To me, there is something magical about the place I live. There is an honesty and peace that not only goes with the agricultural vistas of the Mohawk and Upper Hudson valleys, but with the work that creates that landscape. Someone once said rather wistfully that the big red barns and the towering spires of silos attached are the castles of our rural home. But castles are relics, bastions of the past. Silos are living, breathing and even groaning structures. To say that our farms are like castles is to say that they too, belong more in the past than the present or future.
But to carry out the image, it is from these castles, mysterious and foreign to outsiders, that we are able to nurture, indulge, provide, sustain and impress our family, loved ones and friends. Though the food may come from your kitchen it started out on a farm of one form or another.
Farmers, themselves, are an often invisible, silent and all too commonly, misunderstood taking up roughly 1% of the population. If you were to close your eyes and think of a farmer what do you see? American Gothic? A man on horseback? Someone chewing on a stalk of hay? Undoubtedly there is a tractor, some corn in the distance dancing in the breeze and perhaps some cows dotting a hillside. Let’s face it, farmers are a romantic ideal. We are a nation built by farmers and yet many of us can’t name one we personally know.
I was among the 99% of Americans who have no clue about what agriculture is and means, having grown up sixty miles or so outside of New York City in suburban Connecticut. My farther a carpenter and home builder, my mother an executive secretary. Though not raised in a city, I was unmistakeably a city girl. My brother was not, he was a farm kid born without a farm. Which comes to my point, farming is a calling not a career path. Whether you are born to the fourth generation of dairy farmers or to an accountant, if you are meant to be a farmer you just know.
Agriculture is one of the last true vocations. Like the church or medicine, a farmer is drawn to agriculture by a higher power or a siren song. You farm because you love it, not because you hope to become rich, in fact you will likely end the day with less money than you started and yet couldn’t imagine a life lived any other way.
In 2002, we became dairy farmers or rather, my family did. As they struggled with the first twenty cows on 400 acres in rural New York, I moved to London and began a pattern of farm to city that would last for the next three years. It was in London in 2005, as I studied for my master’s degree in international development that I finally got the call myself. It was at probably the least likely of places, the London School of Economics, that I became a farmer. I have been on the family farm in one form or another ever since.
I am the first to admit that I am not involved in the day to day operation of our farm. I do not help clean out the barn, feed calves or milk cows. I am instead the public face, primarily working the non-profits and advocacy groups that promote, educate and lobby for agriculture. I do work on a farm just over an hour east in Washington County where we raise 100% grass fed, grass finished beef and all natural pork. I do the marketing, not the moving of cows from field to field but I am still a farmer.
And this, along with the close friends I have made along the way, has lead me to realize that not only am I a farmer but I am part of the next generation of agriculturalists coming into what some would call a dying field. We are the new farmers, people called to work hard, provide for others and go largely unnoticed by the world. Whether we choose to be traditional, organic or artisanal farmers we all work toward the same end and come from the same place. There is a love that goes into what we do, a piece of ourselves in every green we grow, pound of milk we take from the animals we care for or, yes, steak we put on the table.
My goal here is to explore, contemplate and introduce my friends, myself and the things I am truly passionate about all of which revolve around one thing: agriculture. Read, think and enjoy.