Letting Go of the Farm

Fourteen years ago, on a cold February weekend, Eric, our 10 month old son, Eli and I went driving around rural upstate New York, looking for a place to settle. We had actually wanted to stay in Massachusetts, but a combination of high land and real estate prices and Eric's grandparents' (who would come to live with us and whose needs for care were a big part of our motivation to move) false European perception that somehow Massachusetts was much colder than upstate NY meant that New York was our best option. We explored, we adventured, we fell in love with the Schoharie Valley and its surrounding hills, and in Cambridge NY, we conceived Simon, our second child. It seemed like a good omen. A month later we came back and saw some houses, and a few weeks after that returned with Eric's grandparents, and bought our farm.

A few weeks ago we made the decision to sell Gleanings Farm. Our main motivation is that since the arrival of our Gang of Four 21 months ago, we really have had much less time for farming. They had a lot of needs and a lot of those needs include transportation back and forth to urban centers that have support services, medical care, etc.... And we're spending much more time than I like in the car. The farm has gotten short shrift, and I'd love to see it in hands that would make better use of our land.

There are other motivations that don't have anything to do with foster care. Simon is entering his high school years and would like to attend a particular program in a school district near us were it possible. We would also be much closer to Eric's job and our synagogue, and our shul is really a center for our social life. Most of all, I want to get out of the car. I want to be able to be fully shomer Shabbos (ie, no driving on our Sabbath).

There are still more motivations. While Eric and I can do a credible job at raising and growing a lot of things (when we're not head down in other stuff), neither of us enjoys SELLING our agricultural products. Frankly, we both hate that part. But out where we live, enough people just don't pass by for us to sell without significant work on our part. The entrepreneurial part of farming turns both of us off, but it is incredibly necessary. So we are both excited about being in a place where more of our focus is on subsistence agriculture and when we do have things to sell, we can simply put a sign up.

Moreover, I've been an advocate for years of growing and raising food where people actually live. I've tracked and written about urban agriculture more or less constantly. I have several times noted that had I been able to get Eric's grandparents to agree and known what I know now about urban agriculture, we'd probably have stayed in Lowell, MA where we lived when Eli was born. I'm excited about living in a place where I can make a bigger difference in local food security, backyard agriculture and sustainable culture - and do it in walking distance.

Five of my children are black. My rural area isn't as white as you might fear, but it is a place where my kids stick out more than I like. I'm looking forward to all my kids living and (for those who do) going to school in a more diverse place. I'm looking forward to all my kids hearing more other languages spoken and talking to more people whose backgrounds are radically different from theirs. I'm excited about community gardens and advocating for more public greenspaces and supporting other gardeners and farmers.

There are things I'm really, really going to miss - the quiet, the space to do so many cool things. Not having to worry about what the neighbors think most of the time. Laid back zoning. Herons flying over my head. Wetlands full of red-winged blackbirds. 59 species of birds that visit or nest here regularly. Walking in our own woods. Tracing the old stone walls. Our creek, and the frogs and salamanders my children know intimately. The night sky. Our neighbors.

You can't have everything in life, and this is the right choice for us. Our plan is to move to Schenectady, a grubby, impoverished city whose current claim to fame, besides GE's ever-diminishing presence is that it just got slated to get a casino. You can probably imagine just how thrilled I am about that, but I plan to make the best of it. This is not gentrification, but urban renewal and I get to be part of a thriving, energized community that is already building great co-ops, farmer's markets etc...

I am truly excited about turning some of the big old houses in the area back into big family homes with children running up and down the stairs, and with backyard gardens, backyard poultry and backyard goats (that's one of the reasons we want to live in Schenectady, as opposed to other areas, because of its liberal zoning and large community of immigrants who already backyard farm). I can't wait to begin designing my new site (wherever it is).

All of this hinges on our ability to sell our enormous 7 bedroom 100 year old farmhouse and 27 acres of land. Our old house needs work - even though we've done tons of things to make it more sustainable including radiant floor heating, a very tightly insulated in-law suite, woodstoves, new roof, etc... and keeping a house with 9 kids clean enough for showing will be a treat. If we don't sell, well, we'll be happy here some more and trust that we will be able to do good things here. But we're excited about the new venture and hoping it works out. And if you are interested in a large house on good land in the hills right outside of Albany/Schenectady with great neighbors, a rich community and a strong agricultural heritage, well, email me at jewishfarmer@gmail.com


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Good luck! May the force be with you! It can be hard to let go of a place that has good memories.

By Jennie Erwin (not verified) on 06 Feb 2015 #permalink

Best wishes and good luck in your new adventures. I hope you will keep writing about them!

I actually think I'll have more time to write, and more new things to write about. Maybe not while I'm getting the house ready to sell and house-hunting, though.

As an actual, real live Schenectadian who is (not currently) grubby or impoverished, i would have preferred to have been able to object to your description. However, i moved to Schenectady specifically to be able to afford a stint of unemployment for the purposes of going back to school, based almost solely on it's cost of living. So i very personally identify with both descriptors, even though i'm once again gainfully employed and actually earn 161% of the median income for females in Schenectady.

On a more positive note, i'm thrilled to see families like yours moving into this city. I very much look forward to someday being able to purchase anything you've grown, either at the weekly Sunday Schenectady farmer's market at Proctor's, or wherever you hang your shingle :)

By Double Shelix (not verified) on 09 Feb 2015 #permalink

I didn't say that the people were grubby or impoverished (although I expect to be extremely grubby in my garden and some are) but the city broadly is. Which honestly is one of the things that draws me - cost of living, lack of excessive gentrification, actual economic diversity, interesting people... If I wanted to live in an affluent, gentrified city and could afford it, there are plenty back in MA where I came from (and some that aren't, of course).

Sounds like a great plan! Kudos to you for deciding to make the leap. It will be a lot of work, but in the long run it will be better for all of you.
I know that you will continue to do amazing things no matter where you live and I will continue to be incredibly interested to read what you write about your adventures in life and your views on matters far and wide.

By Anna Kovalcik (not verified) on 09 Feb 2015 #permalink

I wish you the best on selling the farm and making the move!

I assume it's likely you'll be able to adopt the other 4 kids, given your plans to move with them?

And how hard did Eric find it to decide to move? I recall the last time you considered moving you mentioned that Eric is not big on change :)

By Lindsay Went (not verified) on 16 Feb 2015 #permalink

Thank you for writing about your considerations when making this decision. I'm facing the "country or city" decision right now and, with a special-needs child in a wheelchair, I'm leaning towards city (today anyway) as well.

Good luck with the move. I'm hoping to leave Charm City in a few years and retire to a smaller city, do some theatre, some gardening ...

Your writing (blog and books) and your AIP course were instrumental in helping me understand the reality of the world we live in. You changed my life. While you and your family are a perfect illustration of the fact that things change and we must adapt, I fervently hope that my husband and I will be able to stay on our evolving homestead, learning to do the things I so admired you for doing as you learned to live a much lower-energy lifestyle. I wish you all the best in your new life. You may not be taking the farm with you, but you are taking your great capacity to make any place a warm and happy home and to make any community better.

That sounds like a tough decision you've made. I would love to buy your farm if it was in the UK! It sounds like such a wonderful place and an idyllic home for the kids.

I tried for years to find something similar here that was affordable, but was forced to give up and make the best of where we are now. It started with replacing the kids climbing frame with vegetable beds in our small garden, then participating in the community allotment and finally getting my own allotment. Add to that some foraging and .....we are not nearly as self-sufficient as you were on the farm, but it is a start. I am looking forward to getting some inspiration from you as you face new challenges!