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


The Benson Family at Stonegate FarmAugust 1, 2009
If You Shoot It, They Will Come

Nothing is safe from the camera around here, and the usual subjects have become perfectly blasé about voguing for me. If they strike a pose, I will shoot. Even the plants seem to know when the light is just right, and when I’ll be passing by, and they beam their best botanical smiles.

Stonegate was restored and designed with the camera in mind, with frameable views and an attention to the pattern language of gardens and buildings that create opportunities for image making. It’s been a long process, more than 10 years on now, of creating a visual dialogue with this place, and just when I think there can’t possibly be another pixel’s worth, more images get made. Apparently, if you don’t photograph it, it never existed.

My daughter, Daisy, started calling me a farm-ographer this year, since she sees me more often behind the Troy-Bilt tiller than the camera these days, but a true sustainable farm usually has many irons (or hay rakes) in the fire. The chicks had a portrait session in the studio this week, and between much pooping and squawking, they were quite poised.

August 8, 2009
The End of the Beginning

We’ve reached the halfway point of our first season this week. Spears of slender purple gladioli are in flower, their tall stems crowned in a ripple of blooms, signaling what we hope will be the end of a long bout of adversity with weather. How appropriate, then, that this “funeral flower” should emerge just as we bury the last of our blighted and dearly departed tomatoes (best Monty Python accent: “I’m not quite dead yet!” “Well, you will be soon!” Thwack!).

October 24, 2009
The Impractical Swoon

Last year I fell so hard for a couple of sweet Nubian goats that before any practical deliberation could set in, two anxiously bleating kids were on board, and the no-nonsense 4-H girls were stocking the truck with bags of feed and formula.

I bought a subscription to Dairy Goat Journal. I bottle-fed them daily (did I mention they weren’t weaned?!). I took their portraits, intrigued by their strange devil eyes, as oblong as mail slots. But before the week was out, so were they. I clearly wasn’t ready for ruminants and thought of them more as props than responsibilities, and so sheepishly (goatishly?) took them back to their owners.

It seems no matter how well we measure our decisions, we’re always open to acts of ridiculous, blundering folly. There were moments in the endless rain and blight this season when the idea of farming itself seemed like an act of folly more than an act of God (it’s easier to shake a fist at God, after all, than yourself). At times, it was as though I were toiling in a medieval Brueghel painting, when I’d imagined Cézanne. But I’m coming through, humbled and wiser, planning for a season of plenty next year. Fool that I am.

End 2009
Here we are at the end of our first growing season at Stonegate Farm! Much of the year was spent clearing land, putting in infrastructure (fences, trenches), amending soil with compost and green manure, building raised and deeply dug beds, and healing aching backs! Now that the farm is mostly asleep, we have time to appreciate what we’ve accomplished and plan for next season. As we batten down for the season, we’re grateful for our gracious farm, the good land it sits on, and our healthy, hardworking family.