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Cultivate New Farmers

Jan. 17, 2013

The next generation of farmers grow at Moon In The Pond Farm
by Dominic Palumbo

Twenty years ago I moved from New York City to the rural countryside of western Massachusetts. I had no clue that farming was in my future—much less, did I imagine the career it is for me now.



I love food and I love cooking. That’s why I started growing vegetables and why I began raising chickens and sheep—I thought, wouldn’t it be cool, wouldn’t it be great, to raise my own, to raise interesting stuff and not to wonder and worry about how clean it might be. Within a few years I was selling at Union Square market in New York City, and raising lots more vegetables and animals. Moon In The Pond Farm was born.

About twelve years on, people started calling me, “Farmer Dom”. I was kinda surprised. I still wasn’t sure how to judge if there had been enough sun and wind to dry the hay in the field before putting it into the barn; how to get beet seeds to germinate in the hot summer soil; how to adjust a plow behind the tractor so the soil flipped sod-side-down instead of flopping back upright. I felt like I was a long way off— a dozen years of farming had taught me there was a lot yet to learn. But I did indeed discover an extraordinary connection to nature—more than I had ever dreamed. As a farmer, every day I’m challenged by the depth and complexity of nature.

Excited about my new life on the land, I was always eager to have friends—and strangers too—visit the farm. I found farming had started to become second nature and I loved to talk about it and show it off. Visitors would ask about what had become for me part of my life and daily routine, and be amazed and fascinated at the answers.

While finding my life as a farmer was learning lots of technical bits of running a small farm—how much hay to store for the winter to feed a certain number of cows and sheep, or what specific organic crop rotations make the most sense on a small farm—a huge part of the learning in those first years was finding myself up close to some much bigger issues. The dismal state of our food system, and impact of agribusiness on even broader global issues like international politics and climate change, etc. challenged me, dogged me. And of course, tied to these negative trends, the ever decreasing number of farmers – people directly connected to the land, to farming, to food production, and the planet.

In 2004, when I was nominated as a delegate to Slow Food’s International conference Terra Madre, it blew my mind. I suddenly found that I was profoundly linked to a groundswell. Again I found myself changed. As if the validation of my work as an organic farmer wasn’t enough, Terra Madre energized my dedication and steeled my commitment to teach and to share the life and lessons I was learning as a farmer.

I had been teaching interns and apprentices on the farm for years, but now I it had become even clearer to me that the teaching itself was the vital link, the most important farming task. If there is to be a future of good, clean and fair food, is it essential that we grow new farmers, and lots of them, fast. But it’s imperative also, that those new farmers understand that vital link: farmers must be teachers too. Intrinsic to the nature and purpose of a farmer is to nurture. Central to that purpose is to cultivate the next generation of nurturers.

Although Slow Food over the years has been pasted with any number of labels to do with tasty, rare or expensive food, celebrity chefs, and fancy restaurants, Slow Food has always been very much about farmers. It’s about connecting; developing valued and respectful relationships with our first line, our interpreters: the farmers on the land who represent us, nurture us, and teach us respectful relationships with the land, the planet, our communities, and each other.

It’s been incredibly exciting to see the number of brave young people interested in and attracted to farming. When I started offering internships and apprenticeships there were many seasons, and in fact years, when I couldn’t find young people to work with me. In the past few years, what a welcome change! I’ve had dozens of applications from amazingly motivated, bright, and committed young people. In my neighborhood as in rural, urban, and suburban communities all over the country, new farms are popping up like radish seedlings.

Find them. Search them out and support them. Let them teach and nourish you. Encourage them and advocate for them. You, your loved ones and your communities will be healthier, stronger and more vital. In connecting to farmers, you become a nurturer, a cultivator, and in Carlo’s words, a “coproducer”. You become a farmer! Farm on!

You can see how much Farmer Dom likes to show off Moon In The Pond Farm in the video he shot last fall for a Kickstarter campaign. back
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