His voice was infectious. Having had a childhood in the south myself, I caught my long suppressed southern twang coming forth as we spoke. He would use southern jargon that was so far off from how people in Pennsylvania speak that it would take me by (pleasant) surprise. Louisiana born, Justin Jetton was nothing if not charismatic. When we spoke about his time on the farm his eyes lit up and he spoke with so much enthusiasm that there was no question in my mind that farming has gained him self-fulfillment. It was my roommate that introduced me to Justin. She had been telling me about her boyfriend, and the beautiful farm he worked on at the same time that I was thinking about who to interview. She told me he would be glad to be interviewed and gave me his contact information. We went pretty in depth, talking about his past and present. He moved from Louisiana to Pennsylvania in May 2012 and has been in the organic farming profession for even less time. In the limited time he has worked at Hendy Hollow Organic Farm his whole life style has changed. “Since January, I’ve lost fifty pounds.” This was caused by his new fascination with organic and grass fed products. Justin was not always the organic farmer I met, it was his job in the oil industry, quite the opposite of his current profession, which brought him to Pennsylvania.
Life in the Oil Industutry
Jetton worked in the oil industry for years. For anyone from the south that isn’t really a surprise. Anyone who wants good, steady work knows that oil is the way to go. Some oil corporations, such as Chesapeake Energy, create such a lucrative situation for their employees that it becomes a dream job for many. For Justin Jetton, working in oil was almost like a family tradition. “All the men in my family work in oil. My dad, my uncles, they worked there and some of my cousins still do.”
He seemed a little troubled while we talked about this part of his life, his face pinched up and the excitement left his voice. “You know, things like fracking, I didn’t think about that. Or at least, I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to know if I was doing something wrong, so I ignored it.” He spoke softly as he said this, rubbing his neck and looking away. It wasn’t until after he lost his oil job in Pennsylvania that he did any research. There was still some uncertainty as he spoke of his thoughts on his past career. A direct decision was never made. It was clear that what he learned had upset him, at least a little, so maybe he didn’t want to delve further into that. I didn’t push him. Talking about the oil industry is not why we were conversing, organic farming was our focus and we quickly returned to topic.
The Organic Journey
I asked Justin why he got into organic farming. “I’ve had been doing research on food and wellness over the last couple years, It must’ve peaked in 2011 when I read the research of Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn (the former chairman of the Cleveland Clinic’s Breast Cancer Task Force and advocate for the vegan diet).” He also watched, and highly recommended documentaries such as “Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead” by Joe cross, “Forks over Knives,” and “Earthlings.” “Earthlings,” he warned me, “is pretty disturbing”. From these documentaries and his other research, he determined that organic food is highly beneficial on a personal level and for society. “I’ve learned a lot from people who live what they call a paleo-lifestyle, which means they live like our ancestors. We have 100,000 years of eating vegetables. Eating vegetables is as natural as you can get.”
“Organic eating,” he explained, “is good for your health and your emotions.” As I mentioned before, Justin recently lost fifty pounds. This has left his more energized and with a more positive disposition. Not only are organic foods good for your weight, but they are all around better for your health because they don’t have toxins. He also emphasized that “Calories are not calories. One calorie is not the same as another, different calories affect your body differently. Calories from sugar are different than calories from vegetables.” Knowing the difference between these changes how you look at food and your diet. “You convince yourself that all calories are bad calories, all carbs are bad carbs because they tell you to count those when you diet. When you learn that that is true, you eat better.”
The societal aspects he spoke of mostly contributed to the help organic farming lends to the locals. Selling locally is good for the economy and gives a healthy, affordable food option. “Economics changes our feeding habits,” He said. When we stop shopping locally, small farms go out of business. When that happens, large corporations take over the markets. The consumers’ choices are them limited, which can lead to the purchasing of sub-par products.
I then asked about his day to day schedule on the farm. “Oh, I could go on and on about that,” he gushed. “Right now there aren’t any plants, we just got done with harvesting. We do still have our greenhouses, which I water every day using the water we pump out of our natural pond. I also harvest about fifty to sixty pounds of in house produce each day.” At their peak the farm has fields upon of fields of kale, chard, tomatoes, potatoes, green beans, pepper plants, blueberries, and onions. All of these are harvested by hand. Many of the vegetables are currently stored in coolers until they can be sold or eaten. In a very large cooler the vegetables are stored according to type. The bright colors indicate the different produce. The produce is either sold right on the farm or in a farmer’s market.
Hendy Hollow uses the CSA program, which is a community supported agriculture program. Within the program people invest in the farm and receive a “share” of the resulting produce. By doing this the consumer takes on the risk alongside the farmer and creates a security cushion. “Every Wednesday our shareholders come to the farm to pick up shares. Depending on the size of the harvest, the size of the share increases. If one of the crops doesn’t come in well, which happens, then they don’t get a share.” Other than the CSA program, Hendy Hollows sells their goods at the Farmer’s Market. The farm itself is located in Elmira, NY, but they drive forty-five minutes north to Ithaca, NY. “Ithaca is full of foodies. Cornell University is there, and the farmers market is pretty popular with that group.” He told me selling organic produce is a very gratifying job. “They (the buyers) are just so grateful. It makes me feel great. We form personal relationships with our customers. The same people buy from us over and over, so we have a chance to really get to know them.”
“I started with juices, because you’re supposed to cleanse yourself that way.” He told me when I asked if he did any organic cooking or other types of healthy eating. His detox juice consists of kale, celery, apples, cucumber, ginger, and lemon. He drinks it every day. It was at this point that his long-term girlfriend, Brianna Sienkiewicz, stuck her head in and laughed. “He never gets that juice right. I don’t know what it is, but it tastes awful.” She did go on to tell me about some delicious dinners he had prepared for her. She told me her favorite is steamed kale. He also made her handmade strawberry ice-cream, using only organic materials. “He got grass-fed, non-pasteurized, whole milk. It was delicious. He really puts emphasis on getting cow products that are grass-fed. Every time he cooks for me I feel like I’m losing weight. It is so healthy, and very good.” Justin told me about some of his other healthy eating habits. “Every morning I drink a liter of water. Then I drink some Bulletproof coffee.” Bulletproof coffee, he explained, is coffee free of toxins and mold. Instead of drinking the coffee black, he puts 100% grass-fed butter in it.
A “Grounding” Experience
I’ve heard from many people before that farming is a spiritually gratifying profession. Many say that working the soul puts your mind at ease. I asked Justin if this was also true for him, he whole heartedly agreed. “There’s something very tangible, very grounding, about farming. You can take this literally, grounding, because you’re working the ground. Being in physical contact with nature has proven to be hugely beneficial on many levels.” He told me that while conducting his physical labor it becomes meditative for him. Being “natural” was a big motivator for most of the things Justin spoke of. In the beginning of the interview he said that eating vegetables is the most natural option of nutrition for humans. Being outside in nature is also our most natural state, he explained. “Being in a constant artificial environment, such as always being inside, is unnatural. Being in nature is natural.”
He said part of the relaxation he feels on the farm comes from the fact that the farm is aesthetically pleasing. “There are so many colors, so many different textures, there is always something to look at. You’ve got the crops, and the earth, and the sky, all making a beautiful picture.” He also attributed this to the constantly changing surrounding of the farm, with the crops growing and the seasons changing, they do work from early spring to late fall. Overall, organic farming has been a positive influence on both body and soul for Justin Jetton.