Sometimes the urge to give back to the planet, or the community, hits us and we take our checkbooks out and give away some money. Sometimes we volunteer our time in one way or another. All very noble acts.
But how much is enough? Meet Erin Stack, one person who urgently felt the need to do more, and is doing just that.
A little over a year ago Stack bought a seven-acre organic farm with an active Community Supported Agriculture program in Newburyport, Massachusetts. The woman, in her early fifties and mother of two teenage girls, went from a recreational gardener to a farmer overnight.
In her first year on the job she managed to not just maintain the farm but expand its offerings and bring in innovative programs like an eco-book club and nature walks to build a learning community surrounding the farm. Her CSA program is thriving and so is her determination to give back through farming.
Five Minutes with a Hero
What were you doing before you bought the farm?
I've done a lot of different things. After college I was an artist and assistant professor, but I wanted to do something that gave back more, so I went back to school and got my degree in counseling psychology, specializing in addiction; I've always been fascinated by change. Most recently I'd been working as an environmental artist and as the director of the environmental mission at the local Church of Newbury.
Did you know anything about farming?
I had always had an interest in gardening. When I was 13 I became the youngest member of the National Herb Society, so the passion was there; it just lay dormant for many years. I'd had a garden for the last 14 years or so, but I've learned there's a big difference between a 220-foot row and your own little garden.
How did you acquire the farm?
I had gotten to know the previous owners from my work at the church. I found out they were selling it. I told them I wanted it and they gave me three days to find a way. I felt I was being called to do this. I got a loan from my dad and bought it two days later. They ended up having higher offers but turned them down to sell it to me.
How did your family and friends react to your becoming a farmer?
My husband has gotten used to me now after all these years; I'm pretty determined, and my husband saw my determination. Every cell in my body knew this was the right thing to do. My dad was really excited about it, which was great for someone in his nineties. My kids are still not totally enthralled; it's not really what teenage girls do. My friends and other family just said, "Wow, Erin! Wow!"
How was the first year?
It was tough. My dad passed away; I didn't hire any help, so it was a lot of 14-hour days. I had learned a quite a bit about farming, intellectually, but the work of actually doing it was physically exhausting.
What was one of the highlights last year?
Meeting all of the inspiring people I have. Like Dan Kittredge, who turned me on to Remineralize the Earth—a program to bring depleted minerals back to the soil, which I am doing.
How do you keep yourself motivated to continue such hard work?
I told myself not to whine and to just get my sorry ass back out there. I am wiser now; I will hire someone to help next year. It's stretched me for sure, but it's a joyful act to do work with meaning. I love that land, all of its critters, its beauty—I just love it.
How do you see organic farming as giving back?
I had been asking myself: How can I best serve this planet? The environmental art was great, and the addiction therapy—how can we change?'was important work too. But the thing we need to do as humans is reawaken our interdependence on the earth. I know this is the best way I can do this. I am hoping to engage others to love land and see how vulnerable it is and protect it, and to discover how it can feed them.