People often ask me why I farm. Or perhaps more directly, why would I work in a profession that generates little respect because it almost never creates monetary wealth for its practitioners. It is not a trivial question. Carol and I spend a lot of time justifying our lifestyle to each other. The funny thing is, everyone who asks us this seems to have some sense that we are doing something incredibly positive. People thank us all the time for doing what we do. They regale us with stories about great meals, great times, and great memories connected with our humble vegetables. And usually, they express at least some desire to join us- “I would love to do what you do someday”. Right now, our farm works partly because we get so much “free” help from others. We have two wonderful women who are currently working on the farm one morning a week together. Ostensibly they are doing it to learn our techniques to apply to their own gardens. But I think they are enjoying getting their hands dirty“farming”. It helps to balance out some of the rest of life that is so disconnected today to our natural world. There seems to be something positive for the human spirit working at a diversified farm. The image is so powerful it is used everywhere in food marketing – ad campaigns often start with a beautiful morning sunrise, a rooster crowing in the background, and misty fields and woods with grass fed cows or sheep, and nature in abundance all around. What is fascinating for me is that most of the time, the products being sold are a long way from the reality of that beautiful farm. Most farming operations are not pleasant to see or visit. “Modern” farms are industrial operations scaled up to a mind boggling size. They do not feed the soul the way a smaller diversified farm seems to. A big part of why we farm is because it feels right. It is beautiful. It is great exercise. But more than these, it is healthful to live life simply in nature’s seasonal rhythm. It is spring now and we are planting seeds and nurturing baby plants. In a few weeks, we will start to plant outside and begin building for the first harvests in April or May. Our activities mirror Nature with her gradually building crescendo of birds, insects, frogs, and plant life waking up after the winter quiet. It is a wonderful pattern that is central to our motivation to work on our small farm.
We also farm the way we do because we think we are meeting a community need for good food. Our modern society’s science and growing and processing methods have dropped the cost of producing calories to mere pennies. Despite selling a rotisserie chicken for a few bucks, that chicken represents significant profits to be split between all of those who provide the feed, chemicals, industrial production, processing, transport, and finally the place of sale for the chicken. But how nutritious is that bird? Nutrients are hard to come by in food unless you use expensive methods like quality feed or lower yield techniques that allow the development of complex nutrients. Ironic isn’t it? We think of food as fuel and calories are the measure of food’s value as fuel. But in reality a human being needs a prodigious number of nutrients to stay healthy. We eat plenty of calories. In fact, generally we eat too many calories. But nutritionally, we are often poorly fed. Even if you try to eat well by eating “fresh” fruits and vegetables, if you do not know their source, they may or may not have the nutrition you expect. Since these complicated nutrients are so expensive, it is not surprising that they have been gradually disappearing from our basic foods like fruits and vegetables. Unfortunately, most of these ingredients are poorly understood or even measured in our food. Our regulatory framework prohibits marketing vegetables as “better” based on how they are grown or harvested. But we know that a tomato picked ripe off the vine, bursting with flavor and complex sweetness, certainly has a different nutrition profile from the supermarket’s hard, green tomato “ripened” with ethylene gas processing and picked weeks ago in Mexico. I have always believed that most of our health issues in our society originate from this simple fact – we eat too many calories from low nutrition foods. Without that complex of elemental nutrients, complex amino acids, anti-oxidants, and all the other long list of “stuff” we need to be healthy, we become sick. This is the second reason we farm – to try to create a paradigm of more nutritious food. We are raising our vegetables in a way that enables people to know what they are eating again. We work hard to create the conditions to maximize the nutritional value of our vegetables and other products. We think it shows in the tastes of the product. But it can be subtle. There is no good scientific evidence that what we do works. It is largely an act of faith in us as farmers. We hope that we can be a working farm that you can trust for your food. Our model is clearly to be a farm that you know and understand. It is why I drone on in these messages to you because I believe it is important that you know what we are doing and why. Our long term dream is to be another model someday for other similar farms to more broadly improve our food. Until then, we just want to grow good food for our customers to eat for their good health. So we farm for our customers. And we love it.
Take care. Stay healthy. See you again soon.