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Yale 62

Living Inside a Global Pandemic on a Small Farm

By Dick Riseling

(Editor’s Note: Dick is a member of the Y62 Communications Team who’s generously volunteered to be the first voice in what we hope may be an ongoing series of classmate accounts of their experiences during this unprecedented time of turmoil and uncertainty. We encourage you to comment at the end of his note below with an account of your own, or to email us at if you’d prefer. Depending on what arrives from you, we’ll post individual accounts in one feature, or post separate articles for each. Your classmates and friends all hope you are staying safe and remaining well!)

Dick and a young farmer

My partner Sonja and I operate an organic 80-acre farm powered by wind and sun in the beautiful Sullivan County, New York Catskills. For 48 years we treasured the immense enjoyment of freedom to be intimately connected to the many physical and social environments that populate our working farm and busy engagement with the public. Now, like you, many of our basic freedoms are cancelled or curtailed sharply by the coronavirus pandemic. This pandemic and its vast negative impacts on our right to freely assemble will go down in the history books. We have no way to tell what will be the cost in lives, wealth, hope, and the causes of environmental and human justice, as well as the extent of further disturbances in the geopolitical alignment of the nations.

I am certain all of us have had moments of collision with the unexpected power of the pandemic. It certainly has changed things around the farm. For example, just a few months ago, we decided to cut back in food production because of its high demand of physical work at our advanced age. However, since our main source of income is training the next generation of sustainable food producers and educating the general populace in sustainable living must be cancelled due to our inability to interact with new farmers and the public, major adjustments must be made. It’s just not safe for us or for everyone else. This may turn out to be the most amazing and profound experience of our lives.

Resiliency and regenerative living have broken into the general discourse, and we are glad they join us in finding ways to cope. Two former farm apprentices pursuing graduate work have come to live with us now that their campuses are closed. With their leadership, we are exploring new ways of engaging with the public and assisting our neighbors with shopping and essential trips to town. They’re preparing a farm produce wagon that will be located at the beginning of our long driveway, a honor system payment plan and an ordering system for next week that doesn’t require contact with us. They’ve created a neighbors and customers phone directory so we can assure them their favorite foods will be available. We hope this is a temporary measure. They’ve also volunteered to help produce our weekly radio and news paper columns,.

Despite our recent past decision to reduce our production of farm products, we’ve reversed direction (despite a lot of conflicted personal feelings) to commit to growing substantially more food, at least for the next year. Goat, lamb, chicken, turkey, eggs, cheese, goat milk, vegetables (too many to list), and apples and berry production will all increase. I really don’t want to live without blueberries and many kinds of raspberries. This should make up for the short-fall in educational and training income.

And we are taking naps, calling friends and family more, and reading to keep up with the changes in our socio-economic and physical world that make us strangers in our own place.

We hope you are and will stay safe and healthy. Equally important, classmates: please share how the pandemic has impacted your lives. Do you have new thoughts on the world? Are you taking new actions? Please comment below, so your classmates know how you’re faring in this tumultuous, uncertain time.

5 comments to Living Inside a Global Pandemic on a Small Farm

  • Thanks for this. Now all you have to do is grow more toilet paper!

  • Dear Phil,
    I could never match your inventiveness but for most of the year some cabbage, several of the French Romaine varieties of lettuce, chard leafs, softer kales, and many other broad-leaf are available as a substitute for toilet paper. Composting used toilet paper which is rich in carbon and your deposit can bring even more of the above for next year. We don’t follow this practice but some of our apprentices have run studies and a few to our knowledge continue it. BTW, it is marvelous to follow your work stimulated by meeting you for the first time at the 2019 Y62class council meeting in NYC. DIck Riseling

  • william weber

    Phil, Your life is about as good as it gets and I am glad for you. My brother in the Chicago area brought me some frozen goat steaks; should I cook them like venison, rare on the grill? Bill Weber in rural Pulteney, NY

  • Thanks. I am homebound on 85th St. My city is closed. I have nothing to say about the pandemic, except I don’t want to hear another word for “Uncle Don.”

    So, I am grading student papers and reading Andrew Roberts’ marvelous new 1000-page biography of Churchill. I look forward to getting past all this, returning to both the Met Museum and the Met Opera, etc…. Alex.