I’ve been wondering lately how many farmers have always seen themselves as farmers? Even if they didn’t start driving daddy’s tractor at age 9 and take over the family farm themselves shortly into adulthood, did they always know that someday that’s where they’d be? See, I know quite a few late-in-life farmers. Farmers who used to work desk jobs. Farmers who used to be globetrotting, briefcase carrying workers. Farmers who used to make cheese (that’s at least vaguely akin to farming) or cook cheese (and a lot of other foods) in restaurants. Did they always feel like they were farmers at heart?
When I was young my dad was like a lot of other dads; he put on a crisp shirt and shiny shoes and headed off to work each morning. It’s true that most of the work he did happened behind a desk, a computer, or on a phone, but he had a mission, and that was to change the world for the better through better food. He may not have seen himself as a farmer back then but he had an inkling I think.
Instead of taking over his daddy’s business, he co-founded a series of natural and organic food companies, starting with Eden Foods, then American Soy Products, and then Blue Horizon Organics. As a natural foods entrepreneur he knew how important farmers were and this work all seemed to his mission of helping the world, one person at a time, through the food they would eat.
After enough years of encouraging people to eat better food, encouraging farmers to grow better food, and encouraging grocery stores to carry better food, he found a way to get back to the roots (pun intended).
And so today he wears a different suit than the one of my youth. It usually involves muddy boots and thick cotton pants with dirty knees and cuffs full of plant trimmings. His golf hat has been traded in for his father-in-law’s old gardening hat, meant for blocking the sun and catching sweat drips before they hit his eyes. Slick leather gloves worn only in the winter have been replaced in favor of a tougher variety meant to withstand tools and thorny bushes, and worn more on an everyday kind of basis.
Contrary to what some might think, though, he doesn’t begrudge these changes. He loves them. He doesn’t miss the jets, the fancy hotels, the shows or board meetings. Today he’s growing food (organic, of course) and taking a much more direct path in his mission to change the world through food.
Each week the members of his Skinny Farm (you should see his legs; you’ll know where the name came from) NSA [Neighborhood Supported Agriculture] pull up to his solar-powered barn and a table overflowing with produce that is as artfully displayed as any Rembrandt landscape. He grows garlic, herbs, tomatoes, squash, potatoes, greens of a thousand varieties, beets, corn, hops and so much more. The buyers at area grocery stores have to make no great effort to display the garlic he brings in; having been so carefully trimmed and cleaned, stems bundled so that it will stand out against any other garlic around.
He has become an artist. A farming, food artist.
And when I think of these other later-in-life farmers I know, they’re also artists. I don’t know if it’s because they’ve taken certain skills that were sharpened in the boardroom and applied them to carefully plotted fields. Or if it’s because they lived a lifetime of not pursuing their true passion and now that they’re free to do so they throw all abandon to the wind.
Either way, because of them, I have started to look at food differently. I grew up drinking soymilk and eating other “health” foods way before they were popular, so I’ve always kind of looked at food differently. But now it’s like I’ve started looking at the little foods differently. A clove of garlic. A kernel of corn. Just knowing that that kernel was cared for by a farmer, fretted over during dry weeks that stretched on far too long, and rainy days that turned his field into a swamp makes it precious.
At the end of the day, farmers work and worry so we don’t have to. They baby our broccoli and coddle our cucumbers. And it’s no joke. It’s hard work. But, by and large, I think they’re in love with what they do.
That’s why, when we gather our loved ones around the table, I think we owe it to these farmer artists to tip our hats and marvel for a minute at the work they do and the fabulous foodie friends they’ve become.
Sara Snow is a Green Lifestyle Expert, TV Host and Author with a passion for healthy living and the creation of a more sustainable planet. As creator and host of GET FRESH WITH SARA SNOW and LIVING FRESH for the Discovery Networks, host of BIG GREEN LIES for the Fine Living Channel, as well as through her book, SARA SNOW'S FRESH LIVING, Sara shares a message of simple, attainable green living. It’s the same message she, daughter of organic-foods pioneer, Tim Redmond, grew up with. Sara is also a frequent public speaker and media contributor, having been seen on CNN, Good Morning America, The Early Show, The New York Times, Lucky Magazine, and Better Homes and Gardens, among others. Sara sits on the board of directors of the non-profit groups The Organic Center and Butler University’s Center for Urban Ecology. Sara lives in the Los Angeles area with her husband, Ryan, and their two daughters. Learn more at www.sarasnow.com