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The Woman Behind Farm Girl Farm

Rural Intelligence Style When you meet Laura Meister you begin to understand how Farm Girl Farm got its name. On a recent Monday morning, the 42-year-old filmmaker turned farmer is working in a field of lettuces dressed in a very girly batik skirt and a frilly fuscia camisole.  As a solo farmer who runs a CSA with 75 members and also sells vegetables to some 20 restaurants in our region (including the Woodland in Lakeville, Allium in Great Barrington and Brix in Pittsfield), she brings a fresh, post-feminist attitude to American agriculture. “I love working with chefs,” she says. “They’re artists, and I love seeing what they do with food.” She also likes encouraging backyard vegetable gardeners (who are often her former CSA members whom she’s inspired), which is why she is holding a seedling sale at the farm this Saturday, May 29, from 10 a.m. - 3 p.m. “After last year’s blight, I think it is crucial for people to know where their tomato plants come from,” she says. “I always over sow. I’ll have heirloom varieties in all colors and shapes. I’ll also have eggplants, sweet peppers, squash, swiss chard, lettuces, and bok choy.”

Rural Intelligence StyleMeister describes herself as a stressed-out Type A city personality, who had an epiphany during college. While attending the University of Pennsylvania, she worked summers as a camp counselor at Farm & Wilderness in Vermont. “When I first stepped into Vermont was the moment I became who I am,” she says, although she would nonetheless return every fall to her “real life” in Philadelphia and eventually moved to Boston to work at the Museum of Fine Arts. “My specialty was the history of photography,” she says. In 2002, she enrolled in a filmmaking course called The Visionaries taught by Bill Mosher in Sheffield, MA. “I made short films about Moon on the Pond Farm and Sean Stanton, and for my final project I did a piece called Sweet Soil with Erica Spizz on the Berkshire Co-op Market‘s relationship with local farmers,” she says. “I had managed to intertwine the things I loved.”

She didn’t want to head back to Boston, so she began working once a week at Indian Line Farm and with Ted Dobson at Equinox Farm, and started growing vegetables in the backyard of the house she rented. “I was in denial for a while,” she says, laughing. “I kept thinking growing vegetables was a hobby.” At Indian Line, she became friends with an apprentice named Rory O’Dwyer, who enlisted Meister to join her in starting a new CSA farm. “I said, OK, I’ll help, and then I totally got into it.” When O’Dwyer dropped out because she had a serious case of mono, Meister made the decision to go it alone, which was an overwhelming challenge.  “The thing I like to impress upon people is that I am a good example of doing it by doing it,” she says. “There will never be a time when everything is in place. Farming requires a leap of faith. You figure out things as you go because you must.”

Rural Intelligence StyleIndeed, it was necessity that led to Meister’s supplying so many local restaurants. “We had tons of extra tomatoes and I didn’t know what to do with them all, so I started calling chefs,” says Meister, explaining that she knew which restaurants liked to buy local produce from working at Equinox Farm. “It’s become a very important relationship for me,” says Meister who accompanied the posse of Berkshire chefs who cooked at the James Beard House in New York City last fall. “I sang for my supper,” she says cheerfully. “I did the flowers for the tables.” Now, every Sunday during the growing season, Meister sends an availability list of produce to restaurants, caterers and stores such as Guido’s and the Co-op. Her intimate connection to Berkshire foodies has made her one of the best-loved farmers in the region. “Laura’s passion for farming is evident in her harvests,” says Brian Alberg, the executive chef of the Red Lion Inn. “I love buying from someone who actually believes that the chefs make her product more beautiful when in actuality it is her beautiful product that makes our lives as chefs more simple. Her way of farming, doing business and being involved in the community speaks loudly to her sustainable character.”

Farm Girl Farm Seedling Sale
Saturday, May 29; 10 a.m. - 3 p.m.
Pumpkin Hollow Road
N. Egremont, MA

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