My family has farmed the same land since at least the 1640s and my childhood was vastly different from most children in shoreline Connecticut. I felt a deep connection to the land in a way that my peers could never understand, and my afternoons and weekends were busy and full of life on the farm.
Throughout my lifetime I have witnessed farm after farm get split into parcels, developments replacing corn and hay fields. I think of the ancestral families that lived on those farms, their hard work to keep the farm alive and pay the property taxes and the mortgages and fix whatever needed fixing. I think of how their hearts would break at the sale of their land, and my heart breaks for them.
Though I loved living in the middle of the farm and dreamed of one day being a farm wife and mother, I realized that I was not going to be the one to carry on our family farm. There were plenty of children in my generation and we couldn’t all make a living on the same 60 acres. I earned my degree in teaching and quickly learned that my love of agriculture could be redirected to a passion for teaching about botany, biology and the environment.
My teaching schedule allowed me to continue to work on the farm on weekends and summers and when I got married, my husband and I moved into the tiny apartment above my parents’ garage. And for a short while, we lived there on the farm together. We eventually built a house and moved a few minutes down the road, but it felt like a huge distance to me. I could no longer walk out of my door to pick a juicy apple, take a short walk down to the river or visit the horses.
I tried to replicate that feeling of my childhood home. I planted apple trees and tended a small garden at my own house, and I dreamed of getting a few laying hens, but it didn’t feel the same. I visited the farm often, but it’s not the same as actually living there, living that lifestyle. Though at the time I felt like I had no choice, I did choose to leave the family farm and follow a different path. I mourned for the loss of that open land, but I will carry those agrarian values with me forever. I felt like the family farmer was a dying breed, like the farmgirl in me had died.
In 2008 I started blogging and reading blogs, and I realized there is hope for the family farmer. I saw so many of my contemporaries interested in learning how to grow their own food, cook from scratch, raise animals, make maple syrup, shear sheep, knit, build their own farming lifestyle. They didn’t need to have my family history to rediscover those old skills, and they didn’t need a farming past to have a farming future.
As I read blogs from women like Jenna Woginrich of Cold Antler Farm, Sharon Astyk of Casaubon’s Book and Deanna Duke of Crunchy Chicken, I realized there is a whole new face of women in farming. We may not be related by blood, but we all have the farmgirl gene. These women are thoughtful, energetic and willing to do the hard work in the hot sun.
I admired Jenna Woginrich’s independence, as a young woman setting out into the unknown with the dream of having her own farm. I embraced Sharon Astyk’s plans to prepare for living in a world where there was much less energy available and found myself taking notes and making plans as I read her thorough posts on growing and storing food. I was awed by the quantity and variety of food that Deanna Duke could grow on her urban homestead while working full-time, raising two young children and helping her husband battle cancer, all without losing her incredible sense of humor. I relished reading their blogs and their books. If Jenna could farm on her own, if Sharon could farm with four children and if Deanna could farm on an urban homestead, well then I can farm, too.
I see now that whether I farm is not predetermined by how many generations my family has farmed. My life is what I choose to make of it. Leaving the farm was not an end for me, but rather a beginning for a new family farm right here on our own property. We built our home on a hay lot, so we have wide open space and the opportunity to build and plant exactly what we want. We planted a small orchard that has yet to bear fruit, but it's an investment in our future here.
There’s a kitchen garden where I grow much of our summer produce and plenty of weeds, too. We have a berry patch of raspberries and blackberries, with plans to add blueberries and strawberries. I add to my perennial and annual gardens each year, in hopes of attracting pollinators. We dream of building a barn someday, a great big 40-foot by 40-foot post-and-beam barn with a little greenhouse off to the side and a chicken coop for laying hens. We may have much less land than my childhood farm and we may work other jobs, but we are living the lifestyle that we want to live.
We are family farmers, and you can be, too.