Monday, December 26, 2011
Life as a Farmer
Did you know I was a farmer in a past life? My ex-husband and I owned the Five Star Organic Farm in West Newbury, Massachusetts. I was the farmer, and he supplied occasional muscle work like turning the compost or shoveling manure.
I'd been a gardener since college days in the early 70s, and when the chance came to not only buy a property north of Boston that had been an engineer's hobby garden but also leave my day job while our sons were young, we snapped it up. Our one-acre farm was already planted with blueberries, apple and pear trees, and grapes. The previous owner signed an affadavit stating that he had not used chemicals on the sizable vegetable plot, so I was able to get a head start on gaining organic certification from the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA).
I sold vegetables and fruits at the nascent Newburyport Farmers' Market. I started a Community Supported Agriculture program when most people hadn't even heard of the concept. I sold from an honors-system table in front of our house on busy Main Street. Here I am on the right with a small portion of one year's garlic crops.
So when it came time to list my credentials in my proposal for the Local Foods Mystery series, it was no stretch to write, "The language and tensions of a farmer like Cam are rooted in my own life." It was a great life for a while. I was home with my children most of the time. I grew healthy organic food for my family and for others, and I was good at it. I communed in old clothes with the birds and the weather, and my commute was a two-minute walk. I even won an award for my Gold Cherry tomatoes at the county fair one year (photo from Verrill Farm in Concord, MA).
So why didn't I stay a farmer? Lots of reasons. Farming is hard work and it's drudge work. You walk around bending over and hauling heavy loads; you never get your heart rate up. It's financially non-lucrative work on the level our farm was. To really make some money, I would have needed to immerse myself more heavily in marketing, when all I really wanted to do was grow vegetables. And I looked ahead in my life and realized I needed to get back into the paid work force before I lost some of my skills and the recency of my experience in the hi-tech world.
During the last winter between farming seasons, I wrote more than half a murder mystery set on - guess where? - a small organic farm. I'm using some of the fictional world I set up then, and several of the main characters, including farmer Cam Flaherty, in this new book. I'm so happy I can now reimmerse myself in that world without having to do all that heavy physical work, which, frankly, my body isn't quite up to any more.