I started Farm Share Studio because I believed that the best way to preserve the agricultural landscape I love would be to create a demand for local farm products. Providing a living wage to farmers would make farmland more desirable for farms than for real estate. By painting seductive images of local produce, I thought I could inspire people to shop at local farm stands and join CSAs. I can’t know if my produce paintings have ignited any sparks. I do know that they make people stop and smile when they see the cards and prints at shows. I expect that the people who are drawn to the paintings are already members of CSAs, shop at the co-op, and farmers markets. But their purchases have allowed me to share nearly $400 of my revenue to The American Farmland Trust and to the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy. What I didn’t realize was how much this would change my own life.
We live in an agricultural paradise, surrounded by farm stands, so why do we shop at grocery stores that import our produce from California and Mexico — even in the summer?
Inspired by Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Vegetable Miracle, we committed to eating all of the organic produce in our CSA basket each week and to purchasing the rest of our needs (as much as practical) from farmers markets or the co-op. What this means, in practice, is that we cook a lot more at home. Each week is an adventure as we figure out what to do with French breakfast radishes or collards. What we’ve learned is that home cooking from farm fresh ingredients tastes immeasurably better at a fraction of the cost.
Home cooking also takes more time. Last year our family grew from three to four when we took in our autistic granddaughter. My partner was working overtime and I became the default cook and caregiver. I planned meals and shopping the way my mother used to. We had a lot of soups and stews. I planned for leftovers, which I froze, for eating when I needed a break from planning, chopping, and cooking. Life in the kitchen, for me, was a battle to be waged, with dinner on the table precisely at 6:00 every night because of our granddaughter’s need for structure. She returned to her home mid year and my partner retired about the same time. Since then we’ve become more relaxed in the kitchen. Sometimes taking turns, sometimes sharing the work. Nancy is a bread baker and is more inclined to pull together recipes from far away places like South America, Japan or Turkey. Cooking has become a journey... a way of life. We spend more time in the kitchen because we can, rather than because we have to. It’s sad that this is a luxury in today’s world but I've learned that we all have more time than we think. It’s all about how we choose to use it.
One of the best outcomes of this project was meeting the farmers. I realize now that our culture idealizes farms but looks down on farmers. We like our farmers to be ivy league graduates with clean fingernails in barns fit for wedding receptions. Otherwise they can grow our food but we don’t invite them to the party. This summer I conducted a public interview with Everett Rau, a 95 year year old farmer from Altamont, to coincide with a Village Archives exhibit on the Altamont Fair. Though Ev has spoken widely on Dutch barns, wooden tools, and farming history, he had never spoken in his home town about his life. The village hall was packed with nearly 100 friends — ranging in age from 16 to 90. Ev held forth for over an hour on his personal history on land farmed by his family since before the Revolution. He talked about an age when farming was done with horses and harvesting was shared between farm families. He experienced the shift to combines and the lure of off-farm work after World War 2. He spoke with enthusiasm about the new projects on his Pleasant View Farm — pigs and pastured turkeys raised with solar electric fences and non-gmo feed. He sees the new farming methods described by our friend Gary Kleppel in his book, The Emergent Agriculture, as salvation for the small family farms that still make up the landscape in Upstate New York.
After our performance, Ev asked if I’d write a book with him. I told him I’d never written a book and he said he hadn’t either, but we could figure it out together. Each week we spend two hours recording his story and he answers all my naive questions about agriculture and history patiently and with good humor. Ev has the ability to make friends with people of all kinds and I’m honored to be counted among them. What I learned from Ev is that, while other jobs make you a living, farming makes you life. Some were born to farming, but today, many farmers have day jobs as computer programmers, heavy equipment operators, salesmen. The successful ones are hard working, smart, and optimistic. They’re mechanical wizards and entrepreneurs. They’re caregivers and environmentalists. This year I’m looking forward to sharing Ev’s story. This year I’ll learn to write a book.