Cory Hershberger
December 5, 2014

The Book For Celebrating Organic Agriculture’s Resilience (HobbyFarms.com)

At a Glance

Title: Organic: Farmers and Chefs of the Hudson Valley
Photographer: Francesco Mastalia
Publisher: powerHouse Books
Release Date: November 2014
Cover Price: $49.95
Target Audience: Fans of photography, memoir and/or agriculture; any organic small-scale farmer who needs a little inspiration to keep on keepin’ on

We all have our agricultural origin stories. Whether you were born on a farm and grew up with your hands in the dirt or you planted your first tomato this year, at some point in your life, you were awakened to the wonders of farming. These stories are sometimes quite personal, usually humorous—cleaning up livestock waste basically requires a good sense of humor, no?—and almost always moving. Francesco Mastalia’s new portrait collection, Organic, lets the organic farmers and chefs of New York state’s farming mecca, the Hudson Valley, tell the tales of their agricultural beginnings in their own words alongside his haunting, vintage sepia-toned photographs. Here are just a few:

“When I was in college I needed a job and found a flyer in one of the halls that said, ‘Do you know where your food is grown?’ and all it had was a phone number. It ended up being a student-oriented farm … so I went out there and started volunteering.” —Tim Heuer, Obercreek Farm, Hughsonville, N.Y.

“My wife Kate said, ‘I wish I could have a farm,’ but I thought it was impossible. I ditched what I was doing and told Kate I would help her farm for two years and then I’d go back to my normal job. But it was so much fun, and now I could never go back to that normal job.” —Ron Khosla, Huguenot Street Farm, New Paltz, N.Y.

“As I describe it, I basically fell into a farmer’s trance. I grew up in rural Louisiana. We had a big garden. We had chickens and pigs. That being said, I never thought I was going to be a farmer.” —Ken Kleinpeter, Glynwood Farm, Cold Spring, N.Y.

“It was one of my many midlife crises. I was 50 years old when I started farming; I’m almost 70 now.” —Dan Guenther, Sustainable Farm Developer, New Paltz, N.Y.

“It’s a long story. We bought the farm in 1919 all because of a flat tire. We got a flat tire right in front of the place down on 9W. My mother, grandfather and grandmother got out of the car and walked. They came back and said, ‘There was a sign up, and it’s for sale.’ It ended up with my father buying the farm.” —Jackson H. Baldwin, Jax Berry Farm, Marlboro, N.Y.

That’s just a smattering of quotes from the over-100 farmers who wax poetic on their love for the land, their struggles and achievements, and their thoughts on what the word “organic” means to them. (Narrowing it down to just these few was harder than I’d like to admit.)

The Book For Celebrating Organic Agriculture’s Resilience (HobbyFarms.com)

These stories take on additional life when you read them alongside Organic’s powerful photos, when the farmer who penned the words looks right back at you. Mastalia takes photos the old-old-fashioned way: He used a reproduction of a large, antique-plate camera and a legitimately vintage lens from the 1870s to reflect the age-old, time-honored way these farmers and chefs are growing and preparing food. His photos capture his subjects in their agricultural comfort zones—behind the wheel of a tractor, sitting on the barn steps with a farm dog, holding a bushel of freshly harvested wheat—and they give the essays another layer of impact. You can see life’s hardships in the weathered faces of these people, but almost all of them smile nonetheless; that specific, knowing smile of recognition and perseverance.

It’s impossible to even leaf through this book without being inspired—reading the stories of these farmers making a living and a life, and explaining why they chose to farm is riveting. (Jackson H. Baldwin, quoted above and wearing a knowing smirk in his portrait, is 99 years old and he’s still out tending berry crops every single day—talk about perspective!) If nothing else, it will inspire you to tell your farming origin story and spread (or reinforce) the love of agriculture to those around you: victory enough in my book.

“In my wildest dreams I can be a farmer for the rest of my life,” Tim Heuer writes to close his essay. By the time you finish Organic, you’ll almost certainly agree.

The Final Word: Organic is a beautifully made and told paean to the agricultural life that makes a great gift for the farmers and rural dreamers on your Christmas list this year—and for you, too.

Read more of our farm-book reviews on HobbyFarms.com:

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