In the summer of 1988, after graduating from college, I accepted an invitation from my good friend Sam Wagner to come out to work on his family’s farm in Southeastern Pennsylvania. We spent the summer cutting and baling hay on 320 acres of rolling farmland along the beautiful Brandywine River. It was hard and dirty work, but I loved every minute of it. At the end of the summer, I left Deborah’s Rock Farm, moved to New York City and got an office job.
In February of 1993, I was living and working in San Francisco when I got laid off from my office job there. I decided to look for another seasonal farm stint, thinking that once summer ended I would once again move back to New York. On the drive from SF to Winters to interview for a job here, I drove through a valley that reminded me of the Brandywine River area: rolling and lush. I started work a week later, only to find out in May that I had been fooled by California’s wet season: Winters looks nothing like Pennsylvania in the summer. But it was too late, I had rediscovered my love of farming and I decided to stick with it.
Fast forward 30 years. Sam is now a college counselor at a high school in New Orleans, recently became an empty-nester and was looking for a way to escape for a week during the craziness of Mardi Gras. He had never visited Terra Firma.
Any time family or friends come to visit, they want to “check out the farm”. It usually means talking an hour long walk through the fields and admiring the views, maybe picking some fruit if the season is right. Most people ask the same questions; questions I have answered dozens of times. But Sam wanted to see how our farm operated: he wanted to work. He came prepared with mudboots, overalls and work gloves.
Despite the fact that we have a ton of employees at Terra Firma — almost 50 — I actually work by myself almost all day long. So I will admit I was hesitant about having a friend accompany me all day long every day for a week. I thought it might slow me down and keep me from getting things done.
Not with Sam.
We got up early every morning, grabbed some coffee and headed out to the fields. He hooked up trailers, drove a forklift, tilled a field, and moved tractors. He asked me very detailed questions, hard questions. Farmer questions. Although he hasn’t worked on a farm for 30 years, he still has farming in his blood. In the end, we got more than I would have gotten done by myself, but it was a lot more fun.
Sam’s family sold their farm over ten years ago, although not before putting it into a conservation easement that would protect as farmland forever. But their farm provided the spark for myself and another of their former Deborah’s Rock “Alums” to go into agriculture and continue the legacy. I have never forgotten the summer I spent there, but until Sam’s visit, I hadn’t realized how much I actually remembered and what an impression it made on me.