Sunday, January 2, 2011

How I came to be a farmer.

Becoming a mom was my graceful exit from a career spiral down spin. After finishing my graduate work in immunology, I began a postdoctoral position in a laboratory that studied type 2 diabetes. It seemed like a good transition and a field with promising funding. I was not incorrect, considering the latest statistics on obesity and diabetes. However, I was extremely burned-out having spent six years working more than 60 hours a week on a project that was abandoned by my advisor, who was subsequently let-go by the university department. Long sad pathetic story that I will spare you.

My new position had promise but I did not. I kept coming back around to a central hypothesis, which was that most people must live where they can find work only to spend everything they make in order to live where they can find work. I was living in central MA, where living expenses are very high and postdoctoral wages are very low. My net at the end of the day was a loss. It was intended to be an investment in my career that didn't pan out. This was about the same time that Katrina came tearing through the gulf and everything I read on the NYTimes spelled disaster.

Instead of doing my job I was reading about cheesemaking and what Vermont, our neighbor to the north, had to offer on the subject. I also read about gardening and mushroom-growing. I felt isolated in my dependency on a system that could fail. I wanted to be independent enough to grow my food except that I lived in an apartment. We contributed a garden to our landlord's backyard and joined a CSA. I bought a pressure-canner and tried to teach myself how to cook with vegetables that I didn't recognize. It was enough for the time-being.

I resigned my position early to begin a cheesemaking internship in Middlebury, Vermont. It was my salvation. During my last days on the job I was so jaded that I proselytized about how one could do more for people by growing an organic garden and sharing it than by working in a laboratory to find a "cure" for a preventable disease.

My internship brought exhaustion at 12 hour days. I would wake in the middle of night unable to clench a fist from the manual labor, but I felt alive and accomplished for the first time in my working career. I realized that the only way to run a profitable cheesemaking operation was to have at least three unpaid laborers at all times. My conclusion has been that if I grow the food, make the cheese and cook the meals while spending the remainder of my time caring for and raising my children at home, everyone benefits. I get to have my hobbies, my family has nutritious food, my children have their mom at home, and my husband has his role as bread-winner. My personal goal is to reduce our living expenses to a level that would offset the earnings from any job I would be eligible for, in the long-run preparing us for a low-cost and thus early retirement. Instead of beginning my own artisan cheesemaking operation, I am satisfied by showing others how easy a process it truly is and encouraging them to provide for themselves in a similar manner. This is my utopia.


  1. So true! Thank you so much for sharing your path with us. You are living the life that I hope is at the end of my rainbow. Blessed be! And keep sharing! I can't wait to hear more about cheesemaking and your goats :)

  2. Lee Ann, thank you for your encouragement! I feel extremely fortunate to have the leisure to keep our mini-farm. Our chickens and goats give us so much pleasure everyday. It's a gift that I would wish for everyone.