Sharing Stories: A Passion for Farms, Farmland and the Environment

Our passions emerge from our experiences. They reflect our values and drive our actions each and every day.

At American Farmland Trust, our work is rooted in a deep connection to farmland and a shared vision to save the land that sustains us. We want to hear from you about why you share this same passion. What drives you to care about protecting farmland? How do your experiences shape a vision of a viable future for farms and ranches? Why do you work to help safeguard America’s land and water resources?

Here are some anecdotes from our staff about their own personal passions for farms, farmland and the environment. Please join us in sharing your unique stories by commenting in the “Leave a Reply” box below.

Jon Scholl on his farm in Illinois

Jon on his farm in Illinois

After growing up on a farm in Illinois, my passion stems from a deep, personal understanding of the wonders and tribulations of the life and business of farming. I gained an appreciation for land and animals and the unique care required by both. From the time I was a young boy, I was amazed by the terrific regenerative capacity of farms and farmland as they evolve and grow to be renewed each spring. The land, I learned, was irreplaceable in this process. When I am home in Illinois, I still marvel at how good-quality soil and critical rainfall can come together at just the right time and place to produce food and so many other things we need. I cringe to remember years when the power of Mother Nature brought its challenges. Still, there is nothing more fascinating to watch than when everything comes together for an ideal growing season and harvest. I’m fortunate to still be learning from the rewarding and unpredictable life on a farm.  ~ Jon Scholl, President, American Farmland Trust

Kitty Smith, American Farmland Trust

Kitty Smith, American Farmland Trust

I had an idyllic childhood in what was then a rural area outside of Chicago. I didn’t grow up on a farm but I lived in a farm house across the road from a vast, highly diversified crop and livestock farm. My mother would drive up the farm’s big lane on a weekly basis to buy fresh eggs, a side quarter of a hog, or delicious jams and jellies. We kids scattered the chickens and cooed over any baby animal on-site. When I was 12, we moved to a Baltimore suburb and, though farms were no longer in my daily view, I brought with me an appreciation for farmland. Through a research project in high school, I learned about early smart growth policies in Baltimore County and about planning to preserve open space and farmland. When I returned to Illinois some years later, a strip mall and residential development complex had replaced the wonderful farmland across from the road from my old house. Baltimore County, on the other hand, has maintained its plan which helped to preserve farmland, and the valleys are as beautiful now as they were when the plan was adopted in the late 1960s. These experiences have helped to guide my belief that farming and development can go hand-in-hand if, through good public policy, the land best suited to farmland is designated for that use.  ~ Kitty Smith, Vice President of Programs & Chief Economist, American Farmland Trust

Pumpkin Festival at Sinkland Farms

Photo Courtesty of Sinkland Farms

Shortly after college graduation, my husband and I bought our dairy farm and, on New Year’s Day 32 years ago,Sinkland Farms was founded. My passion for the land grew from my childhood spent on my own family’s farm. Farming has simply been my way of life. As we expanded the farm from dairy production to also include harvest festivals and school field trips, our family was able to share with the public the opportunity to connect with the land and learn where food comes from. Whether at the farm or in the American Farmland Trust offices, I am fortunate to be able to share my passion for farming each and every day. ~Susan Sink, Vice President of Development and External Relations, American Farmland Trust

Bob Wagner, American Farmland Trust

Bob Wagner, American Farmland Trust

Growing up on Long Island in New York—a place well-known for its crowded landscape and congested roads but also home to the first publically funded farmland protection program in the country—my connection to the protection of farmland, or rather the loss of farmland, is very personal. My parents bought a house lot to build the home I grew up in from a farmer who, like many farmers near to retirement and apparently without a family member interested in keeping the farm, began selling off the least productive portions of his farm. So our house was in what those of us on the street that emerged from the farm called “the woods.” When I was very young, my cousins and I could still go visit the farmer and pet his barnyard animals. But eventually, he sold all the lots in the woods and began to sell lots in what we all called “the fields,” one of which had become the neighborhood sandlot baseball field. Gradually, the farm fields too became house lots until only one remained – our sandlot diamond. For a little while the baseball field was still there for us to play on, until finally it too became a house. The farm was gone and so was what had become essentially a local park. This childhood experience stuck with me and contributed to my decision to pursue a degree in land use planning and eventually to become involved in helping farmers and communities develop farmland protection and farm viability programs. ~ Bob Wagner, Senior Policy and Program Advisor, American Farmland Trust

Three generations of farmers on a tractor

Three generations of the Hunter family.

My passion for farms started at my grandpa’s side. Nothing made an eight-year-old boy feel like a man as much as carrying a feed bucket, riding in the bed of a truck, or opening a gate for grandpa. Even getting up early was fun when it meant you got to go out to feed the horses or check the cows. As the years passed, my summertime “work camp” jobs expanded to tougher assignments—fixing fence, stacking square bales and getting cows ready for the sale barn—but that work just made grandma’s noon dinner taste better. When grandpa passed on, so did the farm, skipping a generation to my oldest cousin. Now my parents have a new farm, a cow-calf grazing operation where my own kids will get to learn the beautiful discipline of closely tending a cow herd, acres of fields and forests, and a sprawling infrastructure of fences, gates and waterers. Their grandma and grandpa will teach them where the blackcap berries grow in the summer, how to know when the garden tomatoes are ripe, and which pasture species the cows eat first when they’re moved to a new paddock. Hopefully my kids, like me, will fall in love with both the ecological complexities and the simple human joys of growing food on the land, extending my family’s farming legacy down another generation. ~ Mitch Hunter, Federal Policy Manager: Conservation, American Farmland Trust

Young girl with cow

Preparing to show at the Washington County Fair in New York.

My passion for farmland is rooted in family history. Since 1856, the Goodman family has owned and operated a dairy farm in upstate New York. Growing up around the farm has meant family is always nearby, oftentimes gathered around the table together for a meal or taking a break from work in the field to show cows at the county fair. Each generation has faced its challenges, having to adjust and evolve in order to endure. Sadly, it has been during my lifetime that the land and its history has started to slip away as my family struggles with what to do when the interest to stay home and carry on the business is lacking from my generation. With this uncertain future, we sold some land to developers who built an elite soccer camp and each day I work, at American Farmland Trust and with family members, in hopes that more productive land does not meet the same fate. I learned so much growing up at Goodmanor Farm—the value of hard work, the importance of taking care of land and water, the pricelessness of family. Though its form may change shape, I hope the land can continue to teach these lessons for generations to come, perhaps for my own children. ~Erica Goodman, Communications Associate, American Farmland Trust

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6 thoughts on “Sharing Stories: A Passion for Farms, Farmland and the Environment

  1. Donna

    I am leading an effort to convince township officials here in Bucks County, Pennsylvania to perpetually preserve a farm they obtained through Eminent Domain in 1998. My family has been associated with the farm since 1917. Visit my website to learn how you can help. Letters of support are needed! Below is a clip from my homepage:

    A Letter to the Community,

    If any farm in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania truly deserves perpetual preservation, it is the magnificent Patterson Farm, and for so many reasons. From an agricultural perspective the quality of Patterson Farm soil exceeds that of 98% of the farmland in Pennsylvania.

    From a historical view, the farms’ recorded history has been traced to one of Pennsylvania’s earliest settlers, Thomas Janney, who arrived on the ship Endeavor in 1683. Going further back, we’ve found evidence of Native American agriculture and hunting on the land.

    Satterthwaite house is Lower Makefields’ oldest 18th century frame home. It contains architectural elements that are no longer in existence elsewhere in the township. Many of this stately homes historical secrets have yet to be discovered.

    Today the Patterson Farms’ historic landscape remains unblemished by the construction of modern or pole-type structures. The farms’ natural resources provide a habitat for wildlife that includes a hunting range for bald eagles. Patterson Farm is also home to some spectacular old-growth trees, including a massive Cucumber Magnolia, the largest in the Commonwealth. It likely approaches 175 years of age and was lovingly attended-to by the Patterson’s during their ownership of the farm.

    As the current generation of caretakers of this precious estate we must honor the gift that’s been passed to us by the previous 15 generations of farmers. And we must meet the responsibility to secure the farms protection for future generations of agriculture.

  2. Susan Snyder

    I grew up in what was then a semi-rural community in southeastern Pennsylvania. My youngest brother, Karl Snyder, enjoyed working for a nearby farmer after school and on weekends. He would have liked to become a farmer himself, but we did not own a farm. He became an agricultural engineer, working on farm safety projects. Sadly, he died of a heart attack at age forty-two. I like to think that I am helping keep his dreams alive by helping preserve farmland.

  3. David O. Rickards

    I live in Sussex County Delaware. There are 2000 miles of drainage ditches which flow into our Inland Bays. I have proposed a method to reduce nutrient runoff, restore a habitat for quail and rabbit, and give the farmer a financial incentive to create a 50 foot buffer next to the ditches.

    An acre of buffer would use 7,821 sq. ft. for 474 solar panels and the remaining 35,730 Sq. ft. for the grasses used for nutrient reduction. If Delaware’s SEU would enter into a contract with the farmer cooperative to pay $210 per Solar Renewable Credit (SREC) for the first ten years and $50 for the second ten years; a bond issue could be retired in twenty years. The bond holder would receive a 5.7% dividend, the farmer $7,000 per acre with a 2% COLA, (27) $20 per hour laborers with a 2% COLA, and (3) $120,000 salaried managers with a 2% COLA.

    This would give the state a 20-year contract for electricity at 7.5 cents per kW with a 2% COLA. It would also eliminate residential sprawl on several thousand acres of farmland for the same period of time. The buffers will reduce nutrient runoff from the participating farms and raise water quality in the Inland Bays. The project will also sustain agriculture and its primary economic benefits in Delaware, create jobs and stimulate business development through production of low-cost environmentally compatible electricity, fully consonant with state and national energy policy and GHG recuction goals.

  4. Frank Smith

    Im a 32 year old Iraq war veteren who has been trying to overcome obsticals my whole life to try to get into farming I have just been looking for that break I need to get into farming. Some of the trouble I have had are the common high cost of getting started and also eonomic with the loss of several jobs in the last few years. I have also ran into several of the major farmers in my area almost get offended by asking for them for help in getting your foot in the door like you are looking to run them out of business or they tell you that there is no money in farming and to give it up there is no future in farming. I have heard much of this my own life to include family and friends you know I think you that people would support me more if I said I wanted to be President. Maybe Im looking in the wrong places for help and encouragement but I surely have found very little along my long path toward farming but I can’t give up it is in my blood and I just can’t shake it I have tried several career paths but none fill the void in me that is the love of farming. Farming is my passion and i hope to someday have the honor of calling myself a farmer and providing the food and fiber of this nation.

  5. peggy johnson

    My story begins with my first memory of my grandmothers back yard garden.At 3 years old it was my job to find the asparagus hiding in the grass and tell her where it was.I was often told to wait until it was longer than my hand before I could pick it.I remember being fascinated with the idea of growing things being alive and that I could eat them.I have had a deep love and appreciation for all life, growing things and especially the land and farming ever since.One summer,I returned home from college to awaken the next morning to the sound of machinery clearing the acre next to our house.I dressed and ran outside in a panic.They were scraping beautiful,black,loamy top soil from the front of the lot.I stood in the street and cried.The owner came running to see what was wrong.The front was already a lost cause but I convinced them not to destroy the back half.A few years later they showed me the difference between the 2 sides.The back was a lush green and could grow almost anything without much effort while the front always had weed problems no matter what they added to it.I do not now live on a farm but my heart has always been tied to the land and farming and whatever I can do to protect it.

  6. thomas rombilus

    In the movie “The Natural”, Roy Hobbs says that “there is nothing like a farm. Nothing like standing out in the middle of a field of winter wheat all by yourself”. I was born on a farm in northeastern Pennsylvania and I can attest to that statement. There is nothing that is as awe inspiring and powerful as standing in a field all by yourself. I have always said that I felt closer to God standing in a field than in church. On a farm you feel a freedom that can’t be felt any where else. A freedom that comes from simple experiences like picking an apple off a tree or a blackberry off a bush; milking a cow or churning butter,cutting down your own Christmas tree or saving a baby robin blown from its nest.Roy Hobbs was right, there is nothing like a farm and that is why we should preserve them.

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