I have to admit, I was getting more than just a little discouraged. After coming from a farm in the middle of the woods, living on a small lot alongside a busy road–while being a step up from the apartment in-town–was still a bit of a shock to my system. But the rent was low and the landladies lovely to deal with, so I told myself I would make the best of it.
I did try–really I did. But the noise of the cars flying by drown out the sounds and sense of the natural world. I felt disconnected from nature and I began to wonder if I could really call myself a farmer after all. Those words: “What good is a farm without land”–once again echoed in my head. In the last few years I’ve surrounded myself with like-minded people. People who are passionate about homesteading, gardening, farming, and sustainable living. And then, there I was working at Johnny’s Selected Seeds alongside a variety of farmers and gardeners, and preparing for farmers’ market with other farmers local to Madison–I didn’t see how I could compare or measure up to my peers. I felt very much like a faux-farmer.
It was in a moment of weakness, feeling downright despondent about my situation and all the back-stepping I’ve had to do in the face of my divorce, that I confided in one of my farming-friends how I’d been feeling. And this beautiful–wonderful friend of mine–made it a point to pull me aside at a market-meeting to tell me something that made all the difference.
She looked me in the eyes and said to me so sincerely, “Yes, Samantha–you ARE a farmer.”
She said other people may have more land and more money to be able to play at farming with–but that my heart holds the truest spirit of farming, and she believed that it is that spirit and dedication, passion and love that make a real farmer. She said that I have that spirit, and that I am more farmer than many who claim the title.
It almost brought tears to my eyes. I felt as though the editor of the New York Times had just said to ME: “Yes, Virginia, there IS a Santa Claus.” And Christmas had come early to me.
It still moves me to think of this. This wonderful friend gave me a precious gift–the belief that, though things might be less than ideal at the moment, the person that I am is still here inside me. I was suddenly able to hope again that I might find the ideal farming situation that I’d been longing and dreaming for. I picked myself up and started again with my search.
At that point that I reached out to another friend of mine regarding my search for a farm or homestead; this friend had a few different possibilities for me to explore. Still suffering from bouts of insecurity and despondency alternating with phases of hope and determination, I kept the list and pondered the options for a while. Eventually I determined that one of the three prospects stood out from the rest, but it took longer to muster the courage to call and inquire about it.
It was an old dairy farm located in Starks and previously owned by a man named Jim Murphy. Jim was something of a legend in the area. Initially a biochemist from Boston, he moved to the farm in 1990 after falling in love with the myriad of hiking trails in our area. But he spent some time in Maine before that when he lived and worked a year on Darthia Farm as a MOFGA apprentice back in 1988. He had a passion for farming, growing vegetables and raising sheep on the old dairy farm, and involving himself in the Starks community promoting agriculture and education. The man was an avid reader, and there was a bookcase filled with books in every room house; he’d hoped to see a community library established in the village of Starks.
The farm itself is beautiful and ideal. An old 4 bedroom farmhouse with a sun-porch and a root-cellar. There are acres of pasture just begging for sheep. Highbush blueberries, cultivated strawberries, rhubarb, asparagus and a couple of apple trees, as well as fiddleheads along the river-bed that abuts the property.
It was a tragic car accident that prematurely ended the life of Jim Murphy, leaving his farmhouse empty and the farm without a farmer–a loss that is still felt throughout the local community.
Jim’s brothers have been managing his estate, and it is to those men that I made my case when I finally found the courage to call and ask about the farm. I followed up the phone call with an email, pouring my heart out to these strangers, writing about who I am and what I’m going through. I shared what I do for my community and what I’d like to do as a farmer, and I wrote about how much I could afford if I hoped to continue investing in my farming-business. I laid everything out, hoping against hope that these men might take a chance on me, and I sucked in a breath and clicked send.
Whether it was fate, luck, or just the right timing, they agreed to my plan! They thought that Jim would have liked the idea of a beginning farmer working his old farm, and they seemed to think that I was up for the job! Can you believe it!?
I met Charlie Murphy, Jim’s brother, and his wife Dee at the farm last weekend when they came up from Massachusetts. The house still bears many of Jim’s belongings and they are working at the difficult job of emptying the place out, but they graciously gave me a tour of the house and the barn–did I mention there’s a fabulously old dairy barn? And we discussed the technical aspects such as the rent, the duration of the lease, and finally–we set a tentative move-in date for the end of May or the beginning of June.
You can imagine how ecstatic I am!
Those who knew Jim, whom I’ve told about the arrangement and my impending move to Jim’s farm–tell me that I have some big shoes to fill. Jim left quite a legacy, and I only hope that I can live up to the expectations that they might have.
But I recall my friend’s kind words, “Yes Samantha, you are a farmer.” And they give me hope and fill me with strength. I know that I can bring Jim’s farm back to life and that it will be great and beautiful and inspirational. And I know this because I know myself, and–after all–I AM a farmer.