Turns out, a lot.
Last March, KayCee Wimbish, winner of the $500 Culinate Youth Food Awareness scholarship to Terra Madre, uprooted her life in Brooklyn, NY and moved upstate to Tivoli to start Awesome Farm with fellow new farmer, Owen O’Connor.
We asked KayCee, who is part of the growing Youth Food Movement and one of over 1,300 Youth Delegates at Terra Madre, a few questions about her farm, her philosophy and a certain security donkey.
Q: In a New York Times article on the new generation of farmers published March 16, you say that moving to NYC was the catalyst that got you farming. What pushed you to become a farmer? Given that you grew in the heartland of America, don’t you find this ironic?
A: New York City introduced me to an entirely different way of thinking about food. I learned about CSAs for the first time, joined one, and fell in love with the vegetables and the idea. Growing up in Oklahoma, I had very little contact with local foods, farmer’s markets, political ideas around food, and it was hard to eat out and not eat at chain restaurant. I grew up in the suburbs, and it sure didn’t feel like the heartland. Growing food is such a tangible political act. As I struggled to make sense of the injustices, inequities, racism and other huge, heady issues, farming made so much sense to me.
Q: Like Joel Salatin, you identify yourself as a Grass Farmer. Talk to us a little about your farming practices and philosophy.
A: We farm on rented land that is very marginal in quality. Vegetables could not be grown on this land, but our sheep can convert the grass and legumes and weeds into usable energy that people can then eat. We are actually improving the quality of the pasture, minimizing erosion and encouraging native plants and growing food at the same time.
We also have laying hens and raised meat chickens this year. The chickens are problematic for us because of their dependence on grain. Philosophically, I don’t want to be feeding animals grain: it is expensive, and although it is local and organic, we still have to drive and pick it up. The land used to the grow grain for the animals can be used for grain for humans. We want to kick out the middleman that is grain. We want to raise animals that eat grass. However, we love the laying hens and we want to be able to have eggs. We are trying an idea put forth by the Vermont Compost Company and are currently getting pre- and post-consumer waste from the cafeteria of the nearby elementary school in order to supplement the chickens’ foraging with community food scraps. It’s a big experiment, but we are excited to keep food out of the landfill, use up a local resource and create more connections within the community.