THREE DECADES AGO, my then wife, Anne Banks, and I began clearing 3 acres of overgrown farmland in Hillsdale, New York, that my family had sold to us. Our goal was to grow our own food organically, then try to sell whatever was left over. At the time, standard fare in rural areas hadn’t advanced much beyond meat, potatoes, and iceberg lettuce. Of course, there were a few families with home gardens, but vegetable farming targeted to the local market had all but been replaced by importing produce from farms far away. Times are different now — with the popularity of local and organic foods sold at Whole Foods, farmers’ markets, and CSAs (community supported agriculture) — but not different enough.
By August 1983, Anne and I were harvesting many more leafy greens, roots, and fruits than we could eat. I started knocking on the door of every restaurant and food store in the Berkshires and Hudson River Valley that might buy what I was selling. At first, chefs and owners thought I was just a strange hippie hustling vegetables grown in horse manure. If they even knew the term “organic” — and few back then did — they could not care less about it.