When I was about four years old, my parents made a life-altering decision to move from a congested suburban lifestyle to a small rural town in the heart of New Jersey. My grandfather was a farmer growing-up, and, as a primary figure in my upbringing, was adamant about using his small backyard garden to introduce his grandchildren to the intrinsic relationship humans have with the earth. He taught me valuable lessons about keeping soil healthy, and respecting creatures — even ones I was terribly frightened of as a child. So, when my parents made the shift, and re-envisioned a simpler life than what we had, my grandfather was the first to ease the transition into a rustic lifestyle. We first started expanding our family with chickens and water fowl, and soon introduced horses and other livestock (seemingly) by the week.
My fondest early childhood memories all involve my grandfather instructing me on how to feed the animals, to collect eggs, and to nurture all of the babies that came around each spring. I took responsibility for newborn lambs whose mothers refused them, and fed them every few hours, on the hour, in small playpens in our kitchen. I tended to the gardens, and picked blueberries, and checked to make sure everyone was well and accounted for. Just beyond our paddocks was a seemingly infinite forest, with deer, snapping turtles, and a very small stream that made just enough sound to fill the forest with a beautiful white noise that I regularly explored. However, I’ll never forget the day I came back to my parents after a solid exploration — riddled with questions about strange metal things I saw deep, deep into the forest in the stream that fed into our little creek.
As a kid, I was exceptionally naive of the roles that airplanes played in agriculture. My grandfather taught pilots how to fly during World War II, and we lived not too far from a military base, so I viewed them simplistically as fascinating, gravity-defying machines — not as tools that spread airborne toxins. We never used pesticides on our farm, nor did we ever plan to, and yet our neighbors clouded fields with pesticides from above, after converting over from Agent Orange — decades-old drums of which littered our stream.
That jarring moment was my first introduction to unsustainable, and harmful, farming practices. We were, and still are, a very small-scale farm that is frequently subjected to excessive agricultural waste from our neighbors. For many in the community, the farming techniques used are irrelevant so long as efficiency, and profits, can be maximized. It was hard to wrap your mind around the fact that a life that appeared so simple, and so wholesome, as a child was surrounded by known carcinogens and toxic agents that strove for “efficiency.” This, to this day, is not a popular opinion for a farmer to have. Nor is for us to criticize the poor treatment of factory farmed animals.
However, as a beekeeper’s apprentice to my stepfather, I saw firsthand of the execrable side effects that pesticides and diesel emissions had on our colonies’ health. How could I accept that my bees (and my other animals’) health must suffer because big agriculture had the monopoly on our water, air, and soil quality? Well, I never have, and that eventually developed into an uncontrollable passion to rival big polluters.
This series of blog posts, none as dense and unorganized as this, will detail the most defining moments of my eventual development into a climate justice activist. I am very honored to share my story with you.