New Leaf New York: From Pharma to Farm

The farmer as rock star
August 5, 2008, 12:47 pm
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Courtesy LA Times

Courtesy LA Times

Two interesting pieces today on the farmer-as-rock-star.  The LA Times features a budding young goat farmer, Kimberly Barnes, who is the darling of the 4-H circuit in Orange County.  Did you know there was a 4-H circuit in Orange County?  I sure didn’t.  Anyway, Barnes is generally a fantastic, responsible, and inspiring teenager whose love of goats has led her to study to become a veterinarian at Iowa State, where she’ll begin her freshman year in the fall.

“I really love showing,” she said, in part because it’s the culmination of lots of hard work.

For five years, she’s been up before the sun, milking and feeding before school. The same chores are waiting for her in the evening. She drinks the goat milk raw and makes cheese, but doesn’t sell it. This is all voluntary, with no financial payoff.

Barnes is a great example of what the future of farming could be.  I have a lot of hope for young people interested in farming — learning the newest knowledge and techniques in sustainability and soil science, it could revolutionize the way this country eats.

Getting a little more local, we’ve got Amy Hepworth and her outstanding produce.  She’s a seventh-generation farmer up in Milton, near Poughkeepsie, and produces some of the best apples New York has ever tasted.  The Park Slope Food Coop invited her to speak at a “Meet Your Farmer” event, where she was treated like a new American Idol.  Hepworth is a fascinating character: headstrong, energetic, wise-cracking, and deeply passionate about her farm.  And she eats apple maggots, believing pests are good for immunity.

What I appreciate most about Hepworth is her holistic approach to agriculture, something I’m really devoted to as a farming practice as well as a personal philosophy.

To restore ecological balance to her family’s farm, she now had to carry out purposefully destructive tasks like allowing mites to infest a portion of her apple orchards, in order to attract the mites’ predators—nature’s own pesticides. It was a slow process. Leaves bronzed and fell off, and some of that year’s crop was unharvestable. In making the transition, she says, “I must have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars. My family was almost ready to kick me off.” Yet Hepworth persisted. As soon as she returned to Milton, she sought out alternative distribution channels, and by 1983 she was selling her produce through a wholesaler whose clients included the Park Slope Food Coop.

And I’d say that’s more than worth the loss.  However, Hepworth says she’s only turned a profit within the last couple of years.  But she loves her business, and she loves her city customers.  “I’m dedicated to feeding you people because you don’t have land yourself, but you’re an efficient organism,” she beams.

UPDATED, 1:23 PM: The author makes an interesting point about New Yorkers turning chefs into rock stars.  I think that it may have started here, but the trend has surely carried on throughout the country, becoming a bit more populist as it went.  We went from Mario Batali and Masaharu Morimoto to Rachael Ray and Paula Deen in no time. We have the Food Network to thank for that, whether we like it or not.

But, I wonder: will this trend of farmer worship carry on the same way that the fetishization of chefs has?  And if so, will it have the same effect of making people think harder (or think at all, frankly) about where their food comes from, and investigating practices on how plants are grown and animals are raised?  I think what’s missing from something like Food Network is a deeper investigation of food sources, and I don’t mean Marc Summers’ “Unwrapped” bullshit.  Are you there, Food Network?  It’s me, Meredith.

Teenager Loves the Farm Life — And Her Cellphone Too [LA Times]

The Farmer as Cult Hero [New York Magazine]


5 Comments so far
Leave a comment

It reminds me of this story that I heard on NPR yesterday:

I’m glad there are people out there so dedicated to organic farming that they’ll risk everything to do it, but it worries me that our current economic structures are set up so local, holistic farms fail while the giant food factories–even organic ones–are the only ones that can turn a profit, even though they decimate ecosystems.

Comment by notaclevername

Yes, and unfortunately the latest Farm Bill did very little to help small and midsize farmers. But I have faith that, though slow, progress will be made, and there will be more help and encouragement for these holistic ideas. Also, organic doesn’t always mean the same as holistic or sustainable. There are organic factory farms, strictly speaking under USDA standards. And I hope we can get away from the thinking that “organic” is always better — because it’s not.

Comment by Meredith

Re: rock star theme —

Comment by mendaciloquent

Oh yeah, I love the Greenhorns! I met some of them at New Amsterdam Market back in late June. I actually have their “guide for beginning farmers” right here.

Comment by Meredith

[…] heroes?  Of course!  A friend reminded me of The Greenhorns, “a documentary film that explores the lives of America’s young […]

Pingback by Swoon! My heroes « New Leaf New York: From Pharma to Farm

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