The Short Story
I have been an organic farmer for more than 10 years, during which I have worked for CSA's, Market Gardens and Farm to Table restaurants. During my career, I have spent the off season travelling in Asia, visiting farms, volunteering and generally exploring the food in each country I visited. I grew up traveling and living abroad with my family and it has become an integral part of my life. I wanted an opportunity to combine all of my life loves and a chance to document some of what I had seen during my winters abroad. Last year I left my job at The Inn at Little Washington and set out on a mission to travel for 1 year, to work with farmers and document my journey in an effort to highlight the numerous and tenable ways that food finds its way to our plate. I want to give farmers a voice, to tell their story and inspire change.
The Whole Story (Almost)
I was born in 1980 in White Plains, New York. My family and I moved to Hong Kong when I was nine, and we spent all of our free time traveling around Asia. It opened my eyes as a child and my love affair with travel and adventure began. We moved back to the US in time for me to start high school. I had always been heavily into the sciences and decided I wanted to be an environmental biologist. I took a few extra college courses during the school year and spent my summers working trail crew for the county parks department. My first year of college was with Audubon Expedition Institute where I, along with 22 other students and 3 professors, lived on a bus traveling and backpacking around California and Nevada doing environmental studies. After that, I spent the next three years at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, graduating with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Environmental Biology.
After exploring a few different positions in biological research, I decided that it wasn’t for me. I loved all of the time I got to spend out in the field collecting data, but for every hour spent outdoors it seemed as if there were two that had to be spent in the lab hunched over a computer and analyzing data. A friend of mine suggested getting an apprenticeship on a farm. Food activism had always been a passion of mine and I thought it could be a great way to learn some new skills and give myself time to figure out what I was going to do with my life. I found my first position as an apprentice on an organic farm and within 3 weeks I was hooked.
My career started at Green Meadows Farm in South Hamilton, Massachusetts. I worked as an apprentice and we raised vegetables, berries, pigs, sheep, turkeys and eggs for 60 families, distributed through a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program. It was an amazing first season. Farming combined all of my favorite things in life; dirt, sunshine, sweat, bugs and green growing things. The fields were like a giant science experiment bursting with life. I loved the idea of putting all of my energy into something and getting all of my energy out of it and helping to nourish families with my labor. It requires creativity and innovation and no two days are alike. Within two years I became the wholesale manager selling produce to restaurants and grocery stores. With farming I had found my calling and now I had found my niche. Growing for chefs seemed like a perfect partnership. I have a true passion for growing beautiful produce, and I am eternally amazed at the ways a restaurant can take that produce and turn it into art on a plate. The winter after my first season was spent in California working as migratory labor picking avocados and blood oranges. The second was spent traveling through Hong Kong and Thailand, my first solo overseas travel experience.
After three seasons in Massachusetts, I took a position with The Inn at Shelburne Farms in Shelburne, Vermont. I spent two seasons managing six acres for them concentrating on high end produce for the restaurant. My winter that year was spent in India where I did an internship at Navdanya Farm in Uttarakhand, a model farm concentrating on seed saving and the preservation of agricultural diversity. I spent a little more than 1 month
at the farm and then another month traveling the country on my own. I fell in love with India then. The culture, the food and most especially the agriculture. There is so much traditional knowledge still in use on the millions of small farms in India and there is so much to learn.
At the end of me second season at Shelburne Farms, I was given the opportunity to start my own farm on another local property. My business partner and I attempted to start a 25 family CSA from the ground up, but the farm flooded after excessive and unusual summer rains. That season was more blood, sweat and tears than I want to experience again. We were able to eke out the season and provide members with what produce we could but gearing up for another season was impossible. I spent that winter in India, clearing my head and spending less money than I would have on rent at home.
Looking for a fresh start, I then took a job at Ayrshire Farm in Upperville, Virginia, managing 6 acres. I was there for 2 years growing food for the restaurant and retail store associated with the farm, as well as wholesaling to other restaurants, and selling at 3 farmers markets in the Washington DC area.
My next opportunity took me to The Inn at Little Washington to grow for their kitchen, and converted a verdant green lawn into a small farm. I cultivated half an acre for the restaurant for three years concentrating on growing gourmet produce in an impeccable garden toured daily by guests of The Inn. Working there was one of the highlights of my farming career. Meeting the standards set in the kitchen of that incredible restaurant was a delicious challenge, and without this amazing project on the horizon, I’m not sure that I would have ever left.