Last Morsel—Robert King
Written onMarch 01 , 2009
Robert King is renowned in southeast Vermont for his vast knowledge of gardening and the many workshops he leads to teach people how to grow their own food. His longtime friend Ron Krupp recently interviewed him about his life. This is a portion of that interview.
My mom grew up on a Michigan family farm during the Great Depression. Everyone cooked from scratch and “ate local.” In my childhood home in Glens Falls, NY, my folks had a room in their cellar which was used for the cold–storage of canned goods and jams. My mother used the old–style jam–making method where you cover the top of the jar with wax. There was always plenty of food.
Seeking a socially conscious graduate school in the mid–60s, I discovered an innovative program run by Antioch College in Putney. Antioch’s experimental program to prepare teachers for urban and rural schools greatly appealed to me. Although I completed a Masters in Arts in Teaching degree, I had a young child, Posey, and had to figure out how I was going support my family, stabilize my life, and find a place to live.
Destiny intervened when I learned about a woman in Putney, Esther Poneck of Hill & Dale Farm, who was looking for a farmhand to work in the garden of her organic, mixed culture farm. Esther was a very forward–thinking person, in that she was concerned about a healthy environment, the misuse of pesticides, nuclear pollution, and sustainable agriculture.
At Hill & Dale, we raised organic grass–fed beef, apples, and vegetables. This is where my real education in farming and gardening began. As luck would have it, I received an apprenticeship with Swedish master gardener, Erling Anderson. Anderson had trained in Germany in biodynamic farming and gardening. He then went to work with Dr. Ehrenfried Pfeiffer, who formalized the basic biodynamic methods at the gardens in Spring Valley, N.Y., a center for Rudolf Steiner’s work in agriculture (biodynamics), education (Waldorf), and philosophy (Anthroposophy).
Erling, who spoke a mixture of English, German and Swedish, taught by having me imitate his actions. I learned to start and transplant seedlings, to cultivate the soil to control weeds, and to build healthy soils that would feed the plants. The gardens were well–ordered, clean, and beautiful to behold, with a mixture of companion plants. Working with Erling at Hill & Dale opened a new way of life for me, an understanding of the earth as a living, breathing organism.
I remained at Hill & Dale for a number of years as a farmhand. On the farm we raised a herd of 80 grass–fed Polled Hereford cattle, cut lots of firewood, harvested apples from an old orchard, and made apple cider and maple syrup. In one sense, we were organic pioneers well before the arrival of natural food co–ops and farmers’ markets. There was literally no access to local organic produce except at a few farm stands, because there were few commercial farms practicing sustainable, organic methods. A bulk–buying group would place monthly orders of organic whole foods from Walnut Acres in Pennsylvania once a month.
In 1971, I was fortunate enough to purchase a house and land at Hill & Dale Farm. Besides growing, harvesting, and preserving vegetables here for years, I have been able to supply quality produce to people who can’t garden, or who don’t shop at farmers’ markets or local food co–ops. This past winter I supplied vegetables from my root cellar to a friend living in a subsidized housing project. She prepares a simple soup and quick bread for her fellow housemates. For her, it’s as easy as ABC: Agriculture Building Community.