Friday, July 04, 2008


We are strongly affiliated with both these brands, and salute both Grazin' Acres Angus and Nettle Meadows in their efforts to revive agriculture in up-state New York! We serve Nettles Meadow cheeses, and have worked with Dan and his wife in the past, and highly recommend their products!!!

July 3, 2008
At Midlife, Called to a New Field

THE most important piece of farm equipment at Grazin’ Angus Acres is not the windmill that Dan Gibson, the farm’s founder, hopes will one day help him operate off the grid. Nor is it the “eggmobile,” home to more than 300 handsome, rust-colored pastured Buff Orpington hens, whose droppings enrich the grasses that the farm’s 200 head of Angus cattle graze on.
Instead, the one piece of equipment that the 450-acre farm in Ghent , N.Y. , could not do without, in Mr. Gibson’s estimation, is Susan Gibson’s kitchen sink. It was at the center of family negotiations in 2002, when Mr. Gibson wanted to give up his job as senior vice president of corporate affairs at Starwood Hotels and Resorts, along with his family’s upper middle class Westchester lifestyle, to become a farmer. His wife needed some persuading.

“She was standing there with a beautiful sunset behind her,” recalled Mr. Gibson, 49. “And she said, ‘If you put my sink right here and the house I’ve always wanted around it, I’ll be fine with this.’ ”

In recent years, as the local food movement has grown and farmers’ markets have proliferated, a new breed of back-to-the- landers has emerged. Some, like their predecessors in the 1960s and ’70s, are earnest, college-educated young people, turning their backs on professional career paths in favor of a life of hardscrabble idealism. But many others, homesteaders in their 40s and 50s, have already enjoyed the perks of professional life, and may even have made a fortune, or at least a comfortable nest egg.

These new midlife farmers, galvanized by books like “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan and perhaps a bit repentant about their once lavish lifestyles, are as eager for a different way of living as their younger counterparts. But that doesn’t mean they are always as open to giving up creature comforts.

“It’s not about dropping out of society,” said Gabrielle Langholtz, the publicity director for the Greenmarket Farmers Mark ets in New York City, speaking of the growing number of former urban professionals who sell at her organization’s markets. “It’s more somebody who maybe read Pollan, heard about E.coli or mad cow disease, or found in working an 80-hour week that they wanted an experience with their family and a kind of richness of life.”

Mr. Gibson, who sells at the Union Square Greenmarket on Saturdays, is a case in point; he may have dirt under his fingernails but he also has B.M.W.’s in his driveway. “I’m a rough-it kind of guy,” he said recently, “but I like my amenities as well. We knew we’d be here the rest of our lives. And we didn’t cut any corners on the house.”

Indeed, the house has a theater that wouldn’t be out of place in a Steven Spielberg residence, a wine cellar and a log cabin annex with a magnificent dry stack stone fireplace, a billiards table and a stuffed bear and bobcat glowering down between beams made of North Carolina pine — each beam an entire mature tree.

Anecdotal evidence suggests the number of urban professionals trading BlackBerries for manure spreaders is growing fast. In the last three years, for example, membership in the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York, a nonprofit trade group, has grown by a third, to about 1,700, with 45 percent of members certified as organic farmers. Many of these are “people from New York City ,” said Greg Swartz, executive director of the association, “everyone from stockbrokers to teachers, writers, fund-raisers.”

“They have enough funds to be able to purchase farmland,” initially as second homes, he said. “It’s a nice bucolic retreat, and then they get excited and want to do something more active.”
(Even affluent urbanites who may not be ready for such a radical lifestyle change are finding themselves drawn to the idea of organic farming. At an organic farming association fund-raiser in April at Guastavino’s restaurant on East 59th Street, some 300 attendees — most of them looking very much like classic Upper East Side ladies who lunch, to whom “buying local” may have previously meant shopping at Bergdorf’s — sat in rapt attention as a panel of farmers and environmentalists described the perils of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. )

It seems to be the change in home life, as much as in career, that appeals to the post-professional farmers.

Although Mr. Gibson estimates that he spends 12 hours a day raising his grass-fed Angus and persuading the public to pay premium prices for it, he says he has more time than he ever did in his former life to focus on what matters.

“We had a gorgeous home,” Mr. Gibson said of his family’s five-and-a-half- acre spread in Katonah , N.Y. “But I never sat outside sipping a cocktail, holding my wife’s hand. I do that now. It was all about making money and living that life and going on to the next business deal.”
When the Gibsons moved to the farm full time in 2007, he said, he left his former social life behind: “I was on the business dinner circuit. I don’t miss it one bit.” The family’s social circle now includes local farmers he does business with; on a typical Sunday night the Gibsons will have 14 to 16 for dinner. Their 24-year-old son and his wife also live and work on the farm, and their 27-year-old daughter, a public school teacher in Brooklyn , is planning to move up with her husband to open a restaurant.

Not every professional- turned-farmer, of course, can afford to live as large as the Gibsons still do, but the refrain about home life is common. Sheila Flanagan, a lawyer from Oakland , Calif. , and her partner, Lorraine Lambiase, a former paralegal, lead a more elemental existence at Nettle Meadow, their goat cheese farm in the Adirondacks . It’s a far cry from the life they left behind in San Francisco in 2005 — a whirlwind, as Ms. Flanagan tells it, of corporate clients, four-star restaurants and nights at the symphony.

Where heat or air-conditioning came at the flick of a switch in their 1940s home with vie ws of the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges, their renovated 1898 barn in Warrensburg , N.Y. , is heated solely by an outdoor wood stove. “It only heats the bottom floor,” said Ms. Flanagan, 41. “We hope the heat rises during the day. You have to trudge out in four to five feet of snow and 20-below weather to load wood into the fire to keep it going.”

Just how completely their lives have changed became apparent on Thanksgiving Day in 2005. “We had 32 kids born that day,” Ms. Flanagan remembered. “I put the turkey in the oven, and we ended up standing over the stove and gnawing on it at 2 a.m. That was our first chance.”
And unlike Mr. Gibson, who can afford to devote all his energies to Grazin’ Angus Acres (he estimates he has already put “north of several million” into the farm), Ms. Flanagan continues to work from the farm 40 to 60 hours a week for her Oakland law firm. “It does take a toll,” she said. “But it helps pay the bills and makes sure the goats get fed the best feed and grain and whatnot.”

Despite the grueling schedule and very un-California climate, Ms. Flanagan said she didn’t regret for a second the decision to move East. She and Ms. Lambiase, who is 52, get to spend more time with their seven dogs — two shepherds, a golden retriever, two Maremmas (an Italian goat herding breed) and two terrier mixes — along with a couple of ornery llamas and two ancient donkeys among their menagerie of shelter animals. They’re also closer to their aging relatives. And perhaps most important, she continued, they feel in touch with the world.

“I think you get so much better awareness with this life,” Ms. Flanagan said. “You take things like heat and water a little bit more for granted in a metropolitan area. Whereas out here it’s a daily challenge. You come to appreciate what’s really necessary to keep life’s necessities going.”
One not-always-welcome aspect of the life that several new farmers describe is the tendency of customers to drop in unannounced — an occupational hazard in an age when organic farmers have achieved a kind of cult status in the food-conscious world. “People have this expectation of sipping lemonade on the front porch and all the time in the world to chat about cheese and goats,” Ms. Flanagan observed, adding that she dra ws the line at letting them try their hand at cheesemaking — a not infrequent request.

“There’s this weird juxtaposition: we’re still running around trying to make cheese, birth baby goats, cleaning and raking the barns,” she said. “They think it’s a great, quiet existence. They don’t realize it’s an 18-to-20-hour day to do this.”

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