Community Philosphy Blog and Library

Posts Tagged ‘community’

Why We Farm: Enter a Mentor

Friday, December 31st, 2010

Neysa-working-23-150x150

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.

First posted June 2009 on Dissertation to Dirt

The first month of our internship was consumed by seeding and transplanting, and by early June the cool weather crops were flourishing at Ryder Farm—lettuce, cabbage, bok choy, kale, spinach, rhubarb, and radishes. Ryder Farm participated in two farmers markets a week: Wednesdays at the local Brewster market, and Saturdays at the Union Square Greenmarket in New York City. In the city, the farmers market meant one thing: spring.  Time to brush the snow off your shoulders and venture outdoors again, the market’s colorful produce providing a needed embellishment to New England’s monochrome winter. Back at Ryder Farm, the farmers market meant Travis and I had to learn how to harvest.

Three mornings a week at 6am, the intern crew entered the field, harvest list in hand. We always started with kale, which was loving the cold, rainy spring. As the season progressed, the routine of waking up early, picking greens, bunching them, washing them, packing them, and then going in for breakfast and a hot cup of coffee would become very pleasant for me. Our first harvest day, though, didn’t go as smoothly. As we stumbled into the field, bleary-eyed, Travis and I met Omar, Betsey’s field manager. Omar had studied agriculture at UC Santa Cruz and had been farming for over 20 years. He had been away for the early part of the season, but returned just as the farm was gearing up for the summer.

We started, as we would so many times over the next five months, by harvesting kale. We learned to snap off two or three leaves from each plant until we had a good handful, then rubberband the leaves together.  A bunch like that would go for about $2.50 at the market. When we finished kale, Travis and I went to pick spinach. Assuming the same rule applied to all greens, we began snapping off 5 or 6 spinach leaves and rubberbanding them. We fussed with the leaves, trying to make them look pretty like the kale.  A minute or two later, Omar sauntered over. He stood watching Travis and I pick spinach for a moment, then very casually asked, “Why are you picking the spinach that way?”

Travis looked at Omar, then looked at the small bunch in his hand, then admitted, “I don’t know.”

Omar walked over, pulled three full spinach plants out of the ground, roots and all, rubberbanded them and said, “This is a bunch of spinach. Spinach cooks down a lot, so you want to think about your bunch as something a family could eat for dinner.”

I had never thought about it that way. A family would go hungry on six spinach leaves.

Omar’s simple lesson touched on an aspect of farming to which I hadn’t given much thought — the relationship between farmer and consumer. There is an attitude that organic food is specialty food–that it needs to look prettier, cost more, and feed fewer. That was why Travis and I at first saw nothing wrong with charging $2.50 for six spinach leaves. But Omar was telling us that harvesting for market was about satiation first, selling second. Because if people can’t really eat from your farm, they won’t be back to your stand, anyway. Harvesting with people in mind has been one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned in farming, and has added a sense of understanding and pride to every bunch of spinach I’ve made since.




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. View last week’s post.

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.

Canvolution! Can-o-rama Cantacular

Tuesday, September 1st, 2009

This weekend was the national Canning Across America celebration of all things preserved. Did you participate in a Canvolution or another less-official-o-rama? Tell us about it!

Linsey from the Cake and Commerce blog organized a fabulous event at a Thai tapas restaurant in Somerville, MA.  Linsey explains her passion this way:

After staunchly maintaining an anti-corporate stance (I did my internship between first and second year at a small goat dairy in California and worked as a cheese buyer and importer in NYC after graduation), I ended up at a publicly traded food company working in their coffee division. When the company reorganzied, I ended up in the Culinary Group (most food companies have staff chefs to help customers develop new products) and then moved into Innovation.

I started Cake and Commerce in 2005 as a way to keep some focus on real food in my free time while spending my days helping restaurant chains develop new menu items. Over time, as my soul was sucked dry from the work I was doing, I found myself becoming more radicalized in my beliefs and practices around food. Although I have always been a careful eater and a passionate cook, I became more so during my time at the company.

Read Linsey’s blog about the Can-O-Rama Cantacular here.

Alex from Feed Me Like You Mean It taught folks how to make sauerkraut and is self-described obsessed with lactofermentation.

pressure cooker

Nika is an Ex-Urban Homesteader (she lives in the exurbs, is formerly an urbanite, and is a modern homesteader) who showed us how not to be afraid of pressure canning. She reported on the Canvolution on her blog Nikas Culinaria.

What an incredible gathering of people! Everyone went home with a yummy and nutritious array of freshly-preserved local veggies, and another preserving gathering is in the works! Bravo-a-rama!

Online community comes to the aid of a “Homesteading Neophite”

Tuesday, December 16th, 2008

Just when you’re up to your ears in tales of greed, corruption and injustice, here’s a great story about the power of people joining together for a common goal.  Erin is a homesteader and blogger in Kansas who was suddenly faced with the wrath of one of our mammoth banking institutions.

I am crying, we will attempt to make payments, but as I have learned in the past, if you don’t pay it all, they send it back to you. My kids will have a sucky Christmas. I can’t even afford to buy materials to make presents, All the money we bring in will go towards the house, and tying to save it. We’re not going to make it to spring. I tried, I really did. I don’t know what else I can do.

Her community of co-bloggers, readers and lurking fans rallied to donate enough dough to get her through. She resisted at first – pride.

If I do this, I have to make you a deal. If I can find a way to fix things without using your money, I will save it and give it to someone else that finds themselves in this same problem.

The saga starts here, but her blog, as well as the shared blog Women Not Dabbling In Normal is worth a gander for the incredible stories and passion shared here. Our families, friends and neighbors – online and offline – have the power to keep us all strong!