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Martha Stewart: I Always Wanted to be a Farmer

Martha Stewart has a long list of accomplishments that includes hosting an Emmy-award winning TV show, writing 93 books, and becoming one of America’s most iconic and trusted lifestyle experts. But what did she want to be when she was growing up?

“I always wanted to be a farmer,” says Stewart, who was in Des Moines, Iowa, on January 25 as the keynote speaker for 900 people attending the Land Investment Expo.

While she owns and operates a 150-acre farm in Bedford, New York, she doesn’t quite consider herself a real farmer.

“I would like to definitely. It’s tiny in comparison to what’s out here,” she said in an exclusive interview with Agriculture.com. “But I’ve been a grower for a long time. I’ve grown my own food forever.”

Stewart was raised on .2 acre in Nutley, New Jersey, where her father was a backyard gardener. “He had infinite patience in the garden and no patience for anything else in life. I got the same personality from him,” she says. It was in this garden where Stewart learned the foundation for the practices used in Bedford.

At home on the farm

Before purchasing the farm in 2001, Stewart owned 40 acres in Fairfield, Connecticut. “It just wasn’t big enough to do what I wanted to do. So, I was looking and somebody said, ‘there’s 150 acres right in Bedford,’” she says.

Stewart went to take a look and took soil tests of the entire property. “They all came back in excellent fashion, so that enabled me to buy the property. If it had been bad soil, I wouldn’t have bought it.”

That hands-on approach has continued through today – Stewart still soil tests the farm’s hayfields, plows the 4 miles of roads that cross the property, and flies a drone to get an aerial view that helps her make landscaping and management decisions.

“I love plowing. The roads were covered with snow this weekend, so I was out there for 2½ hours,” she says. “The drones show me a lot about what has to be done. It’s a very good way to observe your property.”

Stewart, along with the farm’s nine full-time employees, also takes care of the variety of livestock, vegetables, fruits, and flowers on the farm. The farm has three cats, five dogs, three donkeys, six horses, nine geese (used as guard dogs), 12 peacocks, and 200 laying chickens. In addition to chicken coops, a horse paddock and barns, and hayfields, the sprawling estate includes multiple vegetable gardens, greenhouses, a blueberry garden, and an orchard.

“It all starts with a love and passion for growing things,” she says, specifically citing her love for artichokes and citrus fruit.

The produce and eggs from the farm are consumed by Stewart’s family, used in her test kitchen to develop recipes, and the excess is brought to the lucky employees in her office in New York City, where she commutes an hour to work each day.

Consumer food trends

With her place at the intersection of food and farming, Stewart has a unique glimpse into what consumers desire when it comes to food.

“The whole organic food movement is terribly important,” she says, adding that all of the produce grown on her farm is organic. “As consumers, we are paying more attention to where our food comes from, what is good food, and how we can make it more affordable.”

Sustainability is another key part of that. “I hope that they (farmers) take into consideration the health of the people through feeding the world. Sustainability is a big part of that and maintaining that healthy soil,” she says.

On her farm, sustainability means composting. “The whole idea with this farm was to never waste anything. When we have a hurricane and lose 200 trees, those trees are gathered up and put through a grinder” and go into a large compost pile referred to as ‘black gold.’

“We turn waste into goodness and try not to throw goodness away,” she adds.

When asked how farmers can meet the demands of consumers, Stewart says: “I don’t want to get into the controversy of farming, but I’m for less meat, more vegetables. That’s less land for pasture and more for growing greens and vegetables that we should be eating.”

Another thing farmers can do is share their story. “Most Americans are really ignorant in knowing where our food comes from. There is room for more exploration and teaching in that area. All the farmers in this room should promote more about how it happens,” she encouraged during her keynote address.

“There are all kinds of farming. I want people to know that even though I’m on a little farmette, I like the idea of farming and growing," says Stewart. “The big farms, of course, are important and they feed the world. But small farms too should be encouraged and subsidized or helped in some way.

“I certainly appreciate the hard work and the effort that goes into maintaining a farm and growing a crop,” she adds.

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