Meet the farmhands

Young farmers have already decided what makes them happy.

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Olivia Kruczynska and Sarah Klein with her Austrailan blue heeler puppy. —Tina Miller

Lately, as we settle into our mid-lives, Tina Miller and I have been talking about happiness and quality of life more than what we have cooked, eaten, or grown. I think we are talking about this because, in all honesty, it has taken each of us decades to figure out how to structure our lives so that we do have time for animals, gardens, and to cook and eat with our families. In these conversations we have also observed that many of the current generation of 20-year-olds we have come across have not taken nearly as long to get to valuing their quality of life — particularly when it comes to the folks who have embraced farming. When Tina and I were of high school and college age, farming and gardening was a summer gig. A way to make money for school or to support our “real” jobs. But these days, there is a growing group of young people who understand the hard work and deep joy of farming, and are embracing it as their future. So we thought we’d drive around and talk to some of these young farmers about how they came to choose such fulfilling work so early. 

Here’s who they are and what they had to say:

Sarah Klein, farmhand, Grey Barn and Farm
Age 23
From: Ossining, N.Y.

Sarah studied studio art at Keene State College, and has worked at Grey Barn since July 2021. She says, “I have never worked so hard. I have never been in better shape. I milk the cows. Feed the animals. I am outside all day. There is never a dull day. It helps with my depression. I am a happier person. It is the best job ever.”

Elizabeth Tarantino, Olivia Kruczynska, and Sarah Klein are farmhands at Grey Barn Farm. —Tina Miller
Olivia Kruczynska, livestock manager, Grey Barn and Farm
Age: 24
From: Nashua, N.H.

Olivia studied animal science at Ohio State University, and then worked on a large dairy farm in Mossburn, New Zealand. She has worked at Grey Barn for a year. “I am working here because this is the scale of a dairy farm I’d like to have. The farm I worked at in New Zealand was 1,500 acres. So I am doing this so I can learn and am in a position to have my own farm,” Olivia tells us as she cradles a baby bunny.

Elizabeth Tarantino, livestock manager, Grey Barn and Farm
Age: 27
From: Freeport, Maine

Elizabeth attended Berry College in Georgia, which has a dairy with the oldest Jersey herd in the country on campus. “My grandfather worked with the same herd,” she tells us. Elizabeth always knew she wanted to work in large animal medicine, and got a job as an intern at Grey Barn four years ago because of its niche system. “All farms have their own culture, but I admired what Grey Barn does. It’s nonconventional, and a good size.” This summer Elizabeth will be moving back to Maine to work as a livestock manager for another organic farm near where she hopes she will be able to buy land — “100 acres,” she says. “I love farming. The work is constantly shape-shifting. You need to meet the needs of the day. You need to be resourceful, creative, and present. There is a raw immediacy to the work.”

Sally Ferris moved to the Island from New York City to work at North Tabor Farm. —Tina Miller

Sally Ferris, farmhand, North Tabor Farm
Age: 23
From: New York City

For two years, Sally attended Bard College Berlin to study literature, but felt drawn to doing something that was connected to the seasons and to the land. “I am curious about the idea of developing self-sustainability and all the skills that come with that,” she told us. Before coming to North Tabor Farm this spring, Sally worked at another farm in Great Barrington, but wanted to be near the beach and, she laughed, “The pay was better here.”

Lily Combra grew up on the Island, and now works at North Tabor Farm. —Tina Miller
Lily Combra, farmhand, North Tabor Farm
Age: 21
From: Vineyard Haven

After graduating from the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, LIly headed off to Dublin to study sewing and pattern making. But then COVID happened, she returned to the Island, and soon learned that she wanted to be spending her days outside. “Growing up here, I’ve always had access to farms and farming, and so I feel a deep connection to it. I love working with plants all around me.”

Kaia Fax started this past spring at North Tabor Farm. —Tina Miller

Kaia Fax, farmhand, North Tabor Farm
Age: 28
From: Denver, Colo.

Kaia went to college in Colorado, where she studied business administration and outdoor leadership. After college, she began a career as a wilderness therapist. Kaia tells us how removed her smartphone generation generally is from the land. Last year, she came to the Island to join Morning Glory’s farm crew. She moved to North Tabor this spring. “I want to own a co-operative farm, and North Tabor’s setup is more applicable. I am involved with everything here — from seeds to planting and harvesting.” 

Jack Benjamin and Violet Southwick are part of the team at Beetlebung Farm. —Tina Miller
Jack Benjamin, farmhand, Beetlebung Farm
Age: 20
From: Portsmouth, N.H.

Jack, nephew of Sandy Stone-Benjamin and Mike Benjamin, is studying “pure math” at St. Lawrence University, and may tack on a degree in environmental science as well. After several summer landscaping jobs, he was drawn to Beetlebung Farm this summer because he wanted to work outside, and liked the idea of working in a “positive environment that does not disturb the mycelium in the soil.” For those who don’t know, mycelium is a fungus that helps break down organic material in the soil, making the nutrients from the organic material available to the ecosystem. 

Violet Southwick, farmhand, Beetlebung Farm
Age: 20
From: Vineyard Haven

Violet, who is a cellist studying music and musical education at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, is no stranger to gardening. She was raised by her grandmother, the legendary plant whisperer and columnist Lynne Irons. This is the first summer she is not working with Lynne and her gardening business, About Thyme. “I wanted a different perspective — to learn about what it means to grow food for the masses.” She laughs, “Or maybe just more than two people.” She’s only been working on the farm for a few days, but tells us she has already learned different seed techniques, and about how to grow food that is “delicious and looks good.”

Riley Kadis, Lucy Grinnan, and Alex Peterson are farmhands at Slough Farm. —Tina Miller
Lucy Grinnan, gardener, Slough Farm
Age: 24
From: Richmond, Va.

After just completing her master’s degree in Christian studies, Lucy wanted to get back outside. She has worked on farms since her undergraduate years at Middlebury. “I really am drawn to people that farm. And it is nice to be doing manual labor.” The morning we visited, Lucy harvested parsley, fennel, arugula, bok choy, spinach, strawberries, and radishes. In the pouring rain. And was delighted by it.

Alex Peterson, livestock farmer, Slough Farm
Age: 37
From: Albuquerque, N.M.

Eight years ago, Alex came to the Vineyard to work with Jefferson Munroe and the GOOD Farm, where he served as Jefferson’s right-hand man. Now a new dad, and with Jefferson gone, he was seeking a job where he isn’t always on call. “The scale of Slough Farm is bigger, but we have the resources so that it feels grown up. I’ve worked at farms where it is me and a bunch of teenagers. This is a great group of people.”

Riley Kadis, farmhand, Slough Farm
Age: 20
From: Newton, Mass.

Riley was a summer camper and volunteer at the FARM Institute, so when the opportunity to work with Julie Scott again was presented, “I mean, it was just, ‘Yes! I am in!’” he says, laughing. For Riley, who thinks he’ll be majoring in ecology at Colorado College, the land and his sense of place are experienced through the ecology: “And it is just such a positive feeling to be growing food and feeding people.”