MORRISVILLE, NY — If you were looking for inspiration to start down an agrarian path, chances are Mark and Kristin Kimball from Essex Farm on the shores of Lake Champlain, could steer your heart and hands into the wonderfully messy and delicious life of farming.
With the spirit of Thomas Jefferson’s yeoman farmer sentiment: Farmer, author of The Dirty Life, and keynote speaker, Kristin Kimball conjured up the importance of local farms at the 1st Annual Madison County Small Farm and Homestead Fair held at Morrisville College. “I still believe in Jefferson’s notion that “Agriculture is our wisest pursuit, because it will in the end contribute most to real wealth, good morals, and happiness,” said Kimball.
“Globally, more than half the population lives in cities now. Less than 1 percent of the American population works on farms. The shift is astounding, profound and complicated. This room is full of people who go the other direction. I think events like this are important simply to remind us that we’re not nuts for loving it. I hope today gives you courage to move forward, because I think it’s important that we hold this place for humanity,” said Kristin.
“The place, our place, is in the manure and blood and sun and plants and the sweat and the LIFE. It’s our vital connection to the earth. If you believe that is important, hold this place here in rural America. Be the yeoman; provide your family and your community with that one thing we all share in common, three times a day — Food. If you are not there yet, begin. If you are doing it, then be brave, find your scale, the scale that is right for you,” said Kimball.
The farmer and author of Amazon’s Best Books of 2010 shared her family’s story, farming antidotes and waxed philosophical about the virtues of diversity, community and local food. “We founded Essex Farm together in 2004 — the world’s first full-diet CSA, as far as we know — and I’ve been professionally dirty ever since. With a team led by my husband, Mark, and our two daughters and 10 full-time farmers, we currently farm 600 acres and feed 222 members. The farm offers a year-round, full diet, free choice membership of grass-fed beef, bone broths, pastured pork, lamb, chicken, eggs, 50 different kinds of vegetables, milk, grains and flour, fruit, herbs, maple syrup, and soap.”
The operation is powered by 15 solar panels, nine draft horses and three tractors. They don’t use synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides and their animals eat homegrown feed or local hay and local, certified organic grain. What started as a small farm with seven CSA members is hardly a small farm anymore.
“Our desire is to build an agro-ecosystem that is sustainable economically, environmentally, and socially. We work to make a farm that is better tomorrow than it is today. “We’ve changed our scale but not our mission of good food, a blessed landscape and to be good neighbors in our community oriented place,” said Kimball.
“Farms are where the left and the right can come together. Farmers are farmers, big or small, and we are all on the same team. Don’t lose hope just in case you have been marginalized by how small your operation or homestead is. Small is beautiful with diversity and are crucial for our communities,” said Kimball. “Farming gives us answers on what it means to be human. We want to feel tired and satisfied from meaningful work at the end of the day. Deep down we want to bond with our land. It turns out that inventions to occupy us like video games and Facebook have made us less healthy and less satisfied with life than say, weeding a garden or moving cattle.”
“We’ve got to get back to the enjoyment of eating what you labor to produce because farming needs all the perks it can get,” said Kristin. “You must explore your why. Maybe you’ll discover that your homestead becomes a town-stead, the way ours did. I guarantee if you change the way you eat, you change the way you think. If you change the way you think, you change the way you act. If you do that enough times, over and over and over, you can change the world!”