My boys think Chris Link is a cowboy. He does wear a big hat sometimes, but is more likely to be found talking vegetables at the distribution barn or tinkering with a tractor than riding the open range. I think Chris is a natural entrepreneur. Rather than a corporate business model, I mean this in the sense of a strong desire to create his own work that uses his mechanical skill, interest in improving work processes, and enjoyment of people.
Chris grew up in Salisbury, Maryland, home of mega-chicken grower Purdue. Monotonic corn and chickens dominated the farming landscape in this rural area. His family had a large garden, though, and he especially loved helping harvest produce, peaches and pecans on visits to his grandfather in South Carolina. He attended Clemson University there, and earned a BLA in architecture.
After some time working behind a computer for an architecture firm in Asheville, NC, he realized that this was not a sustainable life for him. Chris loves tinkering and fixing things and knew he felt better mentally and physically when he worked outdoors. He began to develop a passion for community health and food security, and was influenced by the writings of sustainable agriculture thinkers such as Wendell Berry and Joel Salatin. When Salatin noted that farming involves a large measure of mechanical skill and effort, Chris began to wonder if agriculture might be a good career. He began volunteering at community gardens and CSA farms.
A couple of summers ago, he came to the annual NOFA (Northeast Organic Farming Association) conference in Amherst, and was inspired by the farming models presented at the conference. He also (like so many of us!) found the area really appealing. So, when he decided to pursue a season-long apprenticeship, he looked to the Pioneer Valley.
At Simple Gifts Farm, he appreciates the diversity of the work in a day – from transplanting vegetables to tractor work to staffing the CSA distribution. He particularly enjoys interacting with the CSA members and others who come to the farm. He loves introducing the CSA model to a potential member, or introducing a new vegetable to a member. When I asked what his favorite vegetable is, he couldn’t chose just one. The sungold cherry tomatoes! The peas and beans! The Easter egg radishes were so beautiful! Onions and potatoes!
Chris also enjoys CSA distribution because finds satisfaction in seeing people pick up the great vegetables that took so much work and care to produce. For example, he remembers his least favorite job of the season – staking and stringing the tomatoes. The weather was hot, the rows seemingly endless. But – it did get done and tomato season is sweet.
He was surprised by how much he appreciates the animals of the farm. To him, they make the farm feel alive, and his days are more enjoyable because he sees the animals out there, enjoying life. The cows in particular are very calming.
After this season, Chris would like to begin his own farming project. The shape of this is yet to be determined, but he’d like to include elements of market gardening and education. His enthusiasm for growing, tinkering and people will serve him well as he creates a sustainable livelihood and community.
For all of us sustaining Simple Gifts Farm,