Never wear sandals in a cow barn.
This was one of the first, and one of the most important lessons I learned as a new writer. I was living in upstate New York after I graduated from college, learning to be a freelance writer. Since one of the two magazines in town was about agriculture, I started waking up early in the morning to interview dairy farmers as they were wrapping up their morning milking.
This was before farm-to-table had become a culinary cliche, before there were serious farm markets, before there were Edible publications, before farming became trendy. At that time, the concern was that small scale agriculture was dying, that young people were not taking over their family farms, and that farming was becoming more corporate and turning against the northeast region generally. These are still concerns today, despite the trendiness of farming.
After a while I stopped writing for farm magazines, took what I learned from that time to spend years writing about business. (After prostitutes, farmers are the original entrepreneurs.) From there, I wrote about travel, and then food, and only belatedly realized that I had learned a lot about both subjects during the time I spent writing about agriculture. The food part of that is obvious, to understand the travel part you must know that I grew up on the 24th floor of a Manhattan high rise. At the age of 21, there was no more exotic destination for me than a dairy farm.
Farmers know all about cycles, and it is funny how things come full circle. For many years, I thought that the time I spent writing for magazines like American Agriculturist, Farm Journal and New York State Apple Grower was just an amusing anecdote in my writerly genesis story. But lately I have found myself on farms once again. Most recently on Ayers Brook Goat Dairy in Randolph, Vermont (pictured above), discussing the differences between cow barns and a goat barns. A subject upon which I am surprisingly knowledgeable.
Alison J. Stein
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