Friday Takeaway: Living Off the Land

Daily Hampshire Gazette, November 10, 2017, by Caroline Pam

Ten years ago, my husband and I, just married, bought a sweet little farmhouse and a few acres of land as a permanent home for our fledgling farm in Sunderland. We moved in November of that year, welcomed our first child in February and couldn’t believe our good fortune.

By the following May, expecting another baby, we moved out. The 800-square-foot, one-story farmhouse had become headquarters for our growing business; and constant traffic to the bathroom, kitchen, office and seed closet was disrupting our daughter’s naps and nursing.

We reluctantly rented a house a mile down the road, hoping and planning that we’d soon move back to the farm once we could afford an addition so that our children could grow up as farm kids.

Fast forward eight years. Our daughter, Lily, and our son, Oliver, are in the fourth and third grades and can read Harry Potter and play Neil Young on guitar but can hardly tell the difference between a parsnip and a potato.

That’s not entirely fair: Occasionally when school is out, and we can’t find a babysitter, the kids will help pick carrots with the crew or transplant seedlings in the greenhouse. But most days, my husband, Tim, and I go to work, the kids go to school, and we pick them up from my parents’ house in Amherst after our work day is done. Then we drive right past the farm to our house for dinner and bed.

This was the year we thought we’d finally move back to the farm. We raised money for the project by selling the development rights to a piece of farmland we bought a few years back and preserved the land for farming forever through the state’s Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR) program.

After 10 years of investing everything we earned back into the business, we decided to use this chunk of money to realize our dream of living on our land with our family and giving our children the chance to feel connected with the life and work that consumes us.

Giddy with excitement, we drew sketches of the new bedrooms, tested the new bike route to school and then hit a wall trying to envision where our farm crew would cook and eat lunch every day. In peak season, as many as 18 of us crowd around a long table in the spot where the house addition was supposed to go. We didn’t want to give up that essential glue of our farm culture, but there was no room for both. More importantly, we realized how crucial it is for our team to feel at home at the farm, and by trying to reclaim it for our family, we risked disrupting a dynamic that was working.

Once again, the needs of the farm came first.

Within a week, though, we did a 180 and decided to move to the center of town using the APR money as a down payment. We found a house near the library and walkable to school, the river and the corner store. If our kids can’t be farm kids, they’ll be city kids!

In a way, this suits us better. I grew up in New York City and have always felt ambivalent about some aspects of rural life. Learning practical skills and self-reliance is great, but I’ve never liked the idea of needing to drive the kids everywhere. Even as we were still loading furniture into the new house, our kids discovered an independence they’d never known — dashing across the street to buy snacks at the store and running down the block to the library and coming back with a pile of books.

We’ve also grown accustomed to some separation of work and home life since we moved off the farm (though, admittedly, I spend plenty of time on the computer at home). I had dreamed for years of waking up overlooking our patchwork of crops and watching the sun set over our greenhouses, but I also appreciate a lazy Sunday without staring at all the projects I should be tackling.

By finally giving up on the fantasy of the farm as our home, suddenly now we can envision building the sriracha kitchen we so desperately need. The puzzle pieces seem to have fallen into place. And after a long hard day at work, I’ll go home and see my kids.

Caroline Pam owns and operates KitchenGardenFarm in Sunderland, with her husband, Tim Wilcox. The farm grows organic vegetables, makes award-winning sriracha and salsa and hosts an annual hot- pepper festival, Chilifest, in September.