Twenty years ago this month—New Year’s Eve, to be exact—my husband Peter and I got married in a former convent in South Minneapolis. We were both 25 years old. Friends of ours had recently purchased the building and were converting it into an art space, renting the small dorm rooms that had formerly housed nuns to fledgling artists. The small chapel was perfect for our informal ceremony and the common room was lit with white Christmas lights for the reception. It was a frigid, winter Minnesota night.
For our vows, Peter and I took turns telling our story—how we met, how our friendship evolved, what that evening’s promises meant to each of us. We then asked our guests to chime in, adding their own voices to our tale. I had expected most of our friends and family to decline the invitation to stand up and say something deeply personal about the two of us, but they didn’t. One by one, sometimes several at a time, our guests stood up and told the crowd a funny anecdote or how knowing the two of us had affected their lives. Virtually everyone added their voice to the ceremony that night, including my mother-in-law, who is no longer with us. It was a little overwhelming. At the reception downstairs, we served pies instead of cake. (I much prefer pie!) We ordered spring rolls and steamed dumplings from our favorite Dinkytown restaurant, the Camdi. We broke a piñata, which I had made just for the occasion. Instead of hiring a photographer, we asked our friends to give us copies of their pictures. It was simple and sweet and perfect. That was New Year’s Eve, 1995.
Fast-forward to 2003 when Peter started talking about farming. Scratch that. He had always talked about farming, but then he started to really mean it. “Search for properties online,” I suggested. “If something looks good, we’ll take a look.” Again, I didn’t expect much to happen. But it did…and quickly. Farm properties in our home state of Wisconsin were out of our price range, so Peter focused his attention on the Mohawk Valley. We had driven through the area on I-90 on January 15, 1996 two weeks after getting married, on our move to Massachusetts. The rolling hills dotted with dairy farms reminded us of Northwestern Wisconsin, near the Minnesota border. Charming, charming, charming!
The first few farms we visited were either too-perfect-and-super-expensive or too-ramshackle-and-super-affordable. But then our realtor brought us up a winding, seasonal road to a small farm overlooking the West Canada Valley. I was completely distracted by all the work that had to be done to clean the place up. Although the price seemed about right, I thought it was all too much for us to take on. But Peter could see past the two collapsing buildings, the broken windows, the carpeting in the kitchen (yikes—that was some scary stuff!), and declared that we had found Our Farm.
Everything we have done here since that fateful day has been part of his greater vision—he was the one who wanted meat goats and then sheep. He wanted to raise chickens. It was Peter who wanted to milk goats and make cheese. He built his very own cheese plant. He wanted a tractor and hay-making equipment and proceeded to make hay. In so many ways, I’ve been along for the ride. He comes up with ideas of how to expand or make things better, and as a team, we make it happen.
Well, somewhere along the way, I’ve fallen in love with our little farm. It may have been his idea to raise goats, sheep and chickens, but it has become my passion to learn everything there is about how to raise them and to keep them healthy. It may have been his idea to put in a cheese plant, but I adore the cheeses we make and have devoted my life to gelato. My infatuation with the foods we raise and our farm life has turned into an all-out obsession—so much so that my love and connection to this farm have become fiercely personaI. Writing this column has been a wonderful release and outlet for me to explore and share this love of farming that, twenty short years ago, I never knew existed. I love this farm as much—if not more—than my husband does and cannot bear to think of the day when we can’t do it anymore due to age, financial constraints, or unforeseen circumstance. And because we must plan for the unforeseen, we have to plan for what would happen if tragedy ever strikes. Would I continue to farm if something happened to Peter? I haven’t the slightest idea. I know that to lose the two greatest loves in my life—my husband and my farm—would be devastating.
In many ways, farming is not that different from a marriage. First and foremost, it is a partnership between the farmer, her animals, and her land. (I like getting farming advice from folks about as much as I like getting marriage advice from strangers. Ha-ha!) It takes a fair amount of work, patience and understanding. Getting mad doesn’t fix things; in fact, it often makes things worse. There’s no place I’d rather be—it’s hard to leave the farm, even for an afternoon. Finally, it’s a relationship that evolves over the years, better today than when we first started out. Happy Anniversary, Peter, and thank you for taking me along on this wonderful ride!