My first In Their Field subject, Byron Clough of Hudson Valley Topsoil, cautioned me when I started writing this column. He told me "not to come from the fluff side. Come from the real side, the people that are making things actually happen."
I hope that is what I have done here. The unromantic side of farming is this: It is hard work, it is often thankless, it spans all seasons, and you're working every waking hour. If an animal gets loose, it doesn't matter if you have plans -- you have to address the situation.
The romantic side is this: It is a truly beautiful thing. The way we eat, and the way we care for our land and our animals, is tied directly to our humanity. True goodness and true generosity of spirit is reflected in farming, in the life cycles involved. But it doesn't come easy.
Every single farmer I met and wrote about for this column is dedicated to what they are doing. Every single one is concerned about attitudes toward food in this country. They all care deeply about the land they use, and they take painstaking measures not to make too much of an impact on it.
Some of them are third- or fifth- or eigth-generation farmers. Some had just started their careers in agriculture. They all are highly aware of the importance of what they were doing and its value in a nation where lots of us eat out of packages most of the time without a thought to where our food actually comes from.
This column has been a life goal for me. As a reporter at a newspaper in New York's Hudson Valley, I excitedly took on agriculture stories in addition to writing about government, but I was never able to really draw a genuine picture of life in farming as I have been able to do here. The farmers and growers I have spoken to from April to now have been diverse, and seeing their points of view has been priceless.
From Tony Pisano, an active Northern Berkshire Beekeeping Association member from North Adams who calmly, sweetly -- and in bare feet -- showed me how bees make honey and how to extract it, to the Riiska family of Sandisfield, who welcomed me graciously and were open and honest about their family's joys and tragedies and about the challenges of maintaining an orchard, these farmers have been ready to share their lives with me.
It's not often as a reporter that you get assignment after assignment where your subject is ready to honestly approach the good and the bad parts of an issue that touches them personally. I arrived at farms across Berkshire and Columbia counties and was greeted warmly by people who were ready to open up, to tell their whole story, to admit that sometimes they curse their choice to farm, but are almost always fulfilled by the work, so much that they cannot stand to leave it.
Some were getting ready to go back to it full-time. The matter-of-fact Martin brothers of Cheshire, whose family has farmed the same land since their town's inception, were getting ready over the summer to go big, with an online ordering system and help from professional marketers. Their family farm had lay mostly dormant for years, producing food for Martins and their friends only, and they were taking it back, working other full-time jobs and dreaming of the day where they could cross over, back to the land where they grew up.
Some weren't sure that farming was their destiny. The farmers at Abode Farm in New Lebanon, N.Y., all in their early 20s, wanted to travel and weren't sure that they were ready to make a lifetime commitment to New Lebanon, except for one, who has the rights to the farm's draft horses and a local firewood business on the side.
So as I hang up this column for the time being, I want to express gratitude to everyone who let me into their lives for a day, for all the produce and unbelievably delicious meat I received, and to everyone who emailed me words of support and interest for what I was doing.
Editor's note: Francesca Olsen has left the Eagle for a job in communications at Williams College, where we hope and believe she will thrive -- but we miss her, and we hope to have her writing and this column often in these pages. As our farmers settle into the cold season, this column will be put to bed for the winter, but we plan to have it stirring again by the time seedlings are set out in greenhouses and the sap begins to flow. It may even crop up again sooner, like winter kale.