, choice, regrouping, moving forward, passion, love…. Well, I think it’s better said by Wendell Berry, Bringing it to the Table: Writings on Farming and Food:
“Why do farmers farm, given their economic adversities on top of the many frustrations and difficulties normal to farming? And always the answer is: “Love. They must do it for love.” Farmers farm for the love of farming. They love to watch and nurture the growth of plants. They love to live in the presence of animals. They love to work outdoors. They love the weather, maybe even when it is making them miserable. They love to live where they work and to work where they live. If the scale of their farming is small enough, they like to work in the company of their children and with the help of their children. They love the measure of independence that farm life can still provide. I have an idea that a lot of farmers have gone to a lot of trouble merely to be self-employed to live at least a part of their lives without a boss.”
Find your passion. Find and live a life you love if you don’t have it now. Transform your life so that it reflects all the qualities that you desire. Now that’s living.
— Photo above is at Saratoga Farmer’s Market — vendors Kilpatrick Family Farm