Without farmers, there is no food, a somewhat forgotten concept for modern Americans. As hard as it is to believe, our lettuce does not just appear on the shelves of the produce aisle, and our bread mostly consists of a little thing called grain. As people depend more and more on convenience and technology, has the job of being a farmer become more important than ever?
Meeting up for an interview was no easy task. These are not people I find waiting patiently behind a desk to talk with me; they pull up on tractors and brush themselves off before shaking my hand. They wear John Deere hats and Carhartt. They go to their kids’ birthday parties in work boots and have nicknames for their balers. They are mechanics, chemists, salesmen, event planners, veterinarians and stewards of the land. They call themselves farmers.
“This is not a lazy man’s job,” says David Frerich of Frerichs Farm in Warren. Having tilled the soil for 38 years, the man is a veteran of “growing everything under the sun.” David is the son of two university professors, yet he believes that he was born with farming blood coursing through his veins. “It’s much easier when you’re born into this business,” he continues, “When I started, I had no land and no equipment.” Now, David is the very proud owner of an air-conditioned tractor (among a handful of other large pieces of equipment; most notably a baler which he fondly refers to as “Old Faithful”) and owns land in four towns – 13 acres in Warren alone.
Growing food, however, is not the only way that David and his farm make a living. From where we’re standing, the view could be one of a small county fair or a scene from a Disney movie. David is showing off a sleigh that he built for a unique hayride experience. It is made up of an orange metal frame bent into the shape of a pumpkin, a dead-on replica of the pumpkin coach in Cinderella. To the right is a miniature Western town where children can mine for “farmer’s gold” (golden corn that is), and in the distance, a pirate ship rests on a sea of green, complete with sails and working cannons, beside a 22-foot dragon sleigh also used for hayrides in the fall. This part of David’s land is a hodgepodge of fantastical vehicles for creativity, making the farm a year-round attraction for parents and children alike.
Perhaps Frerichs Farm is in its prime in October, when a giant pumpkin, hollowed out and filled with candy, is dropped from a crane during the Southern New England Giant Pumpkin Grower’s Annual Weigh-off. “When it hits the ground, it makes an unusual sound, an umph that you can hardly describe,” says David. Since 2000, Frerichs Farm has hosted the event, attended by more than 3,500 people from across New England last year. Anywhere from 300-1300 pounds, the donated pumpkin, destined to be smashed into a million pieces, naturally has massive appeal. Traditionally held on Columbus Day weekend, this year’s event will be on Saturday, October 8, with rain dates of the 9th and 10th.
David may be a farmer, but he also believes himself to be an artist. Although there are no farmers on his family tree, David is the great-grandson of a sculptor, and feels as though he is utilizing his artistic blood. “Growing food is an expression of art,” he says. And, boy, does he grow a lot of it. David is a pro at utilizing his land not only for what he can cultivate in it but also what he can do on it – but he also understands the importance of just plain growing food. David tells me that Frerichs Farm grows about 2,000 varieties of fruits, vegetables and flowers yearly. He leads me to a palate of peppers (he grows 20-30 varieties of peppers alone), and points to a pot of snake-like vegetables. “Those are Medusa peppers,” he says, “I thought it would be fun; I like to grow fun stuff.”
This year, Mother Nature seems to be testing him in a dozen ways simultaneously – the birds, for some reason, ate most of his corn crop this year and in turn he won’t be able to offer a free corn maze for the kids; Tropical Storm Irene crashed a tree into one of his hand-built greenhouses. However, David can’t seem to emphasize enough that he loves what he does everyday. When I ask him what the best part of being a farmer is, he tells me that there is a lot of pride in battling the elements and still surviving. “It’s all just been a lot of fun. I’ve had so much fun and it’s been a great life.”