In the days before blogs, before the internet, I was a six year old drafted to stamp, unevenly fold, stuff, and lick envelopes for one of my father’s first farming direct marketing experiments. Dad started out as a city boy enamored with the country life, raising goats and baking brown bread and marrying a laughing Iowa farm girl who grew up on the rolling prairie full of soybeans and hogs. After they married and they settled on a ridgetop in the lush green driftless region of Southwestern Wisconsin he started to raise hogs, on the side. They named the five acres of ridgeland and tangled woods Sweet Ridge Farm.
My father was a journalist at that point, a charming Irishman with great charisma, glorious visions, and no idea how to build a fence. This can be a great handicap when raising hogs, and it was, along with one of the worst pork markets in history. However, neither of these factors deterred my dad from his love of raising pigs. He was a very early direct marketer of sustainable pigs, and he put together a witty newsletter from Sweet Ridge Farm, with a dapper looking couple of dancing pigs in 18th century dress in the left hand corner. His tagline was “One foot in the country, one foot in the city.” He worked in the city every day, and on the farm every night. I grew up barefoot and wild, reading books in the apple trees, but had enough city culture to ensure that I never quite fit in with my rural companions or the city kids. The training saw me in good stead, though, when I grew up and put my early life lessons in direct marketing to use working with farmers in the Appalachians. When you’re on a hog farm in the morning and meeting with hospital directors in the afternoon, it is important to be able to throw your boots into the back of your four runner and pull out a pair of black heels before you touch up your lipstick.
Today, I live on a steep hill above a river, with four clothesline posts and a garden seeded with early spring greens, peach and pear trees behind my house, nestled in the ridges of… Pittsburgh, PA, one of the most densely populated urban areas in the United States. I am constantly surprised by how much I love living in the city at this point in my life. I still run barefoot much of the summer, but my feet are planted for now in the city.
My father, the erstwhile journalist, is still a bit wary of the internet and Mary tells me he printed up Sweet Ridge Farm newsletters just a few days ago. I’ll leave it to her to report from the ridge with her spring rain boots on.