The best way to “know your food” is to “know your farmer”. Read interviews with the real heroes of the food movement, our local food producers—maybe even ones that you buy from!
People get into farming for all kinds of reasons. As for Matt Szechenyi, he’s always enjoyed helping people, and feels that as a farmer who produces natural, nutrient-dense foods, he’s doing just that. At Briars Farmstead, Matt cultivates food on land that’s been in his family for more than 70 years, though he wasn’t always a farmer. While he says that farming isn’t quite the romantic endeavor some make it out to be, he considers it a privilege to be able to do what he does. Despite the many challenges, he loves providing healthy food to people and giving back to the land — especially in a time when our food systems really need it.
Though Jacqueline hasn’t always been a farmer per se, she’s always been one to cultivate the land. Being from the Garden State, she took to gardening early, and continued it throughout her life. Now a Florida resident, when she purchased a home with a larger amount of land, farming was a natural progression for her.
Raw milk remains a very controversial topic. Kelly Hensing, however, is a major advocate for it. Her family farm, Hensing’s Hilltop Acres, was one of the first in the state of Maryland to be allowed to sell raw milk, albeit as pet milk. Her passion for raw milk extends to other natural, whole foods, and she credits her family’s shift in diet with resolving a lot of their health issues. It should be unsurprising, therefore, that she wanted to share that food with others, despite a lack of previous farming experience. We talked to Kelly about all this and more, including why raw milk is so taboo, and why natural food isn’t as expensive as you think.
The term “agriculture” tends to elicit images of expansive open spaces with perfectly aligned rows of crops. Lincoln Smith, founder of Forested, has an entirely different vision. Forest farms — or forest gardens, the term preferred by Smith — tend to look more like a forest than a farm. With a background in landscape architecture, Smith has always been interested in the way people relate to the land. He started Forested to research forest gardening methods, market forest foods, train people in forest gardening, design forest gardens, and raise awareness about the practice through tours, classes, and forest-to-table dinners. Smith talked to us about the importance of agroecosystems, why National Parks alone won’t solve our environmental challenges, and what non-farmers should know about growing food.
Just as knowing your farmer helps you know your food, so does knowing your chef. Across the United States farm-to-table restaurants are pushing the food movement forward, supporting local small-scale farmers, and meeting the growing demands of conscious consumers. Chef Tony Marciante of Chef Tony’s FRESH Seafood Restaurant is embracing the farm-to-table movement as much as possible. According to their website, “At Chef Tony’s, we believe restaurants, above food and drink, are a catalyst for human connection.” And although there are still significant obstacles facing farm-to-table restaurants, Chef Tony believes sourcing locally shows care for the product and concern for the local economy.
Joan Bybee of Mesteño Draw Ranch is indeed a modern farmer. Though the traditional image of a farmer is someone who grew up on a farm and continued to farm their entire life, this is not true for Joan. Rather, she had a long, successful career in linguistics, and upon retiring, decided she wanted to restore the natural areas on her small ranch. Naturally, as grazing cattle can help with this, she decided to get a small herd of cows, and now — after 40 years of a totally different profession — she’s a rancher. Despite the fact that the number of farmers is decreasing in the United States, it’s farmers and ranchers like Joan who remind us that plenty of people are going back to the land — to manage it, care for it, and cultivate food on it, in ways that are both healthy for the environment, and for people.
It’s important to remember that farming, doesn’t just mean for food — so for this edition of “Know Your Farmer”, we’re going to be profiling one of our producers on the site who sells natural soap and skin products. Just like food, the production of items like these has an impact on our health and the environment, so it’s equally important to buy eco-products, as it is eco-farmed food. Rossitsa Owens of Herbal Poetry understands this, and does her part by creating her products with herbs grown in her own garden, and honey, beeswax, and propolis from her own beehives, full of happy bees. Take a closer look at who Rossitsa is, and why she’s into bee-ing green! (…see what I did there?)
Michael Protas is a perfect example of an aspect of farming that can get overlooked: community. Michael says he fell in love with the idea of building a community, working for himself, working outside, and doing something meaningful — after all, people need to eat. Unlike many young farmers, Michael didn’t get into farming for the sole purpose of "saving the planet", but nonetheless is playing an important role in the long term sustainability of our food systems. And that’s truly the beautiful thing about small-scale, local farms — you don’t have to be a self-proclaimed hippie to be interested in or appreciate them. All are welcome!