The Accidental Farmer

From pocket-sized herb garden to family-sized homestead—with a lot of learning and a little luck.

By Matthew Benson

Photography by Matthew Benson


Stonegate FarmThe first memory I have of Stonegate Farm, Matthew Benson’s property in New York’s Hudson Valley, comes from a visit just over 5 years ago. We’d been photographing a garden nearby and ended the day with dinner at Stonegate. Matthew’s wife, Heidi, his daughter, Daisy, and his son, Miles, were the rest of the party, and we went out to look at what was afoot in the small greenhouse and little formal herb garden. It was box-edged pretty and, while productive, small enough to be manageable. But there was a glint in his eye as Matthew began talking about his plans for the garden’s future—plans that have matured into the Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) program he now runs from what has now become a small farm, fully organic and biodynamic.

He is still photographing, as readers will know, and is in fact nearly finished writing his first book, The Photo-graphic Garden (to be published in spring 2012 by Rodale). But with so many of us turning our thoughts (and ourselves) to the land, and to considering the hows, whys, and maybes of making even our urban front lawns into vegetable gardens, I wanted to share some of Matthew’s observations about his ups and downs—the hilarity and the poignant moments he has experienced over these first few years as he became “The Accidental Farmer.” As he reveals, there is much more to it than “take 5 acres...” —Ethne Clarke

June 13, 2009
Lucky Strike

The lightning storm on Tuesday this week took out a 100-foot white pine that shattered and fell only 10 feet from the new orchard! After crawling out from under the bed (city boy that I am—was—I’ve never made peace with the Sturm und Drang weather here in the Hudson Valley), I picked up splintered, still-smoking wood across the farm. This place was landscaped more than 150 years ago, so most of our trees are in hospice, one dead branch away from the big arboretum in the sky.

Besides weather, the other drama this week was a road trip to Goshen to speak to the county legislature in order to secure an Agricultural District designation for Stonegate, which was granted. It seems the biointensive micro farm may be a model for the future after all!

July 18, 2009
Survivor: Stonegate

Who said farming was a bore! Blights, fungal pandemics, plagues of rogue insects. It’s a reality show waiting to happen. The 4-H sirens have been wailing for a few weeks now: “Late Blight! Anthracnose Fungus!” The ever-vigilant watchdogs at the Cornell extension just issued this dire missive:

“Commercial growers and home gardeners alike need to be on the lookout for late blight—a very destructive and very infectious disease that’s infecting tomato and potato plants. Late blight is the same disease that caused the Irish Potato Famine in the 1840s(!) Such widespread occurrence in Northeastern U.S. this early in the season is extremely rare.”

Wow. Let’s promise to cherish every cherry tomato that doesn’t pack up its indeterminate brood and head for the hills of Killarney.