Here’s a story I have never told before, at least not in its entirety. We came to farming late in life — I am not the last in a long line of family farmers and I did not grow up on one. I was born into a time and a world that resembled an episode of the Twilight Zone meets the Brady Bunch. One of the nation’s first latchkey children, I grew up on the semi-rural edges of the NY metro area when you could still see the distant towers of Manhattan from the middle of a potato field. Family farming was, in my childhood, rapidly retreating from the American scene as suburbia replaced it. I would hunt for arrowheads in the shadow of newly constructed strip malls, ride my bike—without a helmet—across the Delaware River where Washington’s troops had crossed, and take the bus into NYC so that I could sneak onto the chisel edged roof of the CitiCorp building and hang my legs over the side, 60 stories above the streets below.
When I grew up I identified as an American. The world was, for me, one of endless possibilities. I pursued whatever course I chose and not unlike my childhood years I spent the better part of my adult life on my own. It wasn’t until I married and began a family that I started to question the very fundamentals of my lifestyle — my politics, my personal habits, my beliefs and my reason for living. For once in my life there were people whose needs and desires trumped my own. I had, until that time, done what I wanted, gone where I wanted, with who I wanted. I never gave much thought to the future, far less to the past. I understood that there was a continuum of sorts, that the faces looking back from the framed photos on my grandparent’s walls were somehow connected to me, but until I looked into the faces of my own children I never fully realized my purpose in life.
It’s funny how the littlest things can affect the greatest changes. My wife and I were sitting in the doctor’s office during her second pregnancy. The OBGYN said something about not eating fish for the duration and we regarded her with a quizzical look.
“Heavy metals. In the fish. It’s bad for the baby.” She said and dismissed us.
That casual remark was the catalyst. You are, it is true, what you eat.
Five years later, in the weeks after my Mother had passed away, we found ourselves in a vacation rental on the Chesapeake, trying to regroup and console each other. We’d sleep in, spend the day crabbing, read aloud to the children, drink wine in the evening on the dock and ask each other huge questions.
“I want out.” I said — or something similar. I remember the tone rather than the words. We had, at that time, the perfect American life. Nice home, successful career, kids in private schools, new cars, annual vacations wherever we liked — but we had no plan, no dream and looking back, no future. It took the sudden and unexpected death of someone we loved to get us to think about our own life. Consumers, taxpayers, churchgoers, suburbanites, republicans, Kool-aid drinkers to the max. As we held hands in the dark the world moved beneath us. “Okay.” my wife said. “Okay.”
And so without a clue, without any more experience than having planted a garden in the Spring we embarked on the greatest adventure of our lives. We chucked our home, our neighbors, our friends and our lifestyle and put it all on the roll of the dice. We decided to raise our children and remake our own lives on a rugged piece of New England soil.
So that’s how it started, this life worth living. There’s more to the story, of course, there always is, but you have to start somewhere and that’s about as good as I can do for now. We’ve done it — so far. The farming part. We’ve weened ourselves from the other things as well. There’s no more new cars, no retirement savings, no retirement plan. The fine restaurants and trips abroad are but distant memories and we’re good with that. We eat better and I like this view anyway. The private schools have been replaced by farm chores and our own library. Our neighbors live further away, but we know them better. I’ve moved from the top tax bracket to somewhere south of the poverty line but I reach for my wallet so infrequently it doesn’t seem to matter a whit. The issues that tied me up in knots before — politics, race, pop culture, economics — if I never had to hear about them ever again I’d be fine with that. From a distance of years perched on the edge of this boulder strewn mountain I can see that they’re nothing more than smoke and mirrors, Santa Claus for adults. Worrying about those things is like the sand concerned with the ocean — some things are too big for something too small. Today is all we’ve got and when the Sun comes up I will be right back on it — checking on the new litter of piglets, shavings for the chicken coop, splitting firewood, building doors for the hay barn. My children will still want things they cannot have, but will probably forget about them when the new puppy comes charging across the lawn. Today I will add something to the world instead of taking something away. I will tend to my farm and kiss my wife, clean up my own messes and fix something that is broken. I will produce before I consume and hopefully there will be a little surplus left over to share or to trade with someone who does the same thing.
I don’t have all the answers, in fact I may not have any at all. What I do have is gathered around me and I will husband it with care and I will try and share my story with anyone who is interested.
Thank you for your time.