When was the last time you heard a child say, “When I grow up, I want to be a farmer” ?
Meet Luke and Catarina Mahoney. Neither grew up on a farm, but now they are living their dream of raising a family on an organic dairy tucked deep in the bend of a country road in Rollinsford, New Hampshire. Farming is not what Luke and Catarina’s parents expected them to do. They are part of a new generation of farmers that grew up in cities and suburbs and are drawn to the land—to farming—by something other than their family’s expectations.
Their story is mirrored in the lives of their interns: Aaron is a Harvard University divinity student, Erin, a cheese-making apprentice, Rolf, a young chef from Switzerland and Evan is a recent business graduate from Dartmouth College. Brookford Almanac is not the portrait of a traditional New England family farm passed down through the generations. It is a year in the complex and beautiful life of first-generation farmers who are pioneering new methods and negotiating unprecedented challenges even while they practice the age-old art of tilling fields and milking cows.
Luke and Catarina are the heart of the film. Luke is a young John Wayne type: stoic, quiet, hard working. Yet beneath that mystery there is depth and intelligence. He grew up in upstate New York and, after graduating from college with a degree in Anthropology, interned at a farm. This internship took him from Pennsylvania to Russia where he met Catarina, a young East German from Dresden studying agriculture. During the five years that they interned in Russia their first child, Oliver, was born. After working in Russia and another two years in Germany Luke and Catarina were ready to work their own farm and they arrived at Brookford Farm four years ago. They had only their two young children and the possessions that they could carry. They got their first herd of Jersey cows several months later and from that moment on their farm has had steady growth and expansion.
Now in their 4th year of farming they work over 350 acres of land, have 48 cows, many chickens and pigs and a large vegetable garden. On the heels of three successful years, they have expanded the farm dramatically, also taking on their first group of paid interns. Participating in farmers markets this spring in Portsmouth and Exeter, NH, the competition with other farmers has been fierce and they are facing the growing problem of finding outlets for all their produce. They struggle to have enough raw milk to please their customers and make cheese while continuing to sell a share to the dairy cooperative Organic Valley – a safe, bread and butter investment among organic dairy farmers. It is a big year for the Mahoney family as they push their dream of farming in new, unforeseen directions.
The land is an important character in the film. Filmed over the course of a year, Brookford Almanac digs into the changes of season. The land itself is owned by the Aikman family, who farmed here for several generations. Robin Aikman, the 80-year-old matriarch of Brookford Farm is now retired, and her children have chosen other paths in life. Farming is in her blood, and she shows up daily to take care of the calves and donkeys and give her opinions about how things should be run.
For Luke and Catarina, not inheriting land means that it will be a challenge for them to someday own their own farm, a major struggle for first generation farmers. Robin has kept them on a short lease possibly fearing the power she would give up by giving the Mahoney’s more security. While the Mahoney’s have continued to invest in equipment and infrastructure at Brookford they learn that their lease will not be extended. This news comes as a shock and they are disheartened. They want to continue farming but they struggle to figure out what’s next.
Cozette Russell studied filmmaking at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and received her MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in video, photography, and installation. She is a teaching assistant in the Visual and Environmental Studies Department at Harvard University. Her most recent film, Borderland, a collage of East German memories of the inner-German border, premiered at the London International Documentary Festival this May. A first-generation farming family in Rollinsford, New Hampshire, is the subject of her second film, currently in production. She lives with her filmmaking partner/husband in Lee, New Hampshire.