Community Philosphy Blog and Library

Why We Farm: Country Folk vs. City Folk

Neysa working 2

A year and a half ago, my husband Travis and I decided we wanted to be organic farmers. Neither of us had a background in agriculture. In fact, I was probably about as disconnected from physical labor as you can get — I was pursuing my PhD. This weekly series will take you through Travis’ and my journey to own and operate our own organic farm. From a farm internship in a tiny New York town, to management positions at the largest CSA farm in the southern United States, and now our current project of running a one-acre farm in Austin, Texas, our experience has been filled with wild successes, sharp disappointments, and self-discovery. I hope our story can provide others with ideas and resources for their own farming projects–urban or rural, big or small, hobby or professional. I also hope it can shine some light on the new organic movement surging in urban spaces and among America’s young people. To me, our collective attempt to reconnect with food is a testament to the ability of youth to create, even in difficult times.

There was a young woman, about my age, who regularly bought from our stand in New York City’s Greenmarket.  Whenever she came by, we’d talk for a while about food, cooking, and whatever else was happening in our lives.  One Saturday, she invited me to a tango class she and her roommate took on Wednesday nights.  “I’d love to, but I don’t live in the city,” I told her.  She raised her eyebrows, “Oh, so you’re the real deal.  You’re not just a city girl pretending to be a farm girl.”  I laughed,  “Something like that.”  I looked after her as she walked away with a canvas bag full of kale.  A city girl pretending to be a farm girl.  That’s exactly what I felt like.

By July, whenever I had a day off at Ryder Farm, my first impulse wasn’t to explore the natural beauty around me, but to reconnect with urbanity.  I would go into the surrounding towns seeking out independent theaters or museums.  In New York City after market days, I would go hear music or have a drink somewhere.  But because I wasn’t surrounded by a group of peers who would be creative and urbane with me, I ended up doing a lot by myself.  Two months into my internship, I still enjoyed the work on the farm, but I was beginning to feel like the lifestyle it afforded was cramping my style.  Once I had so closely identified with city life and culture.  Now, I felt disconnected from it.  The larger farming community I had entered was uninterested in city life, even hostile to it (Joel Salatin asks why New York City should exist if it’s too big and dense to feed itself). Conversely, people I’d meet in NYC treated me differently when they found out I was a farmer.  If they didn’t express outright confusion or condescension, they usually treated me like some romantic revival of rural life.  I felt caught in between two stereotypes.  Country folk vs. city folk: was there really such a deep divide between the two?  Could I be a part of both communities?

Boggy Creek Carrots

Without a doubt, there were massive differences between working on a farm in Brewster and working at a university in Boston.  Some of these differences were so fundamental, they didn’t translate from city to farm, or vice versa.  The most apparent of these was the very definition of work.  It was the difference between working with things and working with ideas. When you did things on the farm, you were actually doing things—you were acting on the world; changing your observable environment; creating things that weren’t there before: weeding, planting, potting, harvesting.  Doing back at university had had a distinctly cerebral slant: organizing, rethinking, formatting, planning, writing, researching.  At Northeastern, most actions were intangible.  The world I was acting on was inside my head.

But there were similarities between farm life and city life, too.  For one, the relationship between person and space.  It’s easily accepted that a farmer has intimate knowledge of his land.  But I discovered from being separated from Boston that I had cultivated a similar relationship with the city.  I knew Boston.  Every day I rode the T or dodged a Nor’easter, I was participating in a relationship with it.  For two years, Boston welcomed me, comforted me, hassled me, and pushed me around. Boston is not the easiest city to live in, and among its residents there was a prevalent and constant attitude of perseverance, independence, and making one’s own way.  There was a toughness about Bostonians that I really admired, and I’d say in all that, they have the same characteristics that drive farmers to move to the country and live off their land.

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So was it possible for me to occupy both worlds?  In the end, I couldn’t let go of either, so I really didn’t have a choice.  I still shop for high heels and read the New Yorker and listen to Lauryn Hill, at the same time that I drive tractors and spread compost and plant onions.  Is this a contradiction?  Does it make me less of a farmer because I love the culture of the city?  I don’t think so. I’ve found the city vs. country standoff unrealistic.  The truth is that the two need each other.  The relationship between cities and farms is less antagonistic and more symbiotic.  Cities would starve without farms, and farmers would have few ways to make a living without a city market.  It has taken me time to come to terms with it, but that day at the farmers market, maybe I wasn’t trying to pretend I was somebody else at all.  Maybe I was just discovering who I was all along.

Neysa is currently farming an acre of organic vegetables in Austin, Texas. For updates on her farm, visit www.dissertationtodirt.com or follow her on twitter @farmerneysa

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5 Responses to “Why We Farm: Country Folk vs. City Folk”

  1. I love this post. We really do need each other and we need to know each other. Both our worlds will be bigger. Good job in thinking this through.

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Hank Will, HOMEGROWN DotOrg. HOMEGROWN DotOrg said: So glad! RT @C_Vanderlinden: Loved, LOVED this post: Why We Farm: Country Folk vs. City Folk http://ow.ly/3HNkL cc: @farmerneysa […]

  3. JAMES CASTLEBERRY Says:

    Hey look you’re on my news feeds… can I be famous with you? Y’all come visit my farm in Arizona. I’m getting bees!

  4. Heather Cantua Says:

    I really enjoyed this post as all. I think the initial hostilities come from a lot of the points you talked about as well as a need to defend yourself as a city-girl or country-girl. Once we get away from this dichotomy and being so defensive, we can see our dependency on one another.

  5. ha, James. So apparently Travis didn’t listen to the messages you left on his phone until after you already moved. Email me, we should catch up. I want to know where in AZ you are.

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