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The Call of the Farm: An Unexpected Year of Getting Dirty, Home Cooking, and Finding Myself

The Call of the Farm: An Unexpected Year of Getting Dirty, Home Cooking, and Finding Myself

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The Call of the Farm: An Unexpected Year of Getting Dirty, Home Cooking, and Finding Myself

3/5 (18 évaluations)
361 pages
5 heures
Sep 23, 2014


Rochelle Bilow, a classically trained cook and aspiring food writer, was nursing a broken heart and frustrated with her yet-to-take-off career when she set out to write a short profile of a small, sustainable CSA farm in central New York. At most, she expected to come away with a cute city-girl-in-the-country piece. But after just one day of moving hay bales, feeding pigs, and tapping maple sap, she was hooked: The air was fresh, her muscles felt useful, and the smells from the kitchen where the farmhands gathered at day’s end were intoxicating.

Add in a sweet but enigmatic young farmer whose soulful gaze meets her own, and The Call of the Farm is set in motion. This enticing memoir charts the unexpected year that unfolds as Rochelle immerses herself in life at the farm. She cooks her way through four seasons of fresh-from-the-earth produce (with such tantalizing results as Blistered Tomato Gratin and Crisped Potato Casserole with Shaved Chives), grapples more than once with the finer points of rendering lard, and begins to feel she has finally found her niche—all while falling hard for that handsome, blue-eyed farmer.

Honest, self-aware, and wonderfully tender, The Call of the Farm is for anyone who has daydreamed about a simpler life—or fallen too deeply in love.

Sep 23, 2014

À propos de l'auteur

ROCHELLE BILOW is a food writer and a classically trained cook with a Grand Diplome in Classic Culinary Arts from the French Culinary Institute. As a staff writer at Bon Appétit, she interviews chefs and covers food trends and seasonal cooking. Her writing has also appeared in Edible Finger Lakes, USA Today, the Syracuse Post-Standard, Food Traveler, and others. She lives in Brooklyn.

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The Call of the Farm - Rochelle Bilow




The first time I visited Stonehill Farm, I felt overwhelmed, my senses assaulted. The air was thick with a cacophony of smells—not offensive, necessarily, just different to my sterile, suburban apartment complex–oriented nose—and the landscape looked wild, free, the slightest bit dangerous. The workers were men, their cheeks wind-burnt and their hands rough—a result, I assumed, of time spent weeding vegetables and doing other outside work in the cold weather. I knew nothing about farming, other than it was necessary for the type of food I wanted to consume. Otherwise, I considered it irrelevant to my interests as a cook and writer.

I was at the farm because I had been given an assignment from Edible Finger Lakes magazine to write about the best and most-loved foods in Syracuse, and a tip from a friend had brought me to this operation on one of the lakes. The story seemed like an easy one to write: All I had to do was come up with a few dozen words about the eggs and raw milk that the farmers produced. But when Cliff, Stonehill’s manager, offered me a full tour, even though it wasn’t necessary, I found it hard to say no. As exotic as the farm felt when I first arrived, by the time I left an hour later, brown paper–wrapped lamb chops in hand, I felt a deep urge to be smack-dab in the middle of it all, surrounded by chickens and cows and pigs and knee-deep in manure, and I had no idea why.

It frightened me a little, but having just successively quit my job as a receptionist at an advertising agency and ended a year-and-a-half relationship—two seemingly unrelated events borne out of a frantic realization that I felt restless and unfulfilled—I was actively seeking enlightenment, self-awareness, and a deeper satisfaction with life.

As Cliff walked me around the barnyard, the end-of-February wind whipped around us and I turned up the collar of my coat. I observed the beef cows huddling together for warmth—Cliff told me the name of each one—and smiled at the pile of pigs rooting around their troughs for forgotten food scraps. The dairy cows were lucky enough to be cozied up in the barn, and Cliff took me to see them, too. We’re a full-diet farm, he said, explaining that not only did he and his crew raise livestock for food, they produced raw milk, had a flock of two-hundred laying hens, and grew over four acres of vegetables. Everything you need for a balanced diet, we try to provide to our members. I looked at him curiously. We’re a CSA, so if you buy a share of the farm, or really, a yearly membership, you get to pick up food every week.

Even in the winter? I asked.

Even in the winter. There’s a handful of us who work here full-time—Toby, Ian, Jack, and myself—and Dylan and Logan are here part-time.

Across the field, I saw a tall man with a full beard walk out of an Airstream trailer and slip on a pair of boots as he zipped up his jacket. And you all live here, too? Cliff nodded. Here and there; we’re all spread out in different houses. But we’re all on the farm. That’s Jack. He and Hazel—his girlfriend—live in the ’Stream.’

It all felt so foreign to me that I couldn’t help but imagine what it might be like to live and work there. I looked down at my pleated black peacoat, considering what I’d look like in a sturdy, stiff canvas jacket like Cliff’s, and I pictured myself chucking hay bales to the outdoor cows, as the bearded man had begun doing. Although the scent of manure had flooded my nostrils upon my arrival, by now all I smelled was fresh air. As I watched Cliff lean down and tousle a pig’s floppy ears, I realized that this was a place that could, despite its unfamiliarity, excite and nurture me. I felt a throbbing sensation in my heart that slid down to my stomach. At that moment, I knew, quite certainly, that I would find a reason to return. February hadn’t yet hinted at spring, but I had a feeling that a change was coming soon—and I wanted to be a part of it.

The next week, hoping to extend my time at Stonehill, I pitched the idea of a profile piece to my editor at the Syracuse paper where I had been writing a monthly food column for the last year. It’s a new farm, and they’re doing everything the right way, I said, unaware of what, exactly, I even meant by the word right.

They do their field work with horses—I paused, realizing I didn’t actually know what field work was—and they’re all young, bright, and creative. I think it’d make a great story. I held my breath as I waited for him to respond. Until this point, I had written strictly cooking how-to and recipe stories. They were fine enough, and seemed to resonate well with the paper’s readership, but they didn’t feel authentically me—whatever that meant. My father had grown up on a dairy farm in northern New York, and I wondered if that thread of connection could be a clue to finding my voice.

To my surprise, my editor gave me the green light, and I eagerly jotted off an email to Cliff to schedule a day to volunteer and interview him in greater depth. If nothing else, I thought, it’ll make for a good tongue-in-cheek story. I saw opportunities for self-deprecation in detailing my attempt at farm work and physical labor, and showed up to Stonehill at nine that morning wearing tight blue jeans, hiking sneakers, a black polyester long-sleeved shirt, and a big sweater. I had dabbed a bit of blush on my cheeks and swiped my lashes with mascara—just in case, though what the case might be, I wasn’t quite sure.

IN ADDITION TO RAISING BEEF, PIGS, AND CHICKENS FOR MEAT, keeping hens for eggs, and growing vegetables, the farm was a licensed raw-milk dairy. On my previous visit, Cliff had given me a half-gallon jar of the stuff, and after drinking and cooking with what was the thickest, sweetest milk I’d ever had, I washed the jar and filled it with homemade biscuits dotted with cheddar cheese and black pepper. I tied a blue ribbon around the neck, untied it, paused, and then tied it back on again. It might be a little kitschy but, I reasoned, maybe the farmers would find that endearing. I really wanted them to like me, because I was pretty sure I already loved them.

A friend once told me that my impulsiveness—my eagerness to dive into new things, fearlessly and fully, without exploring or considering them first—is both my best and worst quality. In the back of my mind, I knew that I should continue to search for meaningful work as a food writer, but on that drive back to Stonehill, in the very bottom-most corner of my heart, I could feel that this was the first step to some predestined plan in which I would move to the farm and work toward creating a new life there. The details of how, and why, were vague at best, but I had time to figure them out.

And so with that determination, I listened as Cliff outlined a list of chores for me to complete that day. First on the list was tossing hay bales down a trapdoor and re-stacking them in the dairy barn. He showed me how to lift the bale by the twine and chuck it away from my body in one fluid motion. I nodded as he explained, but didn’t try it myself until he had disappeared from sight. I guessed the act would feel awkward for me, and I was embarrassed to make a mistake in front of him. I was right—it was uncomfortable, but I thrilled at the weight of the bale, the feeling of hay pricking through my borrowed work gloves, made for a man and two sizes too big. This is hard work, I thought as I considered how I had always relied on my hands to work—be it writing or chopping vegetables. Tossing hay around seemed only natural, if a little cumbersome at first.

I stood on a wagon parked in the middle of the barn and began hauling bales from one side of it to the other, down the trapdoor, with as much speed as I could muster. At one point, I lost my footing and fell, my shin catching the side of the wagon and taking off a layer of skin. Raw and pink, my leg pulsed and I chided myself for being clumsy. My cheeks grew blush, too. I cared what these people thought of my farming ability, but I wasn’t sure why. I was just there to write a story, after all—not carry the weight of Stonehill Farm on my back.

Once the hay was stacked, however precariously, I walked to the horse barn where Cliff had shown me how to groom the Percherons. There were two short black mares, Pat and Pearl, that Cliff owned, and two taller grey geldings, Bear and JD, that belonged to Ian, a farmer I had met briefly the week before. All four horses were covered in caked dirt, and the task in front of me looked enormous. The outdoor air was chilly, though, and I welcomed the relative warmth of the barn. I got to work, each stroke releasing a cloud of dirt into the air. After ten minutes, my sinuses were under attack and I was blowing dust out of my nose. My arms were sore and tired, which surprised me. I was just brushing a few horses; surely I was stronger than that. After half an hour, I set down the comb, exhausted. (I would later learn that, even in the muddiest seasons, no one on the farm ever spent more than a few minutes grooming—not because they didn’t care; they cared deeply—but really, it just seemed wise to give up on aesthetics when there was so much work to be done.)

I was running my hand down Bear’s neck, scratching with my fingers as I reached his withers, when I heard footsteps in the doorway. I quickly picked the comb back up and began to brush him again.

Hey there, said the voice attached to the footsteps, and I peeked out from behind Bear.

Hi, I said to Ian. His shaggy blond-brown hair poked out from beneath a knit cap. The cold morning air had produced a shock of red across his high cheekbones, making them look even sharper. My eyes traveled from his slender pink lips—which were almost curled up to a smile—up to the bridge of his nose, which boasted a generous splash of freckles. A small ring looped out of his left nostril.

I continued to groom Bear as Ian worked in the barn, using a pocketknife to slice open a hay bale and divide it into four piles on the ground. Getting ready for tomorrow, he said, before using a big push broom to collect all of the spare pieces of hay and straw into a pile behind the horses. I stole a quick glance and tried to take in as much of him as I could—even under the layers of thick wool, I could tell he had a strong back and chest that whittled down into a trim and narrow waist.

Within the first five minutes of sharing the space, I was filled with a sense of intoxication and excitement. Maybe I was completely crazy, but I very much wanted this man’s presence around me. I knew nothing about him, save his first name and his two horses, yet his energy traveled through the coldness and seemed to linger at the tip of my nose. Why was I so taken by him? I thought back to our initial meeting the week prior and immediately remembered his stride. He walked like he had somewhere to go, with his chest out and his shoulders back. He seemed so confident, so sure of himself, that he must be, I had figured, someone worth getting to know.

We talked and worked together for the rest of the morning as I forged on with what is surely, to date, the longest groom the horses have seen. We talked about how old he was (thirty-two) and about his favorite music (pretty much all of it, plus he played the guitar). I was very into a jazz band called Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds and wanted to know if he had heard of them; it seemed like just the right bit of trivia to inject into conversation—if he wasn’t familiar, I’d have something to share. If he was, all the better. He hadn’t, and I told him I’d have to give him a copy of their album. We also discussed dance—he had dabbled with a few modern classes in college and I had taken tap, jazz, and ballet in high school. It was a funny thing to have in common, but there it was. Then we chatted about farming, and why he did it. I like it. I like it better than anything I’ve done, he explained with a shrug. We talked until it wasn’t morning anymore, since I didn’t have any additional chores to complete and, besides, I didn’t want to end the conversation. So I stayed put.

Months later, when we spoke about that first encounter, I would insist that I felt nothing until I read his written word in the form of a poetic and charming email. "I wasn’t flirting, that day in the horse barn, I insisted, both to him and to myself, but I did like speaking with

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18 évaluations / 2 Avis
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  • (2/5)
    Very disappointed in this book. Professionally educated young food author spends a year on an organic, sustainable farm in New York that supplies year-round food to a CSA and uses draft animals instead of tractors. It could have been many things- an insightful, fascinating book on how to achieve satisfaction in a tough environment, the joys of hard labor and good food, an interesting take on food-to-table, even a follow your passion growing up story. Instead it was a whiny, self- indulgent book about a girl who seems to want pity from the reader about her sad romance in which she has frequent, thoroughly described sex with a farmer who tells her up front that he is afraid of commitments. And we're somehow supposed to admire her for being worked to death for no compensation while, as a few anecdotes make it clear, the others who live on the farm ( who are at best very minor characters and total u unfleshed out) don't really like her that much. But of course, she's always in tears, or as she says "leading with her emotions," there's the possibility of a good book.but it's an opportunity lost.
  • (4/5)
    With a culinary school degree and experience as a restaurant chef Rochelle Bilow hoped to make a career out of food writing, but it wasn’t happening as quickly as she wanted. Looking for a breakthrough article she set up interviews at a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm to gather information and surprised herself by falling in love with everything she saw--the small farm group lifestyle, the farm fresh cooking ingredients, and a particularly appealing farmer who caught her eye. She hung around for about a year, eventually moving in and becoming part of the crew, and this memoir recounts her farming, cooking, and romantic experiences.CSA farms have members or subscribers from the local community who come out once a week during harvest season for shares of whatever the farm produces, and Bilow’s farm supplied everything from vegetables to meats so the farm experiences she details range from weeding to slaughter, but for me the best part of the book are her descriptions of what she cooked for the rest of the workers. She created lavish meals fit for rural gods, gods who don’t have cholesterol issues that is, with abundant amounts of uber-fresh vegetables and meats enhanced with generous portions of animal derived fats like lard and butter. The book is divided by the time of the year, and season appropriate recipes are included at the end of each section.As a vegetarian I appreciated the humane treatment of the farm animals, but squinched my eyes and skimmed over the sections about converting them from living creatures to food. Her love experiences made me squirm a little too, both because for my sensibilities she overshares the physical side of her relationship and because her farmer’s ardor didn’t quite equal her own, but Bilow’s openness and honesty are part of her charm and add to the interest of this book, so I wouldn’t have her eliminate the passages that made me uncomfortable. I read an advanced review ebook copy of this book supplied by the publisher through NetGalley. The review opinions are mine.