Buying the Farm

In February of 1996, I followed my then husband, a Ph.D. in solid state physics, to Hanover, New Hampshire from Waltham, Massachusetts, swapping one New England college town for another. Upon our arrival in Hanover, I discovered several things fairly quickly; 1) I could quickly rise up the ranks of the local Democratic Party because this was Dartmouth not Brandeis, after all, and New Hampshire Democrats were few and far between 2) Faculty housing was not the quaint, brick sided, wood-burning stove image I had in my mind, but rather former military housing that looked a lot like, well, military housing and 3) we could eat local, organic produce for a lot less than it cost to buy it at Bread and Circus (now known as Whole Foods).

The previous November, we had spent Thanksgiving at a friend’s house in Williamstown, Mass, where her mother had a kitchen full of organic produce from their local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm. This was the first I had heard of CSA and I was intrigued. As two graduate students with a toddler, we were broke. Still, after being diagnosed and treated for ovarian cancer that previous year at the ripe old age of 28, I wasn’t taking any chances and insisted that we eat pesticide-free. My friend’s mom explained that they had bought into an organic farm and, in return for their investment, they received a weekly delivery of fresh, organic produce from their farm. I wanted in.

When we arrived in Hanover in the middle of late winter (there is a saying that New Hampshire has 4 seasons; winter, late winter, mud season and black fly season) to the most depressing tract of housing I had seen in a long time, I decided to make the best of it. I immediately sought out a local CSA farm that we could join and staked out my vegetable garden plot behind our house. The farm we joined (mostly because I liked the name), Luna Bleu in South Royalton, Vermont, was managed by Tim Sanford and Suzanne Long, a couple of MIT engineering grads. What they didn’t know about farming they made up for in enthusiasm and accessibility. We spent a lot of time hanging out at the farm, including a memorable incident when our daughter climbed into the pen with the baby lambs. It was as part of Luna Bleu that I learned how to cook pea vines and kohlrabi and make sorrel and spinach pesto. We even helped raise our Thanksgiving turkey during a time of lapsed vegetarianism, something I both regret and am proud to have experienced.

Many years later, and my teen age daughter and I live in Santa Monica, California, where there are farmer’s markets throughout the week within 2 miles of our house, including a Wednesday and Saturday market at the Third Street Promenade, a Saturday market 4 blocks away at Cloverfield Park, a Sunday market at Ocean Park and Main Street and another Sunday market in West LA. True confession; sometimes I go to all of them, just to be around all that fresh, organic produce. I realize that we are spoiled here with year round markets, and the availability of beans, meat, eggs, bread and cheese from local farms, in addition to all that produce. We can pretty much live just on food available at the farmer’s market.

Still, I have long harbored fantasies of living on a farm. In fact, in the Dr. Seuss ‘My Book About Me’ that I filled out in first grade, under occupation I wrote ‘farm lady’. In college, I tried to get some friends to rent a farmhouse in New Jersey with me one summer, but could find no takers willing to spend a summer in New Jersey. So it was with great interest that I read about Tryon Farm in Michigan City, Indiana in the recent issue of Dwell. The housing is reasonably priced, starting at $150,000 and looks fairly plush and the community includes vegetable and flower gardens, as well as alfalfa fields.

Similar communities are popping up across the country including on working apple orchards in Virginia, corn fields in Vermont, organic vegetable farms in Illinois and cattle ranches in Florida. In addition, wealthy urban folk are buying second homes in rural agricultural areas to escape the city. These weekend Green Acres types are not always welcome to the fulltime farmers and, in fact, can be a real irritant to them, for example blocking the real farmers from leasing their land to wind power companies to put up turbines. They did escape the city for the unfettered view, after all. Conversely, some local farmers have also tried to block some of these agricultural community developments because of concerns about increased traffic and drain on local resources. At the same time, these communities are not self-sustaining and can serve as a welcome, new market place for local produce and goods.

The truth is that these communities hardly have the experience of an actual working farm and the struggles of farmers that rely on the land for survival. But they are bringing communities closer to food sources and adhering to certain communal principles of shared responsibility. And they are also, many times, building these communities to include intentional sustainability and eco-consciousness. So while it may not authentically fulfill my desire to be a farm lady, it has a lot of appeal. And I’m not so sure I could cut it on a real farm anyway. I spent a few nights visiting a friend on a kibbutz in my early 20’s and spent 2 days taking constant showers before I realized that we were downwind from the dairy and that the rather rank smell was the cows and not me. Perhaps before we pick up and move, I might have to go spend a night or two at the Tryon bed and breakfast just to make sure I am cut out for the rural life.

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  • Posted on Nov. 13, 2007. Listed in:

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