The first time Charlie and I walked into our farmhouse that Spring of 1986, we owned it. It didn’t occur to me until years later that this was somewhat unusual as most people would like to see the inside of a house before they commit to buying it. But at the time it seemed the most natural thing in the world.
We knew the house had running water, no termites, four walls and a roof to protect us. What we saw was a beautiful piece of land with the house and barn located far away from the road – a perfect place to raise children and animals, in short, heaven on earth. I had admired the farm from the road for years driving between Princeton and Lambertville What surprised me is how many people had viewed the farm and not snapped it up already.
We learned about the opportunity to buy this farm only hours after we had decided to marry. It felt like providence had opened her arms and welcomed our new union. Charlie had worked hard in his door and window business, already owned a home and had decided to find a farm before we had met. I had grown up on my parents working dairy farm in Columbia County, New York. So the prospect of managing 58 acres of land didn’t scare me a bit. We will forever be grateful to the person who sold us the property, Mike Plescher, who liked our plan to keep the farm a farm and not to cut it up for more houses.
It didn’t even occur to us at the time that we might make our living on the land. My idealistic, Wendell Berry-reading, parents had fallen in love with rural life and thrown themselves headlong into farming. My siblings and I came away with great stories and unique memories. But my parents came away with a severely depleted bank account after the debacle of drought in the early 60’s. Marriage almost broken, they moved to exurban Rowayton, Connecticut in 1965 to finish raising us. In retrospect, Rowayton is a great place on the waterfront but it was a tough adjustment for a girl of ten to get used to a quarter acre after having the freedom and a pony to explore 365 acres. When we moved to Crusher Road, it never occurred to us that we might make with only 58 acres.
Looking back, the assumption we made years ago, that we couldn’t farm for real, often stops me in my present day tracks. How could this be? We all have to eat. Eating is central and even sacred to our lives Why, when and how did farming become such a non-option, so unattractive as a profession, unless you own vast tracts of land and humongous machines and a dependence on chemical companies? Think of all those families who did once make a good middle class living on their farms, who were forced out of business in the post World War era. To my mind, this is not only sad, but also tragic. And it just doesn’t make good economic sense in a country that has a declining middle class, a dangerous dependence on fossil fuel and an unhealthy, increasingly obese population due to poor diets. From an artist’s point of view, my heart aches to see beautiful farmland gobbled up by development, the final crop – houses.
Charlie and I continued our respective businesses, selling and installing doors and windows, marketing communications for architects and publishing door posters. At the start, we were fortunate to have two farmers lease our land, Toby Laughlin and Miguel Garces who kept a small herd of Polled Herefords. Their livestock grazed on our fenced 20-acre pasture and we learned from them. Then one day Toby offered to sell us two pregnant polled Hereford dams. They were registered and very fine animals. And that was our start as beef farmers.
In short order, our beautiful children Kate and Gus were born in 1988 and 1989. We kept a great vegetable farm for ourselves. Each year we would borrow a bull and our dams would have a few calves and we’d sell them at auction, fulfilling the income requirements for farm assessment which until recently. We were running a “gentlemen farm.” Cats, dogs, horses all came along and greatly enriched our lives and still do.
One day the phone rang and John Hart, owner of Rosedale Mills and Hopewell Township Committeeman called to ask if I’d consider joining an Agricultural Advisory Committee in Hopewell Township, which was starting up in order to apply for farmland preservation grant money. “It’ll only be a couple of hours a month Lucia, I’m sure you can find the time to do that.” So I agreed. This small decision to volunteer time for the Township led me to many good things. One of them was meeting the Executive Director of the Northeast Organic Farming Association, NOFA NJ, and Karen Andersen who nominated me to attend a conference of the Pennsylvania Association of Sustainable Agriculture, PASA. There, in 2007, I encountered almost a thousand people all doing, of all things – farming. The conference lifted a box off my mind that had limited my ideas of what Charlie and I could do with our land and opened up a vast of array of possibilities. What I heard and learned that weekend started a “fire in the belly” about the difference between agro industrial farming versus organic and sustainable farming. The issue of how our food is raised and is grown touches everything – our health, the climate change, diversity of species, the economy, dependence on foreign oil and how we relate to each other in our communities. Agriculture is at the very center of the whole big debate.
Returning from PASA, I practically accosted Charlie. “We have an unrealized asset with our 58 acres. We aren’t too small at all. Let’s get more serious about farming!!!” After talking and planning, happily he agreed and in many ways, this is when our real adventure as grassfed livestock farmers began.