FARMING | OUR BYGONE HERITAGE

 

My parents were, well, surprised when I told them that we were moving to Vermont to work as kidding interns on a goat farm this spring. It was a big decision closely tied to another, bigger one: the one where we bumped our wedding up from June to January, on five weeks notice, so we could honor our conviction of waiting for marriage before living together. Old-fashioned to some, counter-culture to others—a bit like farming in the twenty-first century. 

Three years ago, I was mucking my way through organic chemistry and a host of other science courses, and the long, long library shifts that accompanied. I was on my way to becoming a third-generation dentist, the de facto family profession. And in the twenty-one years of life preceding, never once did I consider the possibility of farming for a living. In my mind, farms were foreign places. How could I even become a farmer? Farming was not a part of my identity. What I failed to consider then is how farming is actually a very real part of my heritage. Yes, my papou was a dentist whose son (my uncle) followed in his footsteps. But go back one more generation and you will find a family living in the rural Peloponnesian village of Ziria, tending to their vineyards. My maternal grandmother grew up on a small homestead in Wisconsin where she picked strawberries during summer and went door-to-door selling them for twenty-five cents per quart. She had to quit when a neighboring farm undercut her, selling them for ten cents.

Many people have similar tales from the old family farm. Agriculture is at the root of our collective heritage as human beings. But as the sun has risen and fallen over the land—seasons passing,  years and generations rolling by—our farming population has become ever smaller while our cities expand upward and outward. As evidenced by my own upbringing, so many of us have become far removed from the land that sustains us. All is not lost, though.

Upon arriving at Consider Bardwell Farm, I was gripped—rather suddenly—by this overwhelming sense that I was doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing. This was in spite of the fact that our first three days were spent (literally) mucking a winter's worth of goat poop in the barn. Truth be told, I don't even mind the act of mucking! I have found joy in using my body, in working outside, in experiencing the elements. I have found greater joy, still, in raising animals who sustain us with their bodies, through the gifts of milk and meat, as they have for millennia. There I was, no experience, no immediate background in farming. Here I am, with some experience. But deeper than that: I feel this connection, through my work & way of life, to my ancestors. I feel rooted in the earth, and the ongoing game of give-and-take that agrarian societies have played with the earth throughout human history. I have come to feel the true presence of my farming heritage. 

This is all coming from someone who grew up in the suburbs of a major metropolitan area; who comes from a family that prizes academics, having generously sent all four children to a private school and on to college; who spent many a summer afternoon playing video games rather than helping his mom in her backyard vegetable garden. I may not fit the image of a prototypical farmer, but this is the point indeed. It is within all of us, because we all come from the same agricultural heritage, whether we know it or not.


—M