Written by Tracey Lindeman
"It came back to me, this flood of, ‘Wow, I have to raise these kids on a farm.’ I have a very strong agricultural heritage, and it just really was speaking to me—screaming to me—that this was how I had to continue the rest of my life."
For many gardeners and farmers, plucking cherry tomatoes from the vine, digging up baby carrots, and sorting produce into bins doesn’t feel like a political act; it’s just part of a day’s work. But for the 40-plus years Julie and Jack have been farming, it’s always been a part of the bigger picture. I meet Julie and Jack—where else these days?—over Zoom, on a day in December when they’ve just begun to gear down for the winter season. Since 1982, the couple have lived and farmed on the Many Hands Organic Farm in central Massachusetts, just over 60 miles west of Boston. Their summer/fall CSA ended in late November, and it was their best season yet: they doubled their membership to 150. Perhaps it was COVID-related food security worries that propelled people to subscribe en masse to get fruit, veggies, and meat from the farm. Whatever the reason, their farm was happy to provide.
“This year, when we were finishing up our fall CSA, our root cellar, a 12-by-12 room that we built into the house basement, was just completely packed to the absolute gills with root vegetables. We also had greens that we brought in because it was going to freeze again that week and get too cold. So, we had one last gleaning harvest,” Julie tells me. “I become more and more elated about food all the time.” Growing up in Northwestern Illinois, providing food for the community is what Julie was born to do. Her father was a veterinarian and hog farmer who liked to follow farming trends; for a time, he followed them right into the industrialized style of keeping animals in confined spaces, thinking it was addressing a more “progressive” way of farming. Her mother, however, was more acutely attuned to organic farming and the benefits it had on human health outcomes, even heading to a conference on the topic in Louisiana in 1970. “She really got me on that track,” says Julie.
In those days, the rise of the organic farming movement began as a rebuke for convenience foods like neon-orange Velveeta and cake from a box, and condemnation of Big Ag’s use of pesticides, including the king among them: DDT—an insecticide that was eventually banned in the U.S. in 1972 after years of effort, because of its links to human cancers and infertility.
In 2021, the fight isn’t much different, even if the opponents have changed over time. Farming organically on a human scale remains a political choice that involves opting out of the status quo and refusing the hypocrisy of big organic.
As a young adult, Julie found a path in community organizing and activism. Jack designed board games as the founder of the startup, Future Pastimes, which published the popular science fiction games Cosmic Encounter and Dune. The two met in inner-city Boston in the mid-1970s; Jack was the roommate of Julie’s work colleague. She found him one morning seated at the kitchen table, eating an orange like a grapefruit — cut in half, with a spoon. By 1977, they had their first child and were living in Boston, where she continued to grow food in a garden in their backyard. Julie tended her 10-by-30-foot vegetable garden with care, producing food for the family for years, but knew she needed more for her family.