Book The Other Farm

Family farms are having a hard time of it in rich western countries like the Netherlands and the United States. Thousands of farmers quit every year. But you can still find farms that have been run by the same family for generations.

For a long time I have wanted to understand how they keep going. What makes them successful in spite of economic pressures? Without farmers, there is no food. But why does someone become a farmer, and how important is family tradition in that choice? Is it a calling or an obligation? Does the family farm have a future in a global market that demands mass production and low prices?

In search of answers to these questions, I have been taking photographs at Lilac Ridge Farm in Brattleboro, Vermont, in the US, and De Beekhoeve in Kamerik, in the province of Utrecht in the Netherlands, during different seasons, since 2004. I have focused on two farming families who still believe in their family tradition, but who are also seeking new ways to earn a living and contribute to their communities.

The Thurber and Van der Laan families boast ancestors who were farmers in the same areas going back to 1760 and 1622, respectively. At their current locations, they started dairy farms in 1937 and 1914. The first generation at each of these locations had a small herd of dairy cows, chickens, some pigs, and a horse to pull the plow. The second generation used pesticides and chemical fertilizers to gain the highest possible yield. And in each family, when the third generation took over it decided to go organic.

The Thurbers and Van der Laans don’t feel called upon to feed the world. They deliberately aim closer to home. Mass production, they emphasize, always means that you have to sacrifice other things—the very things they value: healthy cows, good soil management, clean water, birdsong around the farm, family life. If you measure the success of a farm just by the amount it produces, in their opinion, you don’t measure the totality of it.

I want to show how creative and driven these farmers are in keeping their unconventional enterprises prosperous in a global economy that insists on industrial agriculture. The Other Farm is about the importance of family and tradition, and the close connection between farmers, nature, animals and us.

The book The Other Farm will be published on July 11, 2015. It will be accompanied by an exhibition of the photos in the City Museum of the Dutch town of Woerden, which will be on display from July 11 until October 4, 2015.