Week 8 & 9, 2022|Kristin Kimball|March 6, 2022

Mark and I started this farm in November of 2003. We’d met 18 months earlier, when I went to interview him for a story I wanted to write about the first generation farmers who were popping up all over the east coast. We fell for each other, and very quickly decided we wanted to build a farm and a life together. So Mark left the land he was farming in Pennsylvania, and I left my apartment in New York City, and we went looking for land together.

We had this idea that we could build a farm that sold memberships to provide everything a person needs for an interesting, nutritious diet, year round. This didn’t sound, to most people, like a good plan. We had almost no money between us. The full-diet model we wanted to build had no viable precedent. Odds of finding land we could afford to buy were not in our favor. We, and our idea, could easily have fizzled into nothing. But luckily we encountered Lars Kulleseid.

I can still see us, sitting across the table from him the first time we met. Lars and his wife Marit lived in the Hudson Valley but owned 500 acres of farmland in some little town in the Adirondack Park that I’d never heard of – Essex? Lars was ready to do something with it, and wanted to hear what we’d propose. Mark talked fast, trying to explain, and I could hear how ridiculous the whole thing sounded. I sat silent, feeling the premonition of disappointment, a little embarrassed. But as Mark pressed on I realized Lars looked not impatient nor dismissive but delighted, intrigued, maybe a little amused. He was Norwegian by birth, and had come to the United States as a child, after the war. His soccer skills got him a scholarship to Yale, and he had a long career as a lawyer in the city. He knew very well our plan was far-fetched. He also thought it sounded interesting. He loved interesting things. He was willing to give us a chance.

He let us work the farm rent free for a year, to get a foothold, and that year and the next several years he was our most frequent visitor. He would bring his skis in the winter and his hiking boots in the summer but most of the time he was in the fields or the barns with us, working alongside us. I remember one day he spent cleaning the granary of the dregs of decades old grain, liberally layered with dead rodents, and another he spent crawling along the rows with us, planting onion starts into the cold wet spring earth.

Between jobs, there was a lot of talking among the three of us about the farm’s future, and many iterations of notes and memos spread out on the kitchen table, or passed between us in the mail. His lawyer’s brain helped us clarify, codify, and plan. He had a sense of justice and respect for land, a desire to use the farm for a larger good. But he never pressed us in his own direction, or required anything of us that most landowners would consider a reasonable right. Instead, he gave us courage and all the right kinds of support.

One bad week in our first summer, he was with us as we dealt with our first big loss: some cattle we’d bought came down with shipping fever, and several were dead or dying. We’d blamed ourselves. “Maybe we took on too much,” Mark said, as we walked along the farm road in the setting sun. “No,” Lars said, stopping to make sure we heard his point. “If you never take on too much, how will you know where your edge is? How will you know what you are capable of?” We held on to that for years, and still think of it when things get hard to manage.

Early on, Lars made it clear he was willing to sell us the farm, on terms that wouldn’t break us. And three and a half years later, when Jane was on the way, that’s exactly what he did. The timing was important to him. Our business was established, however tenuously, and he wanted us to own some land and our house when our first child arrived. So the frequency of the memos in the mail and the redlined and notated agreements on the kitchen table increased until we had a deal, one that wouldn’t break us.
I know how lucky we are to have met this man. Not only to have been the beneficiaries of his good will and his generosity but to have just shared time with his bright, strong, life-loving spirit. I like to think what he did for us will inspire other people who own good land to give enterprising farmers a chance to farm as they see fit, to achieve ownership, to do it on terms that won’t break them.

Lars died two weeks ago and since then I have been hearing his voice and especially his big laugh in our house and all over the farm. It makes me smile, and makes me sad, all at the same time. I am wrong to write only about Lars, because the generosity was equally his wife Marit’s. We are sending her our thanks and our condolences this week. There is no question this farm would not exist if it weren’t for you and we are ever grateful.

That’s the news from Essex Farm for this 9th week of 2022. Find us at 518-963-4613, essexfarm@gmail.com, on instagram at essexfarmcsa, or on the farm, any day but Sunday.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball