The word “community” can mean so many things. It can be a town, a feeling of kinship, or just the public at large. When I think of my community, there are actually many communities to which I belong: fellow farmers, my immediate neighborhood, and the Mohawk Valley, to name a few.
In the middle of November, I was lucky enough to experience a wonderfully warm and unique feeling of community. We held a fundraising event at our farm and called it “An Evening with Cheesemakers and a Chef”—all to benefit the Little Falls Cheese Festival. We invited fellow cheesemakers to share their beautiful and delicious cheeses, and to mingle with anyone willing to buy a ticket. The first part of the evening was a reception in our new cheese plant addition, complete with a talented jazz quartet accompaniment. We then moved inside our home for a sit-down dinner personally prepared by Tim Hardiman of Tailor and the Cook and his marvelous staff. Despite the snow and chilly temps, it was a truly magical evening!
I loved this event. If I had to pinpoint what was so special, I would have to say that it was both the colliding of several distinct communities and the willingness of individuals from each of these communities to give of themselves and their talents. People that usually run in very different circles met for the very first time, created a unique experience and communed over something we all love—cheese!
This is, of course, very fitting as a fundraiser for the Little Falls Cheese Festival. Now entering its fifth year, the festival requires a whole community of volunteers, city officials, and small business owners to work together with imagination and energy. So many people with such different backgrounds coming together and giving of their talents can accomplish something truly great…and further enrich our sense of community.
Farm-to-table restaurants and small shop owners that promote our area’s foods and spirits have been hard at work promoting that sense of identity and cooperative spirit. “Local” may be the marketing term du jour, but it is so much more than that. Chefs like Tim Hardiman have chosen to embrace and elevate our community’s distinct character—an enormous gift to all of us that I hope will set the tone and foster community development for years to come. I certainly owe Tim and his staff a great debt of gratitude for making our fundraiser such a success.
For me, community can also include friends and loved ones no longer with us, but whose influence is still very much felt. My mother-in-law, Judy, was there in spirit the evening of our fundraiser. (She passed away 21 years ago this month, the result of a tragic car accident. It was just a few days before Christmas and she had been en route to the post office to mail gifts to far-flung friends and relatives.) Judy had been an artist and avid collector, gathering fun Mexican folk art, Currier and Ives prints, and antique furniture; half of which we inherited. We used her grandmother’s silver and china for the dinner service, set on the dining room table Judy lovingly refinished half a century ago. Judy would have been in her element that evening, enjoying the interesting guests and engaging every person in the room. For the years I knew her, she took every opportunity she had to personally connect on a meaningful level and to meet new individuals. Despite her interest in collecting objects, what she really treasured was people.
I’ll admit, farming 24/7 isn’t terribly conducive to treasuring people. Animal care is a higher priority most days. But my farm’s—and every farm’s—mission is to feed people. The cheesemakers that were able to join us that evening and freely give of their time and talents (and cheese!) all recognize that building on our community’s strength is in our best interest.
My wish for you this holiday season is that you give and receive the gift of community—gifts of kinship and warmth. Give of yourself and your time. Buy local foods, shop at mom & pop stores and craft fairs, and give gift certificates to locally owned restaurants. Remember your loved ones here and afar, and those that are no longer with us. Look for ways to build community at every opportunity. Maybe even consider volunteering your time and talents to put on a local cheese festival? (Wink, wink!) The benefits are too long to list!