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Friday, March 13, 2015

In praise of farmers



Even as a teenager, I seemed to know that the day would come when we would need to sell the farm house I grew up in, but knowing that hasn’t made the experience any easier. The family homestead is already in the process of being transformed into another business property on a busy road. While my immediate family never farmed, I grew up between an aging orchard on one side and a corn field on the other. One of the old barns continued to provide shelter to dairy cows. Eventually, changes in zoning made it cost prohibitive to continue renting to other local farms and we were left with the farm house and a healthy-sized backyard.

I miss the farm house kitchen most of all.

The loss of agricultural land and the dearth of young farmers is something that hits, quite literally, close to home. About 6 months ago, we sold the final piece of the family homestead. While bittersweet, I was able to channel my feelings of loss into a project that supported opportunities for a few local farmers.

From November through February, I worked with a strong and talented group of women in Charlotte to put on a live, crowd-source funding event called Farm Hands Charlotte. We selected three farm families to deliver 5-minute pitches about their “big idea” and how it will impact their business model, making their farm more efficient and sustainable. 


William and Marie of Bluebird Farm used their winnings from Farm Hands Charlotte to buy a new transplanter.
 
The chain of events since last summer has got me thinking about why I feel so passionate about small, local farms. It’s more than a philosophy about food or an intellectual concern for sustainability. 

Farmers are my heroes.

We frequently forget that because, unlike firefighters or soldiers or superheroes in red capes, we need our farmers every single day. Farmers are my heroes because, quite frankly, I don’t want to work that hard. Don’t get me wrong—I am far from lazy, but occasionally sleeping in doesn’t affect my bottom line, neither does rain nor early or late frost. If it’s 75 and sunny in April, I can take a spontaneous trip to Asheville for the day. If I leave home for more than a week, I am confident that I can ask any of my acquaintances to feed my cat and be sure that she will be alive and well when I return home.

Farmers choose a life tied to the land and to the whims of Mother Nature. 

Small farmers in urban areas like Charlotte have to be flexible and strong in body and mind. They are ecologists, healers, business executives, accountants, and marketing specialists.

As I look out over my tiny garden plot, dreading the work that must be done now because I didn’t take care of it in November and because I want produce in June, I smile because I know that I can be a lazy gardener. I know my farmers will take care of me. They were out there in the cold, the rain, and the wind over the past few months and they’ll be out there under the blazing sun and 200% humidity in July.

Farm Hands Charlotte.
 Becoming a farmer in the 21st century is less about necessity or family tradition and increasingly about choice. And while I absolutely agree that eating local is about the health of our bodies and our planet, for me, it’s also about something far more immediate and significant. Buying food from local farms is rooted in community—the kind of community that shares knowledge and resources.  Just a few years ago, my mom found out that the original wood stove in the basement of our farm house was used by the whole town as a community bread oven.  I have the honor of knowing chefs who help farmers prep Thanksgiving turkeys and pass on wholesale prices on local produce to their neighbors in a “food desert.” What I saw at Farm Hands Charlotte wasn’t competition, it was community. The heroes that night were the farm families that shared their vision and their challenges with us and solutions and strategies with each other.  And for that one night, I hope they felt like heroes.

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