My Favorite Farmer
THERE IS A NEW YORKER cartoon from 2007 that shows two sophisticated women standing at a bar. One is saying to the other: ""I hate to admit it, but a man with a big carbon footprint makes me hot.""
Hotness has been at odds with a healthy planet for a long time. It is a big reason it's taken many of us so long to get with the program. A new generation, however, is in its prime and is changing all that. In fact, it's amazing how far we've come in the past nine years with regard to what's hot and what's not. Elon and Sergei and Larry and mark and all the Jeffs are revolutionizing how we live. And for the most part, I am okay with that. They are smart, they understand the challenges of our time, and they know how to code, which most of us do not.
Last month, a friend of mine invited me for a ride in his new Tesla. We set out at midnight"" so we could have the road to ourselves. At a certain point he pushed a button labeled, ""ludicrous."" I let out a delighted scream as we accelerated from zero to 100 in about three seconds. I actually felt the pull of G forces on my face; I was two blocks from my house.
I'm proud to be part of the species that's going to make it possible to travel by high-speed vacuum tube. Giant sub-zero fridges are so 2007. A Powerwall battery pack is what sexy looks like now. And, if I read enough WIRED magazines, I can relax into at least a momentary belief that the Trekkies will solve all our problems.
Deep down, I know that's a delusion. Clean tech may be sexy, but it can only take us so far. We certainly don't want SpaceX or Google or some A.I. lab deciding where our food comes from: how we feed ourselves is pretty fundamental to what kind of future we will get. Let's just say that big business and food production are not a good match. I can say this with conviction because I went to a conference in Washington a few years ago on the future of food, which was peopled by many of the big thinkers on this topic: farmers, food producers, soil experts, scientists, and policy makers. I took away two absolutes. The first was that ""efficiency"""" the key to big profits"" is the enemy of nutritious food; the second is that if we want the living world to thrive, we need to cook and we need to know the provenance of our food.
Which is why (way more than driverless cars), we need food innovators like Frank Trentacoste. Conscious farming is right up there on the hot-o-meter these days. His bright yellow Bhumi Farm stand on Pantigo Road opposite Amy's Lane in East Hampton is about as cute as it gets. Bhumi isn't big, in fact it is the smallest of the C.S.A.'s (community supported agriculture farms) out here. But what it lacks in size, it makes up for in quality.
Bhumi's produce is not just organic; it is super-organic. The reason for this is that Farmer Frank, as he likes to be called, thinks of himself first and foremost as a ""soil farmer."" He believes our food is only as good as the soil in which it is grown in. So, in addition to being the only certified organic farm between Montauk and Watermill, Bhumi re-nutrifies its soil with beneficial macro and micro nutrients.
Trentacoste equates what they do at Bhumi to humans who take high-grade multivitamins. He works with bacteria and fungus and uses probiotics to boost all the good stuff in the soil. He believes in the medicinal properties of food, and, on a broader scale he understands that positive change begins at root level.
Purpose aligned with passion is a powerful mix. The tech guys have that, but Bhumi has something more. Trenacoste's is a labor of love, from a man who is in thrall to nature and understands we need it far more than it needs us.
It wasn't always this way. Not long ago Trentacoste was living in Manhattan, working in finance. He credits yoga with slowing life down for him. (Bhumi is named after the Hindu goddess of the earth.) His interest in growing food was piqued by his visits to Amagansett on weekends to stay with his brother, a member of Quail hill farm, the original C.S.A. out here and conscious-food beacon. Most people go to Quail Hill to pick up their farm share and leave. Trentacoste found he wanted to stay. Soon he was volunteering at other farms in the area, and he got hooked.
I love stories about people who have the guts to re-invent themselves. Becoming a first-time farmer takes guts. I once attended a soil-association conference in the U.K. where a roomful of farmers burst out laughing when they heard that city folk might one day start taking to the plow. They intimidated the hell out of me. But Trentacoste is made of tougher stuff. He says he loves a steep learning curve.
The suburban boy from Nassau County with an M.B.A. from N.Y.U. and a 13-year career on ""the buy side"" of the hedge-fund business, is now in his third year as a farmer. And, Bhumi Farms is blossoming. Trentacoste started with five leased acres and is now up to 17.
It hasn't all been easy. Crows have eaten his melons. Crops have failed, but Trentacoste has also made many a chef happy with the quality and variety of his produce.
Bhumi is part of a sustainable and healthy food movement that's burgeoning here, with entrepreneurs making and selling everything from juices, bread, and granola, to cheese, prepared meats, salt, honey, and all manner of sauces and pickles. Amagansett alone is home to four farm C.S.A.'s. Bhumi is the little guy that offers little extras. Trentacoste's farm is the only C.S.A. to deliver. It also sells summer-long or shorter-term farm shares, depending on customers' needs. The farm also delivers share boxes to the city. Another treat is an on-farm chef who prepares food from the farm's ingredients and, if you want something really special, will cater a meal.
I had my first Bhumi experience last summer when a friend told me about the farm's delicious salad greens. I remember arriving late one afternoon, parking on the side of the road, and rushing to the farm stand worried it might be closed. I'd promised my mother I would pick up some corn for dinner, and I wasn't sure they would have any. What struck me immediately was the peaceful energy of the place. The guy working the cash register was relaxed and smiling, the flowers in the fields were glowing in the late-afternoon sun. There was plenty. I could take my time.
After a few minutes, the quiet part of me that secretly wants to live closer to the land and slow down and connect more with my neighbors, suddenly felt safe enough to emerge. This time it was me who didn't want to leave.
I'm grateful to Farmer Frank and the other health-conscious food providers out here who work so hard to feed us well. The change they are accelerating is profound and soul-quenching.
Look, perhaps I didn't read enough science fiction as a child or maybe I was more interested in boys than calculus, but I inherently believe it's going to be connection to each other and the earth that results in a livable, happy future. Eat well. Have fun. Go Bhumi.