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Hug A Farmer

I am a 21-year-old semi-adult and, being quite interested in me, I think often of my future. I have climbed to the top of youth and now have my fullest gaze at the adult world. It is a panorama of possibility. I want to find somewhere nice to sit up here, at the end of my hike’s first leg, and just look out at the view, think about it, take it all in. But I have to go forwards into this scene, sooner or later. So I take meek steps in this direction or that, with my mind half on the immense view and half on the terrain in front of me.

This is not just my experience, but that of all the young semi-adults I know. When I arrived in Boonville, I wanted to find people my age and learn about what their world looks like, and whether it parallels mine. So when my editors tasked me with writing a local story, I decided to learn a bit about a young resident of this town. My victim was Katy Petrisin, a recent college graduate working as a WWOOFer, a participant in World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF), on the Anderson Valley Community Farm here in Boonville. She also works at Paysanne, the ice cream and coffee shop downstairs from my paper’s office, which is where I met her. I finagled out of her an invitation to tour her farm, which I subsequently parlayed into an interview with, and now a story about, her. She graciously agreed to all this, a real generosity considering that all this is clearly more attention than she desires.

So on a bright July day, I walked up Lambert Lane holding two Americanos, one of which was destined for Katy. She greeted me, forgave me for my tardiness, and began our tour of the farm. I saw fresh produce in boxes, meat lockers, and a sheep’s head destined for canine consumption. I encountered neat rows of plants, sociable goats, and unsatisfyingly non-pink pigs. It is a quaint, well-kept farm of 28-acres. When its current owners, Tim and Renee Ward, bought the property, it was a far cry from farmable, littered with debris. Tim Ward called it a “fairly overwhelming situation on the ground.” The journey from such humble beginnings to its current condition has obviously been one of hard work and dedication.

Of course, hard work is nothing unusual on a farm, as Katy knows well. “Anyone that eats, which is everyone, should hug a farmer, “ she says with a laugh. “That sounds really cheesy, but farming is a ton of work.” So what keeps her there? Not the pay, nor the quarters – she’s lived between tent and trailers for the past four months – and while she says she enjoys living with people, she also acknowledges its difficulties:

“I think [living on the farm] is challenging. I like a lot of independence and depending on who is here it can totally change the tone. There are people here who are really positive and outgoing and really love to cook for everyone, that kind of thing. There are people who are just not like that. Different personalities change the tone a lot. … I think the ideal, which I’ve thought about doing, living on my own but then still working here. Mostly because I like a lot of independence and my life is really introverted.”

Katy finds her reward for the lack of comfort in the value and necessity of farming. “Farming is so obviously and immediately necessary,” she says.

I ask, “Is the feeling of something being immediately productive important for you to be doing with your work?”

“Yeah very much so. Hands-on work has always been really appealing to me. For a while I wanted to be an artist in a really crafty, hands-on way. Where I was raised, in Orlando, the kind of skills that are common here, like canning or carpentry, were invisible. I really love cooking and things that create a result, especially something like growing or milking goats and then making cheese out of that. The result is immediately useable.” She goes on, “It feels so much more gratifying than a lot of the other jobs I’ve had. And I do think those are important too. But just in such a different way.”

Katy does not call herself political, but I hear themes of the local food movement in her outlook. She mentions her feeling that our culture inadequately prioritizes the small farmer and alienates people from their food sources. She mentions “people living in cities and just having no idea where their food is coming from, and thinking about the distance things have to travel. Like being here, and going back to North Carolina and getting an avocado and it having a sticker on it that said ‘Grown in California’ and just thinking like how long it took me, how many resources it took me to get over here, and that happened for the same fruit. … I just feel like there’s such little awareness and not a lot of willingness to give up produce that is out of season or out of context, even if waiting would mean a higher quality product.”

For Katy, this work is hard, routine, but most importantly, meaningful. Whether it’s her future, however, she’s not ready to say. “As far as this being right, I don’t know. I think I’m too young to answer that question for myself. I mean, it’s been great for the past four months or whatever, but it’s right now, in terms of the future, hard for me to say.”

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