Sweet Homecomings: Returning to  a childhood farm in Vermont to grow an artisanal preserves business 

V Smiley and partner Amy at her family's farm in New Haven, Vermont

For V, moving to the country was a homecoming. It was a return to the land she had ties with since her birth, and a return to her family after many years apart. She grew up on her parent’s 150-acre-farm in New Haven, Vermont. A child of two back-to-the-landers, V’s youth centered on the self-sufficiency and sustainable food production. Her childhood revolved around physical labor and mandatory chores to keep food on the table. There wasn't as much time allowed for play but this unique upbringing gave her an appreciation for food and a prowess in the kitchen that led her to a career in the culinary arts. 

 

At age 20, V made the decision to leave Vermont because of her parents failure to accept her for who she was. V’s father was deeply homophobic. When she came out to her parents as a young adult, it was devastating to their relationship. Her parents urged her to stay at home and  partake in a thinly veiled form of conversion therapy. V knew at that point that she could no longer have a relationship with her father. She decided to leave the East Coast, and completely severed ties with her parents.

 

Moving to the city was a way for V to find acceptance and be a part of a queer friendly community. She also longed to live somewhere with a dynamic arts scene. She decided to move to Los Angeles, where her sister was living at the time. However, as soon as she left, deep down, she began to feel a yearning for home. She had daydreams filled with visions of packing up to spend a month in a little cabin in the mountains in Vermont.

 

After a couple of years in Los Angeles, V moved to Whidbey Island, just north of Seattle, where she met her partner Amy. At the time, Amy was building boats and learning how to grow vegetables. Their relationship blossomed over their shared interests in food and a strong connection to each-other. They soon decided to move directly in Seattle, and V landed a job working at a high-end restaurant in the middle of the city.

 

After some time, the physical and emotional toll of working in a high pressure kitchen began to wear on V. She found it hard to imagine continuing to work in that type of environment for the long term. She dreamed of being self-employed, and knew that the only path to get there would be to start a side hustle while she was still getting a regular paycheck. While still working full time as a restaurant cook, V started V Smiley Preserves: a jam company based upon unique and unconventional fruit blends preserved using honey rather than sugar.

 

Initially it was tricky for her to find a way to get the recipes just right. V herself does not consume sugar, and she became fascinated with old-world methods of preserving - especially methods used during times when white sugar was not readily available. However, pricing her product in a competitive market where the cost of using honey, which is around 4 times more expensive than sugar, became a challenge in building a profitable business. Nevertheless, V crafted her business cautiously and consciously. She grew slowly, always keeping in mind to include enough flexibility in her business model to be able to move to her home base at a moment’s notice.

 

A couple of months after V’s father passed away, her and Amy began to toy with the idea of moving back to Vermont together. From the start of their relationship, Amy told V that she could be happy living anywhere - especially in a place where she would be able to expand her passion for growing food. They had been back to Vermont recently for V’s brother’s wedding, and then again at her father’s memorial service. 

 

After spending a little time in her hometown after so many years away, V felt excited and revitalized. With her father’s passing, it felt as if a weight had been lifted from her shoulders, and that she was finally free to return to the land she grew up on. V yearned to reconnect with her family once again and her mother and siblings welcomed her with open arms. Her vision to continue to grow her V Smiley Preserves business expanded to include reinvigorating her family’s farm. Amy's talent for growing food could be fully realized on this abundant land. Amy, V, and her mother began to restore the farm into working order. For years, it had only been producing hay, but now each year they plant more fruit trees, shrubs, herbs, flowers, pollinator friendly perennials, tomatoes, and rhubarb. Most of these ingredients make their way into her jams.

 

For the first three years of living in Vermont, V and Amy had to redefine their relationship with V's childhood home and revitalize their relationship with V's family. From all the time away, V still felt a deep connection to the land that never left her, even during her ten years away living in Los Angeles and Seattle. In the back of her mind, she always held onto the belief that she would return eventually to her family’s farm. It wasn't a seamless transition and the couple's friends in the city really questioned their desire to return to a place that V had felt cast out of. 

"To explain my sentiments to friends, I’d say phrases like “I don’t have religion so how do I make sense of being alive? It’s through having a relationship with a piece of land”. Being on this piece of land is the most positive way I can interface with the memory of my father and the love and spirit of my parents."
 

V is still working on gaining footing with her business. She currently still holds other jobs on the side, but is working on transitioning to becoming a business-owner full time. For her, a sustainable future for V Smiley Preserves is based on strong e-commerce and wholesale sales, where people all over the country can experience the magic of her jams. V also has ambitious plans for the future of her family's farm. This includes raising animals, growing vegetables, starting a regional food bank, a cooking school and an events space.

 

Ultimately, V’s return home came from a place of strength, growth, and deep ties to the place she grew up. The land provides her with sustenance: literally, financially, and emotionally. It has become a way for her to build the life she always knew she wanted with a partner who can take part in their shared vision. It has become a way for her to rebuild her relationship with her family, and to become closer with her own self and identity. (Click here to jump to the interview)

www.vsmileypreserves.com

 

 

Q & A

What inspired you to move to the country? 

Since my early twenties, I had assumed that I eventually would return to the farm where I grew up in Vermont. For a while I thought I’d return to create an artist residency on the farm, but that vision changed about the time I met my partner. I knew I wasn’t a farmer. I hated the forced work of the farm as a child, the outdoor work, the haying, though I did love the animals. But I felt an intense draw to the piece of land where I grew up. I pictured myself there.

At age 20, when I formally came out to my parents while living in Norway, (I’d been making verbal declarations about my sexuality to everyone but my parents since about age 13), the process with my parents went horribly. I moved in with my partner of the time and simply stopped talking to my parents. Thankfully, they didn’t yank their portion of my college funding, but I knew my relationship with my father was over. As soon as I finished my schooling, I moved as far away from the East Coast as I could while also ticking off three other goal marks. I wanted to live in a city with a vibrant contemporary arts scene (which at the time seemed like a choice between NYC and Los Angeles) as that was my educational focus and I wanted contemporary art to be my professional focus too. Second, I wanted to live in a queer friendly and queer latent place. Third, I badly needed the company of family. My sister lived in Los Angeles so midway through May 2006, off I went, moving across the country 3 days after graduating college. 

Right away I started thinking about home, about Vermont. I fantasized about taking a month away from the West coast and renting a cabin in Greensboro area with its high pasture and hay fields and the Caspian Lake in the valley. Over and over in conversations with friends I’d say, I just want the chance to return and live there momentarily as an adult. 

From Los Angeles, late in 2008, I moved to Whidbey Island in the Puget Sound of Washington state. There I met Amy, and our relationship burgeoned to the rhythm of the growing season, meeting in May over mustard greens and headed towards curing pumpkins and digging frosted carrots in November. 

From the start, Amy said she’d head out anywhere, which I thought was nuts (a friend pointed out that Amy’s offer was actually brave), but we bought a map of the United States to spur conjectures of a life together. I was 24. Amy was 32. At the time, I’d quit my cooking job on Whidbey Island and was doing less and less art related work. I was living off a small bit of inherited money. Eventually, Amy and I made the conservative choice to move across the Puget Sound into Seattle. I got laser focused on cooking, landing a job in a high end Seattle restaurant, but the idea was firmly planted in our brains, Amy liked to grow food and I loved to cook what she grew. 

I approached working in restaurants and all the professional development I sought in my twenties and early thirties, through the lens that I was collecting the skills I needed to move back to Vermont and eventually take over stewardship of the family farm. When I met Amy she said was working on collecting the skills necessary to thrive anywhere; knowledge of building protective structures and finding/growing food.

After my father’s passing, Amy and I began to articulate the idea of moving to Vermont together. Amy liked it here. I was excited to live near family. In Seattle, I couldn’t picture a long term vision. It’s difficult to work on the restaurant line for many years. At 26, I was an older line cook. The physical toll of the repetitive work didn’t look like a future. And rising through the kitchen ranks? I’d dreamed of working for myself since I was little, but by the time I found a kitchen comfortable (emotionally and physically) to cook in, I’d decided that my route to self- employment wasn’t the kitchen ladder, but starting an ancillary business. 

I started V Smiley Preserves, a jam company that preserves and sweetens with honey instead of sugar in 2013 knowing that it was a business I could start and run while working full time as a restaurant cook and a business I could move across the country when we did go to Vermont. Further, it was a business that could really find its reason for existing upon moving to Vermont because the family farm would supply an increasing amount of the ingredients because there was fruit here and Amy was going to add more. And we have! Each year we plant more tree fruit and shrubs like Honeyberry, currants, gooseberries, jostaberries and in the field, we are focused on aromatics (herbs and flowers that I use in the preserves), pollinator friendly perennials, and loads and loads of tomatoes and rhubarb for jam. 

Can you recommend any books, online tutorials, podcasts, etc. that have helped educate and inspire you in your transition?

I’ve paid attention to rural ventures where a restaurant is operated on a farm. It’s a romanticized and often floated concept that is so enticing sounding and so difficult to pull off. There are various scales and experiments (plus range in proximity to urban centers) from the English world of River Cottage, Blackberry Farm in Tennessee, Salt Water Farm in Maine, to the Herbfarm in Washington. 

Probably the most important text for Amy in thinking about land management and approaches to an agriculturally focused life is Masanobu Fukuoka’s work, especially his text, Sowing Seeds in the Dessert. Amy and I also both follow Ben Falk’s work. Amy loves his Whole Systems Design YouTube channel. 

Initially what was the hardest part about making the move? What challenges came later?
This was such a financial undertaking for us. If you include the cost of purchasing two vehicles (I was car-less my whole adulthood and Amy gave up her car in 2009), the move cost a little over $20,000. I was a decently paid city restaurant cook making about $18/hr and Amy was a unionized metro bus driver with a wage in the mid 20s per hour and our Seattle life was relatively inexpensive. We didn’t own cars, we’d moved into our apartment during the recession so the rent was low. We we hardly traveled, I could eat some at work and knew how to cook satisfying food at home. Right away we realized how much more expensive our life in the country was going to be primarily because of cars, physical distances, and lower pay. At first Amy and I recreated a version of our Seattle life. She became a bus driver for a local transportation company and I cooked at Hen of the Wood Restaurant, but neither of these jobs worked out. Amy (coming from being a card-carrying union member at a company that carefully trained its employees with solid human resources support and accompanying benefits) read as a whistleblowing, over-sensitive, doesn’t-fit-the-culture, potential liability, city slicker type. She was fired for insubordination. 

I left the restaurant because I couldn’t handle the 2 hours of commute, couldn’t justify the ratio of pay to the hours worked and it was clear I wouldn’t be able to run the jam company while working this many hours in the kitchen, let alone ever see Amy or work on the piece of land we’d moved to. 

We also started out on rocky footing at home. My brother and sister-in-law felt they must delay moving out of the apartment attached to my mom’s house, which was the space set to be Amy and I’s home for the long term. This meant that Amy and I moved into the upstairs on my mother’s house. We lived up there for our first seven months in Vermont. There was an upside to this besides saving money on rent in that it was a crash course in getting to know my mother after more than a decade apart. This was at times painful and joyful. As soon as my brother moved out of the apartment next door, we all evaluated the adjacent apartment and knowing that Amy and I were potentially going to be very long term tenants. We felt the space needed some attention before moving in. My mother was open to some changes and upgrades, but it was a tense negotiation that often boiled down to a culture clash between my mother and Amy and me. It was a tug of war between two people who had been living in cities for years (unwavering landlord oversight, rodent control, service economy aka, you call someone and they take care of it) and my mother who had been living in the countryside for most of her life (the extreme expression being, DIY or die, baby!). On one side, my mother felt we were unappreciative and high maintenance and we felt my mother was a perplexing mix of forward looking (very focused on energy efficiency) and “no need to change what’s working” conservatism. These tensions continue to this day. We are constantly negotiating our way through them. At times my mother has questioned whether we really belong here, which has felt hurtful, but we have all kept at this relationship. To be clear, I adore my mother and at the end of the day, we all remain committed to seeing this farm transition through. It’s just going to be a very, very slow process. To do the work, Amy, my mother and I all travel through the most self-protective, petty, fearful, tired parts of ourselves to find the generous, open, hopeful and loving parts of ourselves. Some weeks are better than others. 

Is there anything you miss about living in a city? Would you ever consider moving back?
I have the pie in the sky dream of ultimately spending 1-2 months in the city on a yearly basis. I don’t want to move back to the city. I think of complicated topics in percentages. When I think about where my body belongs, I envision myself as roughly 65% country dipped and 35% city slicked. I don’t think living in the country is better than living in the city. The scorn that urban versus rural populations can have for each other is frustrating. Vermont has much subtler permutations of this class/culture divide in part because the largest city is tiny so we are mostly rural here and state government here has worked so hard to market and champion the “working landscape” of Vermont and to a large degree I sense folks doing the rural work are also invested and proud of this image. I think a lot about of how we, rural, versus urban, use one another to define our sense of place. “I live here because it is unlike over there.” 

Still, Amy really misses her Seattle community. She lived there for nearly 16 years and that’s enough time to form a deep web of chosen family. This isn’t the first time that Amy has moved across the country for love. She moved to NYC with a previous partner and it didn’t work out. That story gnawed at me as we moved across the country. The winter is a particularly hard time for Amy because she isn’t getting that daily dose of time in the soil with plants and creatures. This is why I think it’s so important for us to lean in the direction of heading out of town during this time of year to fuel up on city experiences, queer culture and delicious food and avoid the pull of winter depression, inactivity, isolation and over-serving ourselves cider while huddled up next to the Rinnai heater. I verbally leave space with Amy. If she wants to go back, I will go with her. Sometimes I think this invitation confuses Amy. She is so focused on making life here work that having another option can just feel confusing not freeing. 

 

What advice would you give to someone thinking of moving out of the city? 
I feel like all the other folks interviewed for this project have given such great advice when answering this question. If you have the privilege to do so, take your time and edge out towards the country slowly. 

How did your friends and family respond to your plans of leaving the city and moving to the country to farm and grow your jam business? 
What comes to mind is watching Amy’s friends cry as they hugged her goodbye during our last night in Seattle. No decision is perfect. My sister worried for us. My brother and mother were excited as they waited for our arrival in Vermont. To explain my sentiments to friends, I’d say phrases like “I don’t have religion, how do I make sense of being alive? It’s through having a relationship with a piece of land”. Being on this piece of land is the most positive way I can interface with the memory of my father and the love and spirit of my parents.

When I left Seattle, I didn’t feel like I had particularly strong personal ties. Amy’s friends were my friends but it wasn’t until after I left the city that I understand the personal connections I had in fact formed with my professional community of restaurant folks, that they were in fact dear to me and that maybe I was a little dear to them too.

Amy’s sister told us recently that she was heartbroken when we left. But I think everyone understood that the move made sense, that Amy grew up in the country, that she loved to work outside and this transition made sense. During our most recent trip to Seattle our friend said she got the sense from me that I always knew I would return to Vermont and for some reason I bristled at this idea because for some reason I interpreted it as saying that I wasn’t fully open to Amy and the type of lovely uncertainty and excitement that love could bring into one’s life. With a couple weeks passed from this conversation with my friend I see that her comment wasn’t accusatory but that rather, I have some uneasiness around the whole subject of life partners moving with/for/along one another... 

 

Where did the idea for V Smiley Preserves come from?


V Smiley Preserves was what emerged from an anxious time period after leaving my cooking job with Matt Dillon in Seattle. I was applying to Bainbridge Graduate Institute, unsuccessfully slogging my way through an online MBA math class. I had grown obsessed with food skill building with a particular focus on food preservation. I spent almost all my time and most of my money on produce, jars and making preserves. I dreamed of being a freelance preservationist for Seattle restaurants. At the same time, I had some, what felt like to me, elemental questions on technique and texture specific to jam. I was reading all the books and doing all the practice, but not achieving those preserves I saw pictured; spoons of sugared fruit, equal parts spreadable and chunky, ready to soak sweetness and tartness into your toast, but firmly reminiscent of the fresh fruit in texture and looks. It sounds ridiculous but I remember the late afternoon in January 2012 when I picked up Rachel Saunders Blue Chair cookbook from the Seattle library, opening it as I walked outside. Rachel and her book answered all my questions about fruit and making beautiful fruit preserves and she spotlight an enviable world where flavor construction (creativity), craft (good, hard work), fresh produce and a constant sense of the seasons all came together. I didn’t eat sugar but I wanted to start a jam company. I was sure it could dovetail with an eventual move back onto my parent’s farm. V Smiley Preserves was going to be my business school, my brand that I moved to Vermont, my creative outlet and honey (and my weird no-grain, no-sugar diet) was going to drive it not hinder it. 

Where do you draw your inspiration and passion from for your work? 
The sweep of the growing season (holding bunches of anise hyssop and lemon verbena in my arms and waiting for our neighbor Omar to appear in the door with trays of gooseberries, plums and raspberries harvested that day...I never feel richer) and the experience of a shared meal at a table. That moment in a meal, something amazing tasting in your mouth, a perfect beverage at your fingertips, the space around you is warm, you feel knitted into something larger than you, but you have the intimacy of your table, and your body feels easy and you find yourself speaking more honestly and with more detail and you feel taken care of, a little surprised, but delighted. Creating and personally seeking that feeling for myself as well as customers, is why I work in food. 

Walk us through a typical day at V Smiley Preserves and Lil To Do Farm.
Amy’s life is the more regular. She works up in Winooski in the morning. If she were writing this she would say “I help a fellow get out bed in the morning”. She is a personal attendant. Amy leaves New Haven at about 5:15 AM and is often home by 11 am. While she is up in Burlington, she runs errands for V Smiley Preserves, making deliveries, picking up supplies on her way home, dropping off packages, etc. She’ll get home, eat a meal, watch the news and then usually take a nap, rising between 2 and 3 at which time she heads outdoors and works in the garden until the light is completely gone and the mosquitos have taken over the air around her head. 

I have worked a decreasing number of side jobs since permanently leaving restaurants in 2015, each year devoting more and more time to V Smiley Preserves (VSP). I have done substitute teaching, worked at a plant nursery, done catering serving, worked at a vineyard, and packaged chocolates. As of 2019, I am down to just a couple days at the plant nursery and about 6 catering shifts a month. V Smiley Preserves and Lil To Do occupies every part of my brain and body to an unhealthy, sometimes miserable degree. It’s uncomfortable to write that last sentence. In 2017 and 2018 I descended into depression over the course of the growing season. An average day during the summer is working at the plant nursery 8 to 5, then working a catering shift until 8:30/9, then going home and packing wholesale orders and/or prepping for farmers market until midnight or 1 AM. I eat a lot of convenience foods, hot dogs, boiled eggs. Then it’s a couple 15 hour production days in the jam kitchen working at 90-110 degrees because the space isn’t properly vented and then it’s back into the side jobs and evening admin routine. To me, this isn’t a life and I have very little sense of self outside of work, but I love the ingredients; land based life, food-work, family close by, cooking, lots of plants, etc. Although it needs to be better configured so the future is about working on the recipes, seeing Amy more, cutting back on farmers markets, making dates with friends, meeting my mom out for coffee, questioning my reasoning, all stuff that’s imaginable during the dead of winter and difficult to practice in August. 

You have built your farm and business with Amy, how do you divide your responsibilities? 
Amy and I are radically different people. Amy’s mantra is (and I say this with respect and humor) “how do we do less?” which is also sometimes the same as “how do we do this smarter?”. Mine is, “how do we do more?”. Amy is amazing in clutch moments, stepping up when my workload gets particularly dense. 

Although I say I don’t want to farm, I like being outside and I wish I was able to work outside with Amy, the production, admin and sales side of VSP is too consuming to allow time outside. 

If you could time machine back to the early stages of building your farm business, what advice would you give yourself? 
The most painful aspect to our move to Vermont has been the evolving relationship between myself, Amy and my family. Unsaid feelings have come to surface now that we live in Vermont and it makes socializing complicated and it could potentially make succession and the future difficult (for all involved parties of the family). If I had a time machine, I’d go back and tell myself, don’t let the feelings ride, say something. It is so easy to betray someone’s trust when you don’t speak frankly and kindly. I know this intellectually, but practicing it within your most important relationships....yeah, a time machine would be nice. 

How did you/do you overcome any feelings of uncertainty and fear when it comes to making decisions and taking risks? 
Still working on this. I am currently in the midst of a “leap”, leaving behind the stability of outside work, investing in business growth (getting laser focused on e-commerce, marketing and advertising), expanding my production and increasing my overhead by moving into an additional space, plus planning for even more change in early 2020 where I make the big pivot into the work of why I started V Smiley Preserves. I started V Smiley Preserves because I want to cook for my community and I want that work to grow out from this family farm. The last four years have been a slow evaluation of what seems possible out here in the countryside? What can this community financially support? What’s missing from the fabric of retail and business that maybe I can help contribute to? And what can this farm support, what can Amy and I accomplish with my mother here, full of life, still exploring on her own terms (though with plenty of consideration to Amy and I) her contributions to this piece of land. What we have gotten to is the idea that the front-facing aspects of V Smiley Preserves+ will mostly be expressed off-farm, that ingredients can come from here, that we can plant for the future and harvest from the present, but we probably won’t be building much infrastructure on this land in the short term or contemplate running a commercial (restaurant, events, farm, etc) venture right off of the farm (which is still, if somewhat hazier, the ultimate goal of being here in Vermont). 

Uncertainty is a new experience for me. I have grown the business with great caution because I sell a difficult product re the marketplace in that it is very expensive because of my cost of goods. My sweetener, honey, is about 4 times the cost of my peers preserving with sugar, but I cannot reflect that complete cost in my pricing. The sustainable future of my business is in e-commerce and moving an increasing amount of my business to direct sale. I have been an equal parts direct sale and wholesale company for years, but wholesale for me is essentially marketing; it’s getting the product out across the country into the hands of folks who will connect with the product. I have clawed my way into a financial position where I can now invest in turning that customer who buys VSP in a specialty food shop in CA into an ecommerce sale. 

Fear has been a constant. There has been a low-level grinding terror to running the business that I’m noticing I am slowly emerging from right now during this spring and early summer. A lot of that fear is the flip side of choosing to grow cautiously, doing my business full time and juggling multiple other jobs on the side, which is so taxing and complicating. This spring I realized as I returned into seasonal outside work, “oh, this is pulling as much or more away from business as it may be filling my personal bank account”. I see a path forward. I chose to learn business while doing business so it’s constant learning on the job, lots of fuck ups, tiny victories, grinding it out. 

 


How important has your local community been to the growth and success of your business? 
I was homeschooled til age 10 and then sent to 8 years of private Catholic school in Burlington so I didn’t really grow up in my community. With these first four years back in Vermont, working multiple jobs in the community, I feel like I’m finally understanding where I grew up and getting to know it as an adult. Rooting down into the community gives me a lot of confidence for this period of accelerated growth into which I’m launching the business. I do feel rooted here and I feel like I have found community and folks who want to support Amy and I, my family and the business. 

When I first moved to Vermont there was almost no market for my product. The thing I made was 2 to 3 times more expensive than the highest end similar product on store shelves. There was already another artisan preserver and they sold at the Burlington Farmers Market so that space was closed. Shops wouldn’t carry the product (too expensive) and there wasn’t room in the farmers markets for the product in its current form. I started traveling south into the Hudson Valley, to New York City, to Boston. I tried everything and I just kept sending out and dropping product off at stores. I wouldn’t do most of these things now, but I didn’t have the capital or knowledge that trade shows were going to be important and that ecommerce, not wholesale, was going to be my ticket into financial stability. But in the process of running around for years, I have built this strong grassroots feeling web of support for V Smiley Preserves and gotten a great education as well. Regarding having a presence here in Vermont, I am so gratified that now, 4 years later, VSP is at the farmers market in Vermont and we have about 15 VT stockists. Buyers have taken a chance by carrying such an expensive product and I could not be more grateful. We created a market for the product! 

What techniques and channels have proven the most successful in marketing to new customers and growing your business? 
Lots of little things saved VSP as it re-launched in Vermont, but there are two key moments. One, re-branding and starting to jar in 2 oz jars. People love the bright colors of this 2 oz packaging. I had to get the price point under $10 to break into the market here and this jar size and packaging allowed me to do that. Two, it’s hard to imagine if V Smiley Preserves could have gone on if another jam maker in the community hadn’t decided to shutter their business. This change in the market opened up the chance for us to vend at the Burlington Farmers Market which has been the most stabilizing financial piece of the puzzle here in Vermont. I have a few key wholesale partners that are so important to my business, folks who place big, consistent orders and again provide tremendous stability and widen out my ability to invest in local fruit and spend money on plants to put in the ground here at Lil To Do Farm. 

Have you been able to build a good community here in the country? 
Amy and I have really focused on this in 2019. The last 4 years have been about survival. Now we are finally looking up! It’s not right to call it a job, but having a social life isn’t (for me at least) something that just happens...I have to work at it, to say to myself, nope, you putting down the work and going to have fun. I love people. I love being social. One of the most gratifying parts of aging is giving fewer fucks (being less anxious) and just being bolder in reaching out to people, “hey, let’s hang out, hey, I want to be your friend”. 

 

 

Do you notice a trend of young people leaving city life behind? If yes, why do you think that is? 
I haven’t noticed that as a trend. I imagine there are always people who dream of life “in the country” and there will hopefully always be young folks willing to give farming a go. 

 


What is your favorite place on your farm to retreat to when you’ve had a challenging day? 
Honestly, my bed. But there are places here that always give me goosebumps, like walking up the hill from the house, through this thicket of black locusts my father planted for fence posts, emerging into the wide open space of the main hayland, 30 acres of rolling hills and views. 

What are some common misperceptions about life in the country? What do you want people to know/understand about life in small communities? 
Try to get to know a wide, wide range of folks. Your work will be better for it. In my experience, people are very comfortable with the idea of “the individual” in the rural landscape, but people are a little less comfortable with ego in the rural landscape so I guess my advice is, be ready to teeter totter between individualism and community-mindedness and find humility, but also do things to keep cultivating your voice, your expression. I suppose, that is me talking to...me. 

 


What are your future plans/goals for the coming year? 

I’ve been on again, off again about crowd-funding, feeling like I should wait until I had the big- dream-complete-big-ask-project all lined and ready to go before I could ask for help from community. In the short term, growth will continue to be gradual and shaped to our current working knowledge so a monster leap (like building a facility on the farm in New Haven or opening a restaurant and jam manufacturing space all under one roof on Main St in Vermont) isn’t going to happen BUT we can do parts of this work and so I do plan on launching a crowd fund raise in the deep Fall/Autumn of 2019 with an eye to opening up the space (where I produce V Smiley Preserves) into a restaurant mode on the weekends starting at the beginning of 2020. 

I didn’t have a firm picture (I still don’t) as to how we are going to keep this land in production after my mother is gone. But I know that combined, Amy and I have the skills and interests to take a whole approach to the land.
 

 

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