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I sort of fell into farming while researching Slow Food for my Master’s degree in Italy. Slow Food is a now international movement that began in Italy in response to the first McDonald’s opening in Rome in 1986. Today Slow Food advocates for “good, clean and fair” food all over the world. What interested me most about it was Italy’s ability to preserve such a strong and often even government protected gastronomic culture throughout a globalizing and modernizing world. After living in Italy and learning about their food system I started looking at ours in the US and thought, “wait a second. Something’s not right here…”
One thing led to another and after working at farmers’ markets, writing about food, and a couple of years in the New York City wine industry, I found myself covered in pollen picking tomatoes with green hands at a mentor’s farm. I kept showing up and one day he said, “Well, I guess I have to start paying you.” That was my first farming job. One of the reasons I’ve kept it going is because of how close it makes me feel to Italy (we’re sort of in a long-distance relationship).
In terms of equipment, I’ve worked on farms of various scale and production models ranging from small 3-5 acre hand-powered farms to a 20 acre vegetable farm where I helped manage all tractor operations and field preparation. I am not naturally a very mechanically-savvy person, but was lucky enough to do an intensive tractor and machinery maintenance apprenticeship early on in my career. That has allowed me to make simple repairs and at least keep up my equipment so it doesn’t break (though I’d be lying if I said I never broke anything). I’ve also worked as a grazier, a production and operations manager for a grass-finishing beef operation. That required operating and transporting huge equipment across four different ranch properties. Every time I’ve doubted my technical abilities I seem to have surprised myself. I’ve successfully building an electric fence, wired a seeder, repaired a disk harrow, and even created a grazing plan all by myself. I just wish they’d make tractor seats for short people.
My site, DeCotis Farm at Fidelity Investments, is located on a corporate campus where thousands of employees work at desks in cubicles. Walking past our little farm on campus might be the only outdoor time most of these hard-working people get each day, and I recognize how special that is. I think it’s great they have something beautiful and potentially inspiring to look at, where they can ask me questions and learn a little about their food. All of the food grow on DeCotis Farm goes straight into in their cafeteria. So far I’ve been harvesting an average of about 300-350 lbs of produce a week, and we’re only about 5 weeks into harvest. That feels very significant to me!
I absolutely love harvesting. Though my back may beg to differ, I could pick carrots or bunch kale for hours. The sounds, synchrony of movements and the sort of rhythm you get into once you’re really rolling is hypnotic.
My spirit vegetable and absolute favorite thing to eat/grow is bronze fennel. Sorry carrots (I love you too!), but it’s just the perfect plant! Not only are the stalks and leaves delicious, but you can also eat the amazingly delicate pollen-dusted flowers that are super sweet. You can even collect fennel seed once they go to seed and dry. It’s just so beautiful, especially during the golden hour.
This interview was conducted by Sasha Rosenthal, GCG’s Summer 2019 intern.