Several years ago, my wife Rebecca and I decided to give our young daughters Kathryn and Abby a gift, an education of sorts about a life very different from our own. With the hope of getting them more acclimated to, and appreciative of an outdoor life lived off the land, we packed up the car and drove from our home near Boston toward Hull-O Farms in New York. While we knew we might milk some cows and harvest some eggs, in truth we really didn’t know what to expect from our farm “vacation.” What we never could have imagined at that point was how much a small family of farmers in the Catskill mountains was about to teach us about the true meaning of love, devotion, commitment and loyalty, and that our own little family was about to expand to include these wonderful people.
To meet Frank and Sherry Hull is to feel like you instantly know them, but to also know that there is so much more to learn from, and about them. Frank and Sherry are a mix of so many adjectives, a blend of so many wonderful, yet complicated contradictions: They are hard-nosed yet soft-hearted, trusting yet skeptical, so hopeful yet so incredibly pragmatic. As Corey Kilgannon so eloquently captured in his feature about the Hulls in the New York Times (see the link below), these are a devoted people who are driven to carry on an incredibly rich and historical legacy.
As Corey’s story depicts so well, the challenges of farming run deep and it’s clear that farming is no fairy tale. We’ve seen first-hand the tremendous toll that the strenuous, and often dangerous physical labor has had on Frank and Sherry, particularly at an age where most have long since retired. We’ve also gained a deep appreciation that while the physical impact may be visible, it is the emotional and financial challenges of upholding their 7th generation family business while constantly being on the edge of financial solvency that weighs on their soul. While Frank and Sherry have lived a wonderful life and certainly nobody should feel sorry for them, it is a fact that small farms in America are becoming a quaint notion of the past. Unlike the massive conglomerates, small farmers simply cannot absorb the impact of wild climate variability, stricter regulations and pricing consolidation that has driven down the value of their output. Add in an aging infrastructure and it is no surprise that the Hulls have had to take on an unsustainable amount of debt to simply survive.
Like any of us, nobody likes to see the people they love suffer. While we’ve searched in the past for ways to help them (and they consistently resisted), the Times story provided the perfect catalyst and Rebecca and I have decided to take action before it’s too late. Though they have persevered, Frank and Sherry have nearly $350k in debt with no savings and no nest egg to draw upon. Simply put, in order to stay on their farm and pass their heritage to another generation, this debt must be paid or the Hulls will be forced to abandon a history, a way of life, and a dream. The Times story was a blessing as so many former guests and people from all walks of life reached out to offer assistance. In these particularly divisive times, seeing so many different people join together to help offers such hope for the future. So whether you have met Frank and Sherry and admire their humanity and their humility, or you believe in the virtues of farming and can appreciate the Hulls' unyielding fatih and hard work ethic, or you simply like a good old fashioned love story, I hope you will join in helping these wonderful people. Whether you do so financially, or simply by spreading the word, please join in giving the Hulls a shot at passing on their legacy in a manner they so richly have earned.
Link to the New York Times Story:
- Jessica Schladweiler
- Alina Gioielli
- Catherine E Cosenza
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