Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Farm Musings

Grandma turned 80 this year. She's been the cornerstone of the farm since she married my gramps in 1948. Prior to that she was raised on her own family farm down the road. Running a farm is her identity.

She's a simple gal; we wanted to throw a big polka party, but all she wanted was to go to the casino. My aunt will testify that she had to drag Gramma away from the slots kicking and screaming. It runs in the blood; isn't farming all a gamble?

As Grams celebrated her entrance into octogenarian-ism and warned us all that "she wouldn't live forever" (I beg to differ) we all started to think: what will happen to the farm? One thing was clear: we still want it to be our farm. The process began to place a conservation easement on the property.

We're currently in the middle of this interesting process that requires many banal things such as tax documents, etc. I won't bore you with any of it. But at one point I was asked to write a very short pursuasive essay to support this easement. It was the most gratifying thing I'd written in a long time, and I wanted to share it with you.

We’re a farm family. We’ve been sustainable before “sustainable” was a buzzword and organic before “oraganic” implied a certain social status. In a day and age where obesity is an epidemic, we have a healthy relationship with food and manual labor. We’re American. We’re middle-class.

None of us are full-time farmers. We have careers: a chemical engineer, a research biologist, a project manager. We shop at large grocery stores, drive non fuel-efficient cars, and live in 1970’s-era subdivisions. You wouldn’t call us environmentalists, but our farm is our world.

We divide our year by the season: June is for strawberries, July is pea and pickle season. August is for cauliflower and tomatos. April is spent in the greenhouse, November finds us winterizing the chicken house.

We practice farming because we know we have an incredible gift of land to which a decreasing amount of people have access. We do it because we always have. We do it because it is our heritage and because it is immensely satisfying. We do it because we believe its incredibly inportant to pass it on.

Of course this farm is special for one thousand or more snapshots in time: for the myriad summer evenings the pond has given up its sunfish to ecstatic grandchildren; for the 40+ years that the woods have sheltered bands of campers and ordinary families singing like a world-class choir around a campfire; for the simple mystery of filling a plastic milk jug with crisp spring water straight from a hillside spigot; for the grove of pines that have provided years and years of Christmas Trees, for the sugar maples and the sugar shack and a rich warm maple perfume that cuts through cold spring air. For innumerable nights of catching fireflies in mason jars. For teaching brothers and cousins how to work together to get the ATV out of a mudhole or to construct cauliflower boxes at a rapid pace or to move an entire irrigation system in the 30 minutes after ice cream cones and before sunset. For teaching three generations how to be good stewards of our earth.

It’s not that you can’t encounter these attributes elsewhere. This type of tradition binds families and generations across the US; its our American heritage. Organic peas, berries and pumpkins can be grown anywhere. Instead, whats makes this farm unique is the people it has produced. Two married farmers built a system that produced four generous, hardworking individuals who will testify that their moral fabric is a direct result of their farm upbringing. Those four adults have in turn produced ten principled, productive members of society who choose to spend their summer vacations taking part in the familial-bound food production process. We, the human products of the Zenner Road Farm are instilled with sense of unique tradition, responsibility and a tie to the earth that we are determined to pass on to generations in perpetuity.


  1. Jill, this is just beautiful! Such eloquence and passion. You should be proud! -Sarah J

  2. This makes me wish it was pea season with strawberry shortcake on the deck. I want it to be summer!

  3. The kitchen is a little tight but the rolls look great..

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