Personal Essay: Putting down roots on a patch of land gives others room to grow

Illustration by Anne Lambelet

Illustration by Anne Lambelet

Soul Farming

by Charis Lindrooth

When Don arrived to work with us at Red Earth Farm, I was skeptical. Now bear in mind, we employ an eclectic mix of people, but Don won the prize for the cleanest-shaved and neatest dressed. His spotless button-up was tucked into crisp khakis. His boots squeaked. His hair was carefully combed, his enthusiastic grin irresistible. Some might say this man was in the thick of a midlife crisis. At 45, he left the food industry to pursue his dream: farming. His only obstacle? He knew nothing about it. Our farm provided the solution to his lack of know-how. One year later, he bought an acreage and launched Dancing Hen Farm. If it weren’t for the same heartwarming grin, you would hardly recognize him—now, he looks like a farmer, because he is one.

Todd, another employee, spent his teen years perfecting his skills as a skateboard aficionado. He came to us in his mid-20s and fell in love with farming. He lived with us and worked on our crew for four years. After a summer hiatus in Maine working with a farmer who mentored him on how to farm with horse and plow, Todd returned with beautiful Mary. That summer, after the echinacea bloomed, Mary gave birth to their son in the summer kitchen. They now manage a CSA using horse and tractor. I cried the day they moved out. I then realized that a deep caring for those who work with us has grown alongside the vegetables.

After my husband Michael and I purchased our farm in 2006, our heads bubbled with plans and passionate ideals about connecting people with the land. Community supported agriculture (CSA) was in its early days, and we found our niche by letting our customers order what landed in their weekly boxes. We studied compost, soil chemistry, organic pesticides and pored over glossy pictures of vegetables. We were all about growing produce for enthusiastic vegetable consumers. 

We didn’t realize at the time that the farm would produce more than vegetables. As our CSA expanded, so did our crew. We now feed nearly 700 families and employ 20 people. Some of them have shared our living space in our 1890s farmhouse. Together, we ate bounteous lunches gathered around rickety tables. Vegetable soups, zucchini lasagna, copious salads, homemade pickles and vats of curried veggies satisfied our bellies. Cucumber lemonade refreshed us while laughter echoed against the barn.

Working outside on pristine days in May can fill one’s soul with hope and joy. The blistering heat and backbreaking demands of July can be brutal. Sweltering bodies find relief in mischief. Those in the lower fields had to be ever-mindful of rotten tomatoes, hurled by impish pickers from above. Cases of liquid were won in habañero eating contests. The annual after-hours pingpong tournament, with a hundred dollar bill taped to the center net, always ended in a ferocious match with Farmer Michael.

These antics, combined with shared meals and long days, forged a bond. When we were younger, the bond felt sibling-like. As we mature, it takes on a parental feel. Michael and I have grown as well. We have learned to roll with the weather, anticipate the unexpected, worry less and sleep more. We never could have imagined that beyond feeding our vegetable-crazy customers, our small farm would become a haven for the wanderer, an incubator for future farmers, a place of healing for the part of humanity that spends a season at Red Earth Farm.