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Meet the Farmers

Elizabeth Henderson

Though born in New York City and raised in Croton-on-Hudson, New York, by parents who never even gardened, Elizabeth Henderson has been farming for a living for over 21 years. The seed was planted when she was thirteen and totally out of sync with high school life in the 1950's. To save her from existential despair, her parents sent her to a summer camp on a farm. Thirty years later, with several friends, she settled on an old farm in Gill, Massachusetts, planning to homestead and build an intentional community. Elizabeth, a widow, wanted a healthy place to raise her son, Andrew. Within two years, the farm in Gill was producing and selling enough vegetables to cover expenses. That was Elizabethís apprenticeship - learning organic farming the hard way. Participation in a study circle with more experienced organic farmers led to the founding of the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) of Massachusetts, and its certification program through which she met Ammie.

In 1988, Elizabeth moved to Rose, New York, to farm at Rose Valley Farm with David Stern. She has been producing organically grown vegetables for the fresh market ever since. During the winter of 1988 - 89, Elizabeth and David joined forces with Alison Clarke of the Politics of Food to creat the Genesee Valley Organic CSA(GVOCSA). The first season, there were 29 members. Rose Valley sold most of its produce to food coops and other markets. Gradually, CSA membership grew to 45, then 88, then 130 shares. When Greg Palmer and Elizabeth moved to rented land at Crowfield Farm in 1998, GVOCSA members helped them build their new farm - Peacework Organic Farm. Today, 95% of Peaceworkís produce goes to the over 250 households who are CSA members.

For many of her years in farming, Elizabeth has been working actively to increase the dialogue between organic and conventional farmers. She chairs the Wayne County Agriculture Enhancement Board which works to protect farming and improve the economic viability of local farms. Since she moved back to New York 15 years ago, she has been on the Governing Council of NOFA-NY, and co-chairs the Organic Committee of the National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture. Her writings on organic agriculture appear in The Natural Farmer and the NOFA-NY Food, Farms and Folks, and she is one of the authors of The Real Dirt: Farmers Tell About Organic and Low-Input Practices in the Northeast. With her former farm partner, she wrote A FoodBook for a Sustainable Harvest for the members of the GVOCSA. Chelsea Green published her book Sharing the Harvest: A Guide to Community Supported Agriculture in 1999. During the winter of 2003, she wrote a Manual on Whole Farm Planning together with Karl North. The Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (SARE) named her one of their three Farmer Educators in 2001. She is a frequent speaker at agricultural conferences around the US and did a speaking tour in Japan in November, 2002 as a guest of the Japanese Organic Agriculture Association.

Fed up with the cities, I began thinking about farming in 1978 six years after my husband, Harry, died in a senseless car crash, and I have been working at it full time since 1981. Becoming a farmer is what you would call a radical career change: in my previous life, I taught Russian literature and language at the university level. But on a deeper plane, there is continuity. Inspired and encouraged by my parents, I seek to contribute to the movement for world peace. For me, organic farming and community supported agriculture are a fuller way of pursuing peace as a way of life, learning to live lightly on the planet while contributing to social justice.

Greg Palmer

I became a farmer to help satisfy certain personal needs and wants that were crystalizing in my mind back in the 1980's and early '90's. First and foremost, while living in NYC, I realized that I like to eat, and I like to eat food that is very good and fresh. I have never been (and probably never will be) a fast eater, and the thought of "fast food" has never held great appeal for me.

I also realized that living in a city, or densely populated suburbs was not something I wished to continue doing for the rest of my life. But rather than jumping "cold turkey" from city to country, I moved to central Massachusetts,
to the hills of Worcester, second largest city in New England, where I lived and worked for a year and a half. That is where I met my future (and present) wife, Ammie Chickering. Ammie had been considering farming as a way of life for a while, and had been involved in agriculture in various ways for years. Farming was brand new and a very different direction for me. I did understand that farming, and making some income doing it, was not quite the same as growing some veggies in a 20 by 30 plot.

Land in central Massachusets was spiraling beyond our ability to pay for it, so we thought of other places we would like to live. Upstate New York made the list. We made some trips out west to narrow down the where. Upstate New York is a big place. Water had something to do with our choice. I am a fan of big water having grown up near the Long Island Sound and the Ocean. The Finger Lakes and Lake Ontario felt very comfortable to be around, so we focused on this area. After that, it was easy (sarcasm, much sarcasm!)

I needed to learn to farm. Ammie know Elizabeth from years together on the NOFA-MA Certification Committee. Elizabeth was then farming with David Stern at Rose Valley Farm, a small commercial organic farm. Liz and David had both had years of farming experience by then, so it sounded like an ideal place to learn. Rose Valley wasn't far from our home, and they needed apprentices for the '92 season. I stayed for 5 years (with a year at a different farm). In 1998, Elizabeth and I became farm partners and started Peacework Organic Farm. Of great historical significance is the addition of our daughter Helen, now a full 7 years old. We are home/farm schooling her, the farm' s unofficial social director.

Ammie Chickering

I am a native of Brookfield, a small town in central Massachusetts. I am not from a farm family, but I grew up vegetable gardening. I have worked as a shepherd for the guarding dog project at Hampshire College (my alma mater), on a dairy farm in New Hampshire, and did a 4-month stint as an apprentice on an organic research farm in Switzerland. In the 1980s, I served with Elizabeth on the NOFA/MA Certification Committee while working for the Massachusetts Department of Food and Agriculture.

I met Greg in Massachusetts in 1989 and pulled him into my lifelong dream of having a small farm. Land was unaffordable in New England so we relocated to upstate New York. We got married and bought an old house and 52 acres near South Butler in 1991, not far from Rose Valley Farm. For outside income, I took the job of Administrative Secretary for NOFA-NY and ran the membership office from home while Greg went to work for Rose Valley Farm. Our daughter, Helen, was born in 1994. The following summer, I became an inspector for NOFA-NY's Organic Certification Program; work I continued to do on a limited basis through 2001. When Greg became a partner at Peacework Farm, it became obvious to me that limited time and energy, advancing middle age, and the demands of parenthood would never allow us to also develop a farm on our own land. With my tolerance for office work more than exceeded, I joined Liz and Greg in 2000 to pursue my farming dreams at Peacework.

We really like the school district where our home is so we will continue to commute to the farm until Helen is out of high school. (Yes, I know—it's ridiculous, but life is full of inconsistencies.) Helen joins us at the farm on most Sundays and particularly enjoys her time spent with the CSA kids.

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