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by Biodiversity Intern Regina Fitzsimmons

Two days ago I ventured to the YMCA in TriBeCa, after a false start at the uptown Y, an extra subway trip and a blazing hot walk across town; I’m an Arizonan fish-out-of-water and hadn’t the faintest clue that TriBeCa was a place and not the name of the building. I stumbled into a cool, dark room with chairs clustered beneath a slightly elevated stage. Flustered and feeling foolish, I snuck over to the side of the audience and spotted an empty chair.

On stage sat David “Mas” Masumoto, a peach farmer and author, and four farmers from upstate New York and New Jersey. In the audience, we sipped on ciders and ate savory heirloom tomatoes (unaffected by the recent blight) with slices of crusty baguette and goat cheeses. Mas led the discussion as I peeled my backpack from my shoulders.

Mas asked the farmers to answer both long questions and short ones with quick, off-the-cuff answers like, “what’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word ‘rain’? when you wake up in the morning? when you hear the word ‘harvest’?” When prompted with the words “No one knows that I…,” Cheryl, farmer at W. Rogowski Farm sighed and said, “I’d love a manicure and to get my toes done.”

Half the time, the smile on my face grew larger and larger still, as I chuckled through stories of Ron’s (who farms 17 acres on Stokes Farm in Jersey) recollections of his childhood “time out” sessions—not cloistered in a room as he would have liked, but forced to pick flats of cherry tomatoes all afternoon. But some of the time, the conversation turned thoughtful, somber and serious. When asked to recollect a “bad day” on the farm, they shared stories of people getting hurt, crops ruined over night by one storm or one deer. Fred from Wilklow Orchards shared his last Friday: he and his farm help started harvesting at 6:30 a.m. (bumped a half hour later because of the waning daylight). They finished loading up the market van at 10:00 p.m., went inside, had dinner and at 11pm and just as they were cleaning the dishes, they heard a knock at the door. “Do you have cows?” a woman asked them, standing in the threshold. “Yes,” Fred responded. “Well, I think they’ve all escaped.” Fred grabbed his keys and drove down the road and sure enough, twelve cows had found their way out of the pasture. He lured them in and climbed into bed just after 1 o’clock in the morning. He was up at 4am to get to market on time. As a few people from the audience murmured words of surprise and amazement, the other farmers all nodded knowingly.