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Hay Fever: How Chasing a Dream on a Vermont Farm Changed My Life

review by Jack Kittredge

This is the book written 6 years ago by Angela Miller about her decision to move from a successful career as a literary agent in New York City to become a goat cheese maker in Vermont (while still dabbling as literary agent via telecommuting). It is, I know, relevant to many in NOFA who have chosen to change from what our culture would consider a career with high status or income or both to an agricultural or food-based livelihood which may have nei-ther. All for love of the work.

The authors (Miller is happy to acknowledge the role of Ralph Gardner in helping with this book) do a good job of giving the reader a lively, real-time sense of Angela, her life and loved ones, and how she juggles her careers — one in the fast lane in Manhattan and one in the slow Vermont fields once owned by Consider Bardwell and family where she has built an artisanal farm-based food business.

This is as direct and honest a story as you are likely to get from anyone who runs a company. Angela is people-centered and doesn’t seem to need to inflate herself. She talks about her employees as if they were family. She remembers details of triumphs and tragedies equally, and treats them all as significant but not determinative events in her life.

You cannot read this without becoming pretty knowledgeable about goats, cheese-making, running a business, dealing with regulations and all the other things that get between you and your dream. There is no question that her path could not easily be repeated without Angela’s many years of experience in business, the assets (human and financial) she built up during those years in the fast lane, and her determination to succeed while playing by the rules. But it is an inspiration to read about how things seem to fall into place when you care enough.

If I have any quibble with this book, it is the same stream-of-consciousness that makes it enjoyable. So many facts and details and questions suddenly con-front Angela, who has to make decisions all the time, that I sometimes get lost in the woods. She employs a lot of people, has a lot of accounts, is producing a product that is both technically complex and depends heavily on critical recognition, and has personal connections she feels compelled to honor. A little more explanation, for someone like me who doesn’t get the nuanced reasons behind her decisions, would be welcome.

If you are anywhere near to having a farm dream, or knowing someone who does, Hay Fever is a good book to read. It gets quickly to the guts of running a farm business – the glory and the agony both – and most importantly reaffirms the reality of personal energy and initiative.