Rachel Hampton, 27, is a member of the Wendell Berry Farming Program class of 2021. She comes to Sterling with an academic background in music and business, after a stint in the insurance industry. Rachel hails from Grant County, KY, where she and her husband Jay raise heritage hogs and cattle alongside her parents, who run the poultry side of their family operation, Hampton Ridge Farm. Rachel is active in Gloucestershire Old Spots of America, and through her Senior Year Research Project, Rachel is creating a proposal for a cooperative organization that includes all heritage hog breed member associations on the Livestock Conservancy’s priority list. She embodies the agrarian mind at work, about which she writes beautifully in plainspoken, thoughtful prose.

Path to Sterling

I came to Sterling after working in the insurance field for five years. I remember walking into the office that was air conditioned and had the same light all day long. You get finished with your day, and you can’t really figure out what you did, even though you’ve been in this room for 8 hours. Farming is so different. You can see your success. You can see the people that you’re impacting. You know the people that you’re feeding. It’s night and day from what a lot of people’s lives look like right now.

Getting Involved

I’ve learned so much about the language that we use and how important it is. The people in this program are not afraid to call you out and hold you accountable. They hold you to a higher standard in many aspects of life. They have a way of making you want to strive to be your best, to be better than you were the day before, to be more aware and more inclusive. It has changed the way that I think about everything in life–not just farming. It’s about the way we think about communities and about people and about land. We can’t talk about food and land and people separately.It’s definitely one of the reasons I have such respect and adoration for this program. 

Rachel Hampton

Wendell Berry Farming Program Community Connections

Coming into the Wendell Berry Farming Program, you assume or expect that you’ll leave the program being a better farmer or having better tools and knowledge to implement different practices. But the thing that really surprised me the most is that I’m leaving a better person. That may sound boastful, but it’s really to the credit of my peers and to the professors. 

On Mixed Power Systems

Using draft animals is definitely controversial in 2020. I’ve had people ask me lots of questions because they see me posting pictures of working with mules here in the program. I think a lot of students were curious about how draft animals would fit into our own farms, and most of us have tractors at home. So we were thinking, “Why would I buy these animals that I would have to take care of?” 

But I have a team of oxen at home: Oscar and Finch. We typically think of the animals as the “team,” but really it’s the three of us. I go out to do chores, and it’s the three of us against the world. Farmers nowadays are working a lot by themselves. They’re burned out. They’re lonely. Draft animals are ever-entertaining. They’re always learning. They’re always teaching you something about yourself, whether that is how to be more patient or other big life lessons that some humans can’t teach each other. 

This is a community on my own farm consisting of me and my team. They’re my co-workers. They’re happy to be there, and I’m happy to have them. I’m never lonely when I’m with them. I never wish to be somewhere else when I’m with them.

On Being an Agrarian

Farming always comes back to people. As much as we love nature, if it doesn’t come back to people, the well runs out–if there’s not a community attached to it. You can be in the most beautiful place in the world, but if you’re alone, you decide eventually to come off that mountain or to come off the oceanfront. So the biggest reward for me is seeing the people that I’m feeding every week, hearing what they’re celebrating, what they’re cooking. It’s really humbling. We get to be a part of that all the time. That’s amazing and beautiful and really wonderful.

What’s next?

When I applied for this program, it was a pivotal moment for me. I had been farming for five years, but I wasn’t making any money. We were producing a lot, but we were at the point of thinking we had to get serious and go all in or we were going to scale back and homestead. I applied more as a question: Is this still what I’m supposed to be doing? If so, at what level am I supposed to be doing this work? When I got into the program, it was confirmation that I was on the right track. It was a relief and a burden in the same breath. But I don’t know at what level I would be farming without this program. I wasn’t sure which direction to go, and this program has given me a lot of questions but also a lot of answers. I thought that I would leave knowing what I wanted to do, and now I feel like I want to do everything. 

Good Work and the Community

Farming is everything to me. You can see what you’re doing. You can see the impact that you’re making. You can see the mistakes that you’re making. You get results in real time that have an impact that lasts forever. 

We try to get people to come out and visit our farm. It helps them to feel more connected to this work than just showing up at the farmers market. That really changes the relationship that they have. It’s not just a transactional relationship. It’s amazing to watch that shift in people to see how the decisions they make about the meals they make have an impact on the world around them.

Filed Under: Blog Wendell Berry Farming Program

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