Thoughts Beyond the Pail: A Farm Life

Robin Verson

It was a brisk autumn morning and I rose at dawn to the house already warmed by my husband’s fire in the wood stove. I gathered the stainless steel milking pail, the tote, the warm wash water, donned my wool hat and headed out to the pasture with my eldest son, a teenager now. This has been our shared morning ritual for more than five years.

I can’t quite be sure whether it is the calm exuded from Addie, our family’s milk cow, or the fresh scent of the pasture, or the moments alone with my son, but those precious minutes at daybreak on my milking stool are pure joy.

The sound of fresh milk streaming into the pail is my early-morning soundtrack. Some days, we – my boy turning man and I – chatter and catch up. In the busiest of summer days, when every moment is full of farm work, this is our best chance to connect. We talk of plants and pests, harvests and livestock, or settle comfortably into our own thoughts. This particular fall day in the milking barn, I wonder once more at how I got to this place.

How has it been 20 years already since I met my future husband in the packing shed of an organic farm in Caledonia, IL, and began pursuing this dream? Is it possible that 16 years have passed since we signed those fateful papers deeming us owners of our first 60 acres?

I represent a new generation of American farmers, raised urban and well-educated, opting out of the commercial career path that was laid out before me in my late 20s, and choosing the rural life.

Somehow I always felt a calling – a tug – in a direction opposite from my peers. Years of postcollege travel didn’t settle things. Only when I landed at Angelic Organics did I know I had found my place: So soundly I slept that first evening, my hands blistered from hoeing the winter squash patch for hours, my muscles aching. A sleep that comes for a body full of farm-fresh food and a full day’s physical labor – a sleep I know well now, but 20 years ago it was a first and lasting memory. It was a moment that changed the course of my life.

The road from Illinois to Kentucky was indirect, but when we pulled our Toyota Tercel hatchback into this hollow we now call home on that August day of 1998, we knew we had found our farm. I can’t quite answer why on earth we would settle in the “middle of nowhere” and attempt to make a living growing vegetables. I can however offer glimpses into the farm work I do and the feeling I have as I do it. Freedom. Peace. Love. Family. Health. Integrity. Community. Sustainability. These values I hold true and live for each day.

The learning curve has been steep. Unlike my children, I was not born into the farm life. I’ve learned to plant and cultivate, harvest and preserve. I’ve learned to milk a cow and make cheese, yogurt, butter, and ice cream from her gifts. Once I master a skill I pass it along, to my own children and to a steady stream of apprentices, those young people who we hire annually, adventurous spirits who also crave the authenticity that farm life can give.

Now I am back at the house, the daily milking complete, and my calm contemplation is over. The children are hungry, the milk must be filtered and chilled. Though it is still morning, the list of chores is longer than the number of daylight hours. I will move through the day with efficiency, precision, and without a dull moment.

The specific daily agenda changes with the seasons. No matter the time of year, I prepare meals from plants and animals we have raised, care for my family, and face countless tasks in the greenhouses, fields, and kitchen. I run our family farm and work hard from dawn until dusk. My work touches a community of hundreds of people – those who live and work with us here on the farm, neighbors who farm nearby, dozens of others who take part in our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture consumer network) and share in the bounty of the farm’s harvests with us.

All of these relationships – this is where my work is. This life is diverse and hard and rich and nourishing and, now, 16 years into it, I couldn’t imagine another.

These days it’s so often hard to hear one’s calling. The path to success – and the social pressure to succeed in conventional ways – is often laid out in our earliest years. Yet each of us still does have a unique vocation. If we listen we can hear our personal truths. Luckily for me, I found mine in the contours of these acres named Hill and Hollow Farm, the world we’ve carved out along the banks of the Flat Rock Creek, for ourselves and all who care to join us.

Originally from Chicago, Robin Verson lives with her family near Edmonton, KY. See for more about their life and work.