Every summer for the past six years, we have moved from our on-campus apartment at the boarding school where I was working to our farmhouse in rural Luzerne County. After about eight wonderful weeks of farming and operating our restaurant, we would pack up and move back to campus, only enjoying the farm on weekends and breaks as circumstances allowed. This routine had become deeply embedded and familiar to us, hard as it was to leave at the end of the summer. This year, we followed the same pattern, packing up our belongings and making the much longed-for transition to rural life. This year is different, however, because this year we’re not going back. This year, we’ve returned to the farmhouse to stay for good.
Although it was a long time in coming and the result of careful and thoughtful planning, I’m still somewhat surprised that six months ago I gave notice to my employer that I would be leaving what had been a perfectly decent, satisfying job with benefits and stability, including a free private school education for our children, all in pursuit of operating our small farm and restaurant full time. Many people certainly would think we’re nuts. Much to our surprise, though, that wasn’t the reaction we received as we began telling friends and colleagues several months ago. Instead, we were congratulated. Some said they were envious. Others commented on how important it was to pursue one’s passions. It was at that moment that I realized that we were doing something that many people wish they themselves could do: abandon the job which provides them comfort and stability in favor of pursuing something that feels more authentically like a calling or vocation.
In the end, vocation is really the best word to describe how we think about the change. I liked my former job. I wasn’t unhappy and will miss it very much. But ultimately, it began to feel like settling for our second choice. Since the first day 15 years ago that I began working on a farm digging potatoes in a mess of weeds, I’ve been hooked. Since then we’ve lived in cities and once almost leased our farm to another young couple, but even when moving in a different direction, something deep has always called out that farming is what we should be doing. In this way, committing to the farm full time feels like finally coming home.
Of course, our restaurant figures prominently in our work on the farm. We’re now open every Friday and Saturday by reservation only. But we see the two as part of one unified whole. We think of the restaurant as an outgrowth of the farm. We don’t even have name for the restaurant. It’s just Old Tioga Farm. The work is different on restaurant days, but both support the same mission: to delight our customers with food grown and prepared with love and the highest attention to quality.
Of course, both restaurant and farm are hard work. The summer has been one long blur of 14 hour days and exhaustion. This is our first blog post in four months, and we’ve had to put a temporary hold on most social engagements. But we’ve slowly gotten caught up, and when we greet guests at the restaurant and deliver beautiful produce to customers, there’s no doubt that such hard work is worth it.
As meaningful as our work raising vegetables and running the restaurant is, even that is only half the story because we still wouldn’t have made the decision to commit to full-time work on the farm if we didn’t feel strongly that it was best for our three young sons. In many ways we seemed to have it made. We lived on campus with other families with children. Our boys attended a first-rate private school for free. They had summers at the farmhouse. And yet, despite the appearance of having it all, we felt that something was missing. For starters, WE were missing, because we only saw our kids for about 3 or 4 hours a day during the week, with 3 PM dismissal and 7 PM bedtime. Our childrens’ teachers were spending more time with them than we were. And while this is no time to get into the pros and cons of parents staying at home or working outside the home, for us it felt wrong, that we were ceding to others the most primary formative influence on our children. With my wife having been homeschooled, we knew there was another way, one that might not be right for all or even many families, but which felt right to us. We wanted to bring our kids home, work from home, and have our home and life together the central focus of each of our lives.
Wendell Berry and, more recently, Shannon Hayes and others have written in defense of a home-based life, one in which the home is a place of constructive production and not merely a place of consumption. This vision of the home is deeply meaningful to us. And while we’re not ignorant or naive of the challenges of a life centered around the home, we feel like it is our vocation to work and raise our family in this beautiful and sacred place.
As I write, my former colleagues are beginning their annual faculty meetings in preparation for a new school year. In many ways it is sad to have given up that good life. But mostly it is freeing and liberating to commit to a way of life and work which feels like a vocation. Our family has entered into a new phase in its life. We have come home, and plan to stay.