I loved Amber Waves Farms even before I had experienced the place, immediately associating it with Julianne Moore’s glamorously troubled mother hen of Boogie Nights. I had also heard that the two founders had come together with a shared dream of running a pizza farm, growing all that was needed for the perfect slice: fresh veggies, eggs and wheat. Women not afraid of carbs who love Boogie Nights are our people. Women like founders Amanda Merrow and Katie Baldwin who are encouraging people to be more thoughtful about their food by creating a wholesome product are our people too. Amber Waves is an educational farm founded on a three-tier mission: to connect people particularly children to their food, to bring wheat and other grains back to the East End foodshed and to create as many avenues of access to good food for all through farmer-food pantry partnerships, farmers markets and CSAS.
Julia Turshen, host of Cherry Bombe radio and sought-after cookbook collaborator has said of the duo, “They are everything that is right with the current food movement.” A visit to their charming 25 acre organic farm in Amagansett supports that praise. Says Katie,
“It’s important when approaching work that you come from a place of joy and I think we do that.”
Now in its eighth season with a 150 person CSA membership, 15 East End restaurant and shop accounts and a thriving apprenticeship program, the farm vibes are so picturesquely joyful, they appear art-directed. Go for a visit and you’ll find kids picking sungold tomatoes or learning about wheatgrass as part of the Waldorf-based Sons and Daughters farm camp or while on one of the farm’s frequent tasting tours. You might see jaded Manhattan dads getting their Martha-on in the flower fields picking buttercream sunflowers and calendulas and arranging them in vases. The joy has extended digitally with a website started by CSA member Julie Resnik called FeedFeed that encourages members to post pictures and recipes using the contents of their CSA boxes.
Amber Waves excels at finding interesting ways to connect with the community and showcase the benefits of farm-to-table living. The ladies invested in a seriously cool copper wood-fired oven and invited chef friend Meg Huylo to be the resident cook of the farm. Meg creates enviable (and social media-friendly) “crew lunches” like roasted yellow tail flounder and massaged kale, purslane and husked cherries in honey miso dressing. Throughout the month of August, Amber Waves hosted supper clubs in their flower garden highlighting the best of Long Island’s summer bounty. Pizza, naturally was on the menu, lobster pizza. So yeah.
The success of Amber Waves has inspired other young women to follow in their foot steps. Which is pretty much the whole point of the work Katie and Amanda do. Says Amanda,
“We not only want to grow food, but we want to grow new farmers.”
One such new farm gal is Caitlin Law of Red’s Quality Acre in North Carolina. We caught up with Caitlin to hear about that crucial first year. Read on to learn all about life at a farm start up!
Tell me a bit about a typical day in the life of a farmer.
Although we have a weekly schedule, almost everyday is a bit unique on the farm. You never know when an irrigation line is going to burst or when a swarm of pests will somehow quadruple overnight and set up camp all over your spring starts. That being said, my farming days start early with a quick breakfast on the road as I walk or drive down to our growing space. Because it’s just me and my partner Dave Henderson we split a lot of the work and take turns mapping out the day’s tasks. Most days I am helping with harvests and processing produce in the morning, taking deliveries out to our wholesale vendors, and ending the day with production tasks like transplanting or prepping beds. We have the luxury of living 1/4 mile down the road from the farm so we try to take a leisurely lunch hour which includes serious hydration and a farm meal. I also do a lot of behind the scenes work such as writing our weekly newsletter, managing the website, updating social media, CSA coordination and communication, and book keeping. We are a first year farm so we are working on hammering out our systems and communication stream–it’s a work in progress!
Why did you choose to go into farming? Was there a particular aha moment?
This is my first year farming! My background is working with adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities, I’m working on learning to farm from my partner Dave who has been in the business for 7 years, but my long term goal is to get folks with disabilities involved with Red’s Quality Acres.
One piece of advice you’d share to a woman contemplating farming as a career.
GO FOR IT! While there are more women getting involved in agricultural careers these days, it’s still very much a male dominated community and industry. People say things like “oh farming is so physically demanding and dirty” kind of suggesting it’s no place for a woman and while I agree it is physically challenging and not the most glamorous field, I encourage woman to sort of break the stereotype that only men are capable of farming! Your strength both physically, mentally, emotionally will be tested no doubt, but women bring certain strengths, skills, and insight that are essential to running a well-rounded farm.
For me the challenge of learning an entirely new set of skills while also managing the various components that make up running a business. Wearing these various hats and making executive decisions can be really exciting and sometimes also very intimidating.
Feeling really good about the quality of our produce which in turn has allowed us to develop meaningful relationships with our CSA members, local grocers, and restaurants.
I literally just blew out my boots today! The entire shell of the shoe became discontected from the sole! I’ve been wearing a pair of waterproof hunting boots from SHE Outdoor (sorta embarrassing brand name). Eight months doesn’t seem all that long for a boot’s lifetime, but I can’t say I’ve been all that easy on them.
I am extremely fair skinned as a redhead so sun protection is a MUST! I use No-Ad spf 45 and you can find me slathering on a fresh coat every couple hours. I always wear a sun hat and a long sleeve shirt for sun protection. Early in the season I hit up some local thrift stores and bought a bunch of men’s outdoor shirts (like the ones fishermen wear) and had my friend screen print our logo on ’em. These shirts will cost you upwards to 60 some dollars at R.E.I. but I managed to buy a bunch for under $10. They sort of have become my farm uniform. I think there’s a real market for farming specific beauty products especially in the skincare realm; between drenching in sweat, being covered in unidentifiable grime, and sun exposure a farmer’s skin really takes a beating!
Photography by Jane Houle