I grew up in somewhat urban New Jersey, about 20 miles outside of Manhattan, and didn't have a lot of interaction with nature. My dad kept a small vegetable garden in my aunt's backyard until I was nine or 10 and then he stopped. I remember helping him in the garden a few times and liking it.
I ate a lot of processed food. I liked Toaster Strudels and Pop-Tarts. I liked bread. I put ketchup on most things. Most of the time I felt really awful. I wondered why my stomach hurt so much. In high school I went to a digestive specialist, who gave me a cup of high-fructose corn syrup to drink. I got sick almost immediately. He told me I had an HFCS allergy and "probably irritable bowel syndrome or Crohn's disease" or something. It seemed that most of the food I was encouraged to eat was poison to my body. I was frustrated by my stomach and, though I didn't realize it then, by the food system I was trapped in.
Being sick showed me that there's a lot wrong with the way things are set up and maybe, I thought, if we do things differently, there's a chance we could get it right. I discovered subculture. I learned that there are alternative ways to eat, which, it turns out, is how most people in history have eaten. Sometimes I wished I'd been born 100 years earlier.
After college, I left New Jersey to become a farmer. Through WWOOF (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms), I discovered a farm about six hours northwest in the Finger Lakes region of New York. The farm, where I still live and work, is called East Hill Farm. It's a project of the Rochester Folk Art Guild, an intentional community of craftspeople and farmers who have lived together in Middlesex, New York, since 1967.
So, I made the odd, difficult transition from a life rooted in urban culture in New Jersey to a rural, agricultural lifestyle in an established intentional community. It's a transition that I'm still trying to figure out. I've learned more practical skills than I ever thought I would: bread baking, logging, vegetable and fruit production, woodworking, operating a tractor, canning and food preservation, beekeeping, raising and slaughtering pigs, raising and slaughtering chickens. I've learned how to live by myself in a one-room, "off-the-grid" shed through the winter. I've experienced love and heartbreak and made great friends. I've been more confused than ever before. I've discovered that I have much to learn about human interaction and relationships.
I'm now on the verge of my third season of farming. It's the best job I've ever had, though also one of the most puzzling. Sometimes farming feels simple -- like the crops grow themselves, and it's almost a gift that this work exists for us. I've thinned beets while lying on my side in beautiful June weather and thought, "Farming can be lazy and relaxing, I guess." Other times, farming seems impossible. It feels like there is so much that has to go right -- too much -- for it ever to work. But despite my inexperience and lack of knowledge and small stature and self-deprecation, so far I've somehow made it work.