I was never attracted to the idea of being a farmer, even though amber waves of grain flow through my blood.
But the farm-fresh revolution—which has hit local menus, shops, bookstores and markets—is now rocking my world. I’ve begun craving fresh fruit and daydreaming about the agricultural carnival of farmer’s markets. All of a sudden I find myself wanting to get dirty, to work with land, to wake up early and head out the fields for a day in the sun. I’ve become nostalgic for something I only vaguely know.
It’s a wistful version of farm life that I have in my mind. It’s sunflowers glowing in the setting sun. It’s overalls and straw hats. It’s my grandpa sitting in his comfy chair in the evening, my grandma’s fried chicken and hazy memories of a distant homestead.
The farm my grandparents built was well worn and well used. I can only slightly remember the house, square and simple, encircled by strange, darkened sheds and barns; fields of crops; looming silos, piles of corncobs and stacks of hay. I cannot recall too much about the land that grew corn and wheat and nourished cattle, pigs and chickens that fed the family and paid the bills.
The swath of land just outside of Torrington, Wyo., is still there and has been maintained by my cousins for more than a decade. But the closest I’ve come in the last 15 years is visiting my brother’s Facebook Farmville, which he’s designed to be as close a replica as you can get in pixels.
My family can trace its farming roots back to Johann Jost Schmick, who was born in 1745 near Büdingen, Germany. He was listed as a farmer when he immigrated to Russia—along with countless other families who plowed the grasslands of the Volga Valley. There it became the family business, and that continued on for generations.
“It was hard, backbreaking work but paid well, and the entire family could contribute,” Larry Schmick, my uncle, the family historian and genealogy guru, told me recently. “Grandpa loved farming, tending crops and producing high-yielding crops, plus feeding cattle. Dad also loved farming and continued to work on the farm long after he retired. Farming—growing a crop—is very satisfying.”
I emailed my uncle to ask bothersome questions about my grandfather’s farming values and motivations, because I had been thinking a lot about farms—both the family farm and the small, beautiful patches of ag-land that line the roads that take me through Boulder County. How could I not? Everywhere we turn, we are showered with Colorado-grown produce, protein and flora. It’s a beautiful thing. And I’ve become fascinated with the atypical farmers who grow these crops, farmers so much unlike my grandparents: hip and funky, vegetarian, locally minded and globally aware, college-educated and Buddhist. (Meet those farmers in “Farm Fresh.”)
In hearing from my uncle and in speaking with local farmers, to my surprise I’ve realized that there are more similarities than differences between my family of farmers and local growers. Farmers are all salt-of-the-earth people. While they might not all be inspired by the same ideology, values, goals or dogma, they have the same wants and needs. It’s that simple satisfaction of nurturing something that will in return nurture others. Sometimes, it’s just about doing what you love.
Kind of makes you want to get out there and grow something, doesn’t it?