There are four of us who own the farm: me, Karen Washington, Lorrie Clevenger, and Jane Hayes-Hodge, who I’m married to. We all met in urban agriculture in New York City and went through GrowNYC’s Farm Beginnings program together. Coming from the city, we recognize the gift of space we have 60 miles north in Chester, New York. We’re rooted in social justice, and I always like to say that it’s our responsibility to share this gift (and the tomatoes, cucumbers, rosemary, calendula, and more that we grow) with other people and communities that have historically been pushed out of agriculture, particularly BIPOC and queer folks.
I used to cook in New York City restaurants, and the culture was that after your shift you’d go out and drink at a bar. I’m not a drinker, so I found a different community where we’d go ride bikes around the city after work at, like, 2 a.m. I think about that often in terms of how we create spaces. Having a space where you’re welcome as a queer person is so important. Rise & Root is part of the agricultural center in Chester, where a lot of the farms are run by people of color, but I think we might be the only farm that identifies as queer. So how do we show up in those spaces, create the system that we want to be part of, and keep queering the norm?
Out of 57,000 farmers in New York state, about 139 of them are Black—a statistic that reflects a history of suppression of people of color. There are county fairs in this state that still allow the sale of racist merchandise and vendors who sell Confederate flags. How can we expect people of color to get into agriculture when we’re allowing this stuff at places where little kids are going with their families? As I was learning about all of this, I thought about how we need our own county fair for BIPOC and LGBTQI+ folks. We need to bring joy, power, and queerness back to agriculture. So in 2019 we did a Farm Pride Tea Dance in the Chester Agricultural Center barn. It was so fun; some farmers came all the way from Vermont.
After the massacre at Pulse Nightclub, we had an emergency healing workday at the farm—we’ve done this for years, inviting people to come and work with us, to reconnect and literally get grounded. We’re fortunate enough to farm in the black dirt region of Orange County, where the soil is rich and beautiful and fertile, so having people come to our farm and see the soil itself is amazing. I need to have that community. I need to have us around each other, coming together. A friend of ours once brought a trans friend of hers who started crying because it was the first time that they ever felt welcome in an agricultural space. It was a moment of overwhelming joy.
Agriculture is tricky in the U.S. because there’s such a traumatic history that started with the theft of native lands and continued with the dehumanization, kidnapping, and enslavement of African people. So in the context of building a business, how do we do things equitably? We have a check-in with our staff every week, and we created a self-care stipend since, right now, we can’t afford to pay for health insurance for everyone. We did that for ourselves too. This year is maybe the first year that we, as owners, are going to get paid as much as our staff. Here we are building a place that helps us all feel safer. We are changing the narrative.
Check out some of Michaela Hayes-Hodge’s favorite queer-owned farms and organizations in New York and beyond:
- Homestead Ranch (Oskaloosa, KS): Courtney and Denise Skeeba grow produce, raise animals, and make amazing goat’s-milk soap, lotion, and other products available online.
- Hudson Valley Seed Company (Accord, NY): Founded by K Greene and his partner, Doug Muller, the company grows and sells open-pollinated and heirloom seeds.
- Humble Hands Harvest (Decorah, IA): This worker-owned farm hosts the annual Queer Farmer Convergence, a community-building, workshop-based conference so popular that this fall’s program already has a waiting list.
- Linke Fligl (Millerton, NY): This queer Jewish chicken farm and organizing project’s land-based cultural work confronts colonialism, antisemitism, and assimilation.
- Moxie Ridge Farm (Argyle, NY): Lee Hennessy, an out trans man, takes his goat’s milk and goat cheese to the next level using traditional cheesemaking practices—the Bulgarian feta is a must-try.
- TransGenerational Farm (Accord, NY): Founder Jayne Henson is a trans farmer and friend who has taught me so much at various tractor and mechanics classes—and she DJ’d our first Pride Tea Dance!
Queer Farmer Network is a great resource, featuring an online directory of queer farms in all areas of the country.
Hungry for more Pride? Check out these stories from our Food Is Queer package:
- 🌈 Food Is Queer Home Page
- 👠 Ceyenne Doroshow’s ‘Cooking in Heels’ Is a Culinary Ode to Black Trans Womanhood
- 🥖 A Case For Coming Out at Panera (And Other Extremely Heterosexual Restaurants)
- 🧀 I Realized I Was Trans While Making Cheese
- 🥭 How a Gay Slur Became a Luscious Part of My Identity
- 🥂 Why I Avoided Drag Brunch as a Trans Woman—and How I Changed My Mind