Close your eyes and think of flowers, fresh air and fine herbs. These are the smells that will seduce you as soon as you enter our Little Grewve Farms. Once there, you are no longer part of the modern world with its processed foods, pesticides and petroleum fumes. Instead, you have come closer to the state of nature.
There is something deeply romantic about the place, even Rousseau-like. Co-owners John J. Anson and Elizabeth R. Seeley camped in the west in 2019 after they were struck by the ravages of abusive corporate farming practices in the country. The rugged, parched wasteland that was once fertile ground aroused in them feelings of horror and loss.
“What most people don’t know,” said John, “is that it is estimated that our usable topsoil has a lifespan of only 60 years.”
Introspection opened their eyes to the need to “feed the earth” – which he hypothesized to be the next step in human evolution. Since agriculture “is what civilization enables us”, they said that “a reinterpretation of our agricultural practices is essential to sustain civilization”.
Then they decided to quit their traditional jobs and start a regenerative flower farm.
The term “regenerative” is important and should not be confused with “sustainable”. Sustainability, which, according to John, has been described as a catchphrase by corporations and reduced to a platitude, can only be interpreted as the reproduction of something, even if it is still environmentally harmful. Regenerative agriculture, on the other hand, takes the health of the soil into account by focusing on sequestering carbon and reducing the greenhouse gases that have accumulated over the years.
Regenerative agriculture tries to mimic nature and create ecosystems on land. By keeping plants in the ground, they can provide the microbiology with nutrients that give their life. In fact, the difference between dirt and earth is that the latter contains life. In a healthy state, these microorganisms in the soil actually do more to repel predatory insects than do toxic pesticides.
For John and Elizabeth, the ultimate goal is to give back more than they take out – both in soil and in life.
John, who worked in the automotive industry, and Elizabeth, who worked in a medical supply store, didn’t have much experience in growth before. One would not suspect that from the splendor and diversity of its flora. Snapdragons, lisianthus, peonies, dahlias and ranunculus populate and perfume the strictly regulated gardens. Each species is more colorful and beautiful than the other. Some, like Dusty Miller – a wedding darling – look alien.
They also grow food. One can only marvel at the rows of basil and San Marzano tomatoes, and it’s impossible to look at all of the mint without thinking of a mojito. Every herb imaginable can be found, including parsley, sage, coriander, and rosemary.
Childish as it may be, it is hard to banish the thought that you are like Eve and Adam in the Garden of Eden.
They hope one day to be completely self-sufficient from the land, only cook and eat what they grow. By cooking, they don’t mean the modern misuse of the word that means frying something random from Wal-Mart or wherever. Rather, they mean the lost art of collecting local ingredients and turning them into something delicious; something to share with friends and family.
Speaking of things lost to the farm, they’re looking for a return to more primitive ways of life before the advent of the alienating and engulfing modern economy.
“I think the Native Americans got it right,” said John, “where each person had a role in the community and everyone was connected.”
This philosophy of localization permeates what they do. “All we need is around us,” said Elizabeth. They are not interested in semi-mature products that are flown from half the world. That could mean they can’t get passion fruit at 2:00 a.m. in New York state in February, but she said it was unnatural for people to get every product they want, whenever they want. It’s also unethical, as anyone who’s read Stephen Schlesinger’s Bitter Fruit knows only too well.
The emphasis on locality and self-sufficiency helped them during the pandemic. “We were in our own world,” recalls John. Without relying on enormous global supply chains, most of their basic needs have already been met. What they relied on was the community.
“We are very fortunate in the north of the country to have a longstanding sense of community and a pioneering spirit,” said John. “The supply infrastructure does not collapse so easily at the local level with a strong sense of community.”
If you are not yet humiliated by the wholeness of your ways, prepare now.
“We’re the only species that needs more than we need,” thought John. Our greed, he said, has led to mass productions that destroy nature and alienate us from our communities. Not wanting to hear about it, they decided to use their farm to raise consumer awareness of agricultural consumption and its long-term effects.
As a result, they said: “When we are gone, we will enrich the country and leave something good behind.”
At Our Little Grewve Farms, John and Elizabeth have made it their business to combine social and environmental responsibility with economic profitability. They posit – and prove – that it is possible to sell aesthetically beautiful and desirable plants without giving up ethical principles. But not that they were there for the money.
“As long as we grow, we are happy,” they said.
To buy some of their flowers or groceries, you can visit their website www.ourlittlegrewve.com, or visit her stall at 9 am-5pm Monday through Friday at 2202 County Route 21, Hermon, New York. You can also find them on Fridays at the canton farmers’ market.