It’s amazing to me to look back and see the chain of events that gets me to my current place. This past March I made the decision to be a co-sponsor of the Coventry Regional Farmers’ Market. One of the benefits is that I have three dates where I can show and sell my prints, one of which I will be named as an event sponsor (each week has a different theme). That one major event for me is coming up on Sunday, July 17th. And the theme is “Graze Fest”… a day all about farms and those special folks who devote their lives to ensure the longevity of those farms.
For those who know me, farming is a large part of my heritage. I grew up in a French-Canadian farming family in Bedford, NH and am no stranger to the responsibilities, hard work, sacrifice and dedication it takes to keep a farm going. So this theme is near and dear to me. The question now becomes, what do I do to really mesh with the day’s theme?
One of the things that the CRFM has reminded me of is the goodness that we have so close to home in our local farms. It’s something easily forgotten when the day-to-day rat race makes it easier to run quickly to the local supermarket and pay a premium for the convenience than to slow down, plan out your meals and travel a bit further to buy local produce. With the recent upheaval of our economy, tightening our belts has become a universal and very necessary task. It’s caused our family to stop and really look at our shopping (and eating) habits. We’ve taken note of the frequent price increases on the available produce… of which many times is of borderline quality and at a skyrocketing price. Wilted lettuce, tomatoes badly bruised, fruit and berries moldy… it’s almost like we’re picking out of a dumpster while mindlessly emptying our pockets at the register. Trying to feed a family of six is just getting too expensive! To top it off, take a close look at the labels/signs and you’ll see that most of the chain market produce is shipped into the country! So much for helping the local economy…
But just one visit to the CRFM showed us just how bad off we were by going to that chain market! It was at the CRFM that we found some of the freshest produce I’ve seen in literally decades! And the prices are more than reasonable, especially considering that it is locally grown and organic! If I had forgotten how good this is, surely I’m not alone. And that got me to thinking further. What part can I play in helping remind those around me who were also caught in the blind convenience of those big corporate chain markets? Why not try to educate through images? Why not remind people that farms are indeed still around and in some cases, right down the road?
So began my search for a local farm that I could photograph for this project. Coming from a town where my family farm was the second to last to go extinct back in 1996 (Clark’s Farm was the last truly active farm until they closed a few years ago), I am amazed at how many active farms there are in the central Connecticut area. One farm in particular, was brought to my attention. Here’s a little background on the farm that I decided to document, and my experience there.
Rock Maple Farm, located in Eastford, CT, is run by a wonderful couple, Suzanne and Ken Buell, and their family. From the first introduction, it’s brilliantly obvious to see the wonderful qualities of the Buell’s; humble and honest to God, hard-working folks with a passion for doing the right thing and keeping tradition alive. Their farm is one passed down through the generations with an origin as an orchard. Their primary product is dairy, but they also grow corn. I made arrangements with Suzanne for me to come out and do my best to capture the essence of their life’s work. Her “Come whenever you can” open invitation struck me fondly as a reminder of how my grandparents were to their guests and it’s something that is hard to find in today’s society of hustle and bustle. I was also pleasantly surprised to find out that Suzanne also shares my love of photography and is a member of the “Quinebaug Valley Photo Club”. Yet another underscore to my desire to do them proud with what I capture.
It was the beginning of June when I was able to make my way out there and thankfully the weather held out that day, as a calm, book-ended by frequent rain. It was a mostly sunny day with strong gusts of wind towards noon. We pulled up and were greeted by one of their son’s girlfriend. I was directed to the milking barn to find Suzanne. It felt good to be walking through a barn yard again after all these years… very much like coming home.
The sounds and smells were familiar to this long-lost farm hand. A sense of peace and relaxation from my normal daily stresses as a web developer poured over me. I eventually found my way to the milking room where Suzanne was busy hooking the “girls” up to the milking machine. It was a much nicer setup than what we had back home. Suzanne and I exchanged our greetings and learned more about each other and what my project was all about, while she was going about her daily chores. She made me feel right at home with her kind demeanor and jovial spirit. Eventually Ken walked in and we were introduced. He pulled me into a side room to see how he takes care of their cows’ hooves. It was a process that I wasn’t familiar with and did I learn a lot! Ken was more than happy for me to photograph him at work tending to a couple of their cows. He’s a soft-spoken gentleman, but very passionate and extremely knowledgeable about what he does, and that becomes crystal clear after just a few minutes of shadowing him. They’re both the kind of people who you can’t help but have a healthy respect for. I was given carte-blanche access to the farm to do what I came to do. It’s something I am always grateful for and in turn do my best to not be intrusive or disturb anything…living the naturalist’s code of “Leave it as you found it.”
I spent the better part of four hours pressing my shutter release. Doing my best to set it up so I can tell their story through imagery… their livestock, buildings and tools used to keep their farm living. It was a refreshing experience that left me happy and surprisingly recharged. Before I left, I made a point to find both Suzanne and Ken to thank them for their hospitality and to remind them of my plans. I was given an open invite to visit again, which I certainly want to take them up on! In the following weeks, I processed the images and am very happy with the results. Some of these images have been pre-released as a sneak preview on my Facebook Fan Page with the rest to be released the weekend of the 17th.
So this brings us back to the Farmers’ Market and my grand plan of re-education of the general chain market frequenting populous. In short, the main focus of my display on Sunday, July 17th will be farm focused, with the Rock Maple Farm prints being the main showcase. 50% of all proceeds from the sale of the Rock Maple Farm prints will be donated back to Rock Maple Farm. In addition, we will be talking with everyone who visits more about what was learned about this farm and what they do for the community. The intent is to help showcase this hard-working family and bring positive awareness to their labor of love. The full gallery of prints from that day will also be made available for viewing and buy on my official website that weekend.
If you haven’t considered getting your produce from a local source, please consider it! I have found it a win/win situation that is well worth it for everyone. A huge thanks goes out to the Buell’s for allowing me this fantastic opportunity. I look forward to seeing you at the Coventry Regional Farmers’ Market!