What this trip really needed was a poet, a photographer, and a painter. That was my thought as I pressed my whining rental car up another hill in the Catskills, equipped with only a smart phone with an intermittent connection and a GPS that kept telling me I was out of range. Would I be able to do justice to the remarkable story I saw unfolding before me?
This was my first extended trip to visit farms though the Central New York and Hudson Valley region. My goal was to experience and gain a deeper understanding of organic and sustainable agriculture at its source – in the fields with the farmers.
The farmers showed me that New York State has some of the most remarkable beauty you can imagine. In the early morning there are rolling hills shrouded in mist so lovely that even the construction workers at the side of the road look mystical. There are brilliant bursts of color in the rainbow garden at the Sylvia Center where they plant flowers between the vegetable rows to attract pollinators. Grain is not just amber, but also blue, red, green and gold at Migliorelli Farms and at the Hudson Valley Farm Hub where they are restoring a bread basket lost 200 years ago. There are old barns lovingly restored at Mettabee Farm and a whirl of tomatoes, squash, and cucumbers flowering and ripening in their hoop houses at Common Thread Farm and Katchkie Farm.
The farmers showed me how to hear and appreciate the sounds of a healthy ecosystem. There was a remarkable mix of song birds in the hedgerows of each place. I went to sleep with the soft lowing of cows and woke to chuckling chickens. I heard the hum of bees in the gardens, the rustle of wind through the tall grains, the sound of kind words and gentle laughter.
The farmers showed me what generosity means. At Common Thread Farm where they are just in their 2nd year, Wendy and Asher still find a way to donate food to the local food cupboard. At Migliorelli Farms and at the Hudson Valley Farm Hub they are taking on risks and sharing their experiences with smaller farmers who are trying to learn the nuances of grain growing in New York. At Hawthorne Valley Farm they are continuing decades of assuring children from urban areas can experience what it means to be stewards of the land. Katchkie Farm shares its soil and its bounty with the Sylvia Center to inspire children to eat healthy fresh food. And at Mettabee farm, Elizabeth and her children demonstrated their vision of loving kindness by sharing their home with me for the night – and though I was a complete stranger I was treated like family.
The farmers showed me that organic and sustainable agriculture is more than a way of farming. It is about caring in a deeply personal and meaningful way for the health and wellbeing of the earth and the animals and people who inhabit it. It is about fairness, open-mindedness, and consideration to all. It is about being an eternal optimist, a scientist, an artist. And each farmer has a story worth telling by a poet, a photographer, and a painter. It is a story I will do my best to tell in the next few blogs.
Thank you all for a wonderful experience.