5 minute read
written by: Meghan Riehl
You could say my first day on the job as a full time farmer was a jump off the high dive...
I was a livestock apprentice at Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, an institution designed to train and develop young farmers. I dove headfirst as my assistant manager led the way as we slaughtered and butchered a pig together; an inevitable process that I had never observed before, let alone took part.
Throughout the course of my first season farming, I learned to care deeply for a diverse group of livestock raised for meat, eggs, and fiber, with a cohort of talented and motivated individuals. Most importantly, I discovered and deepened my appreciation for food and its vital role in sustaining connections.
"Throughout the course of my first season farming, I learned to care deeply for a diverse group of livestock raised for meat, eggs, and fiber, with a cohort of talented and motivated individuals."
I grew up eating meat, but I had no connection to the animals nor the industrial mechanisms producing the meat far away from my childhood home in New Hampshire. There was a period in my teens when I declared myself a vegetarian. I had read about the conventional meat industry in America and with naivety I boycotted the entire industry. However, over the course of about a year, my health suffered with an unbalanced diet.
As I stepped back into the carnivorous world, I re-educated myself about meat and my alternatives. I visited farmers markets and butcher shops and learned the language of meat. As this habit developed in the meat department, so did my curiosity about all my food.
Meghan as a child, playing at a local farm during an apple picking field trip!
It has taken me a long time to become comfortable with myself and food. I am not proud to announce that I grew up as a picky eater. I grew up as a chubby girl with that narrow vision that comes with a picky eater, and later struggled with eating disorder habits. It has only been through adulthood that I have found a deep appreciation for food and its power. As a farmer, I've been able to connect with the processes of livestock production, harvesting vegetables, and transforming these products into wholesome food for sharing with others. In the kitchen, learning to cook and to think about food from seed (or embryo!) to plate to health has opened my world.
"As a farmer, I've been able to connect with the processes of livestock production, harvesting vegetables, and transforming these products into wholesome food for sharing with others."
I certainly was not raised as a farmer; I was taught to work with my head, not my hands. I graduated from Union College with a Bachelors in Geology and pursued a career with the Army Corps of Engineers as a Field Geologist. While this made myself and my family proud, the lifestyle continued my disengagement with my food. On the road, I lived in hotels for weeks on end and ate hotel food and convenience food all too often. My mental and physical health suffered from the lack of connection with my food and my people.
When I returned from work on the road to my home base in Savannah, GA, I gathered with my roommates and friends over much-appreciated home cooked feasts and delightful meals out at restaurants. I found such joy in sharing food experiences with others; this stark contrast motivated me to pursue a lifestyle and career that would nurture my connection food and my health.
I came to farming seeking a connection with food and health, and since I have found motivation through the work and the rewards. Every step of my journey thus far, from my apprenticeship at Stone Barns to my co-management of Grape Hollow Farm in Holmes, NY has connected me to my own food and to the people I serve.
left: Meghan preparing the Grape Hollow farmers market booth in Pawling, NY in 2019. right: Meghan with Gladys the rooster at Grape Hollow Farm in 2019.
Although not all of us need to farm, but we all need to nurture ourselves with food and therefore we all inherently have a relationship with food and how it is raised. I find inspiration in this. Further, I am proud to be a part of the surge of young farmers in the industry, a group who is here to stay.
Meghan with a 22lb heritage breed turkey she raised from poult to harvest for Thanksgiving in 2017
My fiance, (and Vibrant Farm co-owner!) Curtis and I moved to Litchfield, CT in January 2020. Together with the farmers previously operating the land that we now lease, Curtis and I experienced the initial wave of the Coronavirus with the Litchfield County community. We felt the community look to, and lean upon, their local farms.
"Curtis and I experienced the initial wave of the Coronavirus with the Litchfield County community. We felt the community look to, and lean upon, their local farms."
As a response, we led and implemented strategies for customers to continue to access their local fresh food. We helped the farmers accept credit payments, created an online ordering platform, and implemented a contactless drive-thru pickup.
The community response to our system was overwhelming, and their support was encouraging. We saw other local businesses find ways to address concerns of their customers during the early stages of COVID-19. Online, we saw farmers innovating rapidly to implement strategies to keep markets open, deliver produce, and keep momentum moving forward.
Meghan and Curtis growing baby greens in 2020.
I, too, feel thankful for farmers. I look up to and lean upon those who have farmed before me and this very succession of stewardship. I believe that to keep us moving forward we must consider what affects our decisions today will have on tomorrow. In doing so, I hope to honor and respect the land and the many people who have come before. I hope to continue to grow wholesome food, keep the soil covered, grow and raise nutritious food without the use of synthetic chemicals, create a more diverse and supportive workplace, and source materials locally as much as possible.
Vibrant Farm is the next rendition to my farming chapter. Let us come together for local food and farms, health, community connections, and hope!