A Friend's Death Inspired Me to Pursue the Simple Life On a Farm

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  • Nathan Winters
    American politician
Hill Hollow Farm in New York
Hill Hollow Farm in New York

You can see for miles at Hill Hollow Farm. (Photo: Hill Hollow Farm/Facebook)

It was another 10-hour workday. Only I wasn’t sitting at my computer in a New York City high-rise office building tapping away at my computer, barely having time to grab lunch and rushing from meeting to meeting. I was 160 miles away in Petersburgh, N.Y., at Hill Hollow Farm, covered in mud, dirt, and sweat.

Working on the farm
Working on the farm

From techie to farm hand — the author getting her hands dirty (Photo: Taylor Davidson)

That’s right, I ditched my NYC life for a summer spent on a farm.

The impetus is a sad story. My best friend of over a decade, Nathan Winters, had left behind his own high-tech life five years earlier for a life of farming. Then, this spring, he was killed in a farm accident, leaving behind a pregnant wife and young daughter.

the owner of the farm
the owner of the farm

The author’s friend Nathan (and his pig Greta) on the farm. Visit the Nathan Winters Memorial Fund. (Photo: Hill Hollow Farm/Facebook)

Everyone so admired him for what he had accomplished: reinventing his life on his own terms. After his death, I couldn’t stop thinking about going to the farm to help out his family. My husband and I have businesses that allow us to work remotely, so we started to discuss the idea. It wasn’t an easy decision, but going absolutely felt like the right thing to do.

Before this year, I had never farmed a day in my life. I had never even had a plant. I grew up on a cul-de-sac in Pittsburgh, Pa., where we had landscapers, as did all of our neighbors.

working hard on the farm
working hard on the farm

There’s a lot of work to be done on a farm. (Photo: Taylor Davidson)

So I showed up at Nathan’s farm, Hill Hollow, slightly nervous but ready to work! Hill Hollow is a beautiful piece of land near the Massachusetts-Vermont border. From the fields, I could see for hundreds of miles on a clear day. After about two hours on the farm, I knew I was in a whole new world. I quickly realized that I didn’t know any of the farmer lingo and was going to have to learn fast.

Related: Yum-o-Rama! The 10 Best Farmer Markets in the Country

Luckily, I was a quick study and soon discovered that not only could I do the work, but I loved it. If I wasn’t farming, I was thinking about farming or reading about farming online. Daily chores were endless. There were vegetables to seed, weed, and harvest; animals to tend to; and fences to build. There were eggs to collect and clean and CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) orders to fill. I got into a rhythm.

Spending time on the farm was therapeutic on many levels. I had the opportunity to really get to know my friend Nathan’s wife, her family and spend time with their young daughter. There is a big part of loss that is about processing death, that someone you love is no longer here on earth. There is also the hard journey of living without them and creating new memories that they won’t be a part of. Spending time on Nathan’s farm gave me an opportunity to not only imagine what his day-to-day was like as a farmer but to live it. I felt his presence and was incredibly moved every day by the life he had created.

working out on the farm
working out on the farm

Farming builds muscles! (Photo: Taylor Davidson)

Physically, I got stronger every day as well; I could the feel muscles in my arms, back, and legs getting bigger after working with my hands all day, everyday, lifting grain and water buckets. I was bone-tired every evening.

My husband and I ate dinner most nights with food harvested from the farm, and it was so delicious. We paid more attention to what we ate and also started to pay more attention to the conversations we had at dinner. No more phones at the table, no more shoveling food in our mouths. This was food we saw growing with our own eyes!

Related: Bundle Up: Farmers’ Almanac Predicts Frigid Winter in the U.S. – Here’s How to Prepare

eggs on the farm
eggs on the farm

At the farm, they call this breakfast. (Photo: Taylor Davidson)

Day by day, I learned that I could do anything I put my mind to. I felt good that I was able to give back to my friend’s wife with my time. I learned that our time is the most valuable thing we have. I didn’t know I could do such physical work before this summer, partly because I had never tried. I was surprised at how much I liked it, the different kind of tired I felt from working with my hands versus with my head in an office.

Back in my NYC apartment, I missed all of it immensely. I wanted to come up with some way to keep the intentional living I had found on the farm. As a digital marketer focused on social good, I decided to start a national food movement called #DinnerMode that would encourage people to put down their devices and enjoy the food they were eating and the people they were eating with.

We recently launched #DinnerMode, and it’s amazing how much people connect with the idea of a tech-free dinner. I’m excited to see the movement grow. My friend Nathan would have loved it. He lived by the motto “Life is good, and food should be the same.” I created this movement with him in my mind and my heart.

Related: The 6 Best Farm-to-Table Venues in the United States

hanging out on the farm
hanging out on the farm

The author, with dirt in her veins (Photo: Taylor Davidson)

Farmers talk about how the dirt gets in your blood and how being around food sources and livestock has an addictive quality. I didn’t understand any of this until I experienced it myself. I don’t know what the future holds, but for the first time I’m hoping that it has a small piece of land I can call my own, with a few hens and a goat.

WATCH: Why This Woman Left Her High-Powered Job to Milk Goats

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