Jessica Robinson approaches many things with the work ethic she learned growing up on a farm in Burlington, Conn., west of Hartford. As a college student, Robinson started her own floral design company, then after years of working as a wedding and event designer in New England, while running a farm at the same time, she reinvented herself as a writer. She has collected stories of life in the garden and on the farm, recipes from her family and others, and memories of rural New England in “New England Farmgirl: Recipes & Stories From a Farmer’s Daughter.” Robinson, 37, now lives in North Carolina with her husband and two sons.
Q. What was your childhood like?
A. My family has an old farmhouse that my parents bought in the early ’70s, so we were always doing renovations. We split firewood constantly. Because we made maple syrup, we went through about 20 cords a year to heat the house, plus 20 cords of slab wood to heat the evaporator to make maple syrup. Back then you could slaughter your own animals too. My mother would say at suppertime, go down into the cellar for vegetables. It was something we had grown that was canned in a Mason jar. I don’t even remember a trip to the grocery store because my parents didn’t do that. Pretty much if we didn’t grow it, we were getting it from somebody else who did grow it. This whole farm-to-table experience was not new to us. We were raised that way.
Q. How does that shape your approach to food today?
A. My father’s side is French Canadian and they believed everything had to be from scratch. They didn’t buy all these things like premade pie crusts. I don’t do that either. It takes a little time but if you plan your days and your meals, that little bit of extra time makes the meal so much more enjoyable because it’s real, wholesome food that’s not full of preservatives.
Q. Tell me about beginning your own floral design business.
A. When I was 19, I was commuting from our farm to the University of Connecticut for the horticulture program. I wanted to be on the farm because there were things to do — a garden to tend and animals to take care of. I started working at the Stop & Shop floral department. As an independent person, I had a hard time working for other people, so I decided to start my own company. My mother helped me do the tax form and get the resale number. My first year, I had three weddings. No one wanted to hire me because I was so young. As it grew, I had 50 or 60 weddings in a season.
Q. What were your designs like?
A. I wasn’t your modern, contemporary designer. I had a farm-to-bouquet approach. It was fresh mint that I picked the morning of the wedding. I might have a little piece of unripe blueberry on a boutonniere and finish it off with bailing twine wrapped around the stem instead of exposed floral tape. I would grow almost everything I would use. People would book me sometimes two years out because they knew I needed to know ahead of time what they wanted me to grow.
Q. What farm experiences do you want to pass on?
A. I hope that people start a garden, especially if they have young children. I’m hoping also to bring people around the dinner table more and put the technology down a little bit. I want them to come back to their roots and enjoy each other’s company a little more.Interview was edited and condensed. Michael Floreak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.