The First-Person Project

Caitlin (Furman) Caserta ’01

Walpole, NH

Farmer, Walpole Valley Farms

Major: Communication, with considerable coursework in French

Minor: Political Science

I grew up in Charlestown, New Hampshire, about 20 minutes north of Walpole. My father was a radio personality and something of a local celebrity. He was the advertising voice of Idlenot Dairy – which is really kind of funny when you think about what I’m doing now. He impersonated a farmer on the radio. It started out as a joke on the air and became his career.

Because he was a broadcaster, I grew up in the media world. I was really interested in communications, marketing and journalism, and trying to create ad campaigns for people, because we were always talking about them in the car and at dinner, about what my dad was creatively working on. So that was the driving force behind me going to school for communications.

I landed at Keene State for several reasons – the cost was manageable, I’d be able to get involved with athletics, there was a study-abroad program, and I really liked the college’s proximity to town and the close-knit community. When I arrived, I majored in communication and took all sorts of interesting classes in that area.

I also took a lot of French classes. When I was growing up my family hosted a number of exchange students in the summertime. One summer we hosted a French girl, and she and I became great friends. I had studied Spanish and Latin, but got really interested in French through Juliette. The following summer, just after I’d graduated high school, I stayed with her family for a month in Paris. I fell in love with the language, the culture, the people, the place. It was amazing. So from that point forward, I knew that I wanted to study abroad. Keene State had a connection with the University of Rennes in France, so I applied for that. It was a great experience. I stayed for a year, and spent one semester in an intensive language program. I distanced myself from the core group of Americans in the dormitory and tried to branch out and meet people from other parts of the world. You have a different perspective after traveling. It brings a richness to your life. And there’s something about speaking another language that brings a certain kind of self-confidence. I’ve been to many places around the world since then.

I was also on the track and field and cross-country teams at Keene State. I ran the 400 and the 800. It was really nice to be part of a collegiate team. It kept everything in check as far as my schedule, studies, priorities. You have to manage your time really well when you’re that busy.

I worked through college, at a little deli in Keene, and through that job got connected with the oldies radio station in town, WXOD. I’d bring over a box of sandwiches every Thursday morning and I’d talk live with one of the DJs about what was in the box. It was basically an ad for the deli. When I graduated, the radio station offered me a job selling ads and writing commercials. I did that for about a year, and then used an alternative teaching certification program to get a job teaching French and Spanish in the Fall Mountain School District.

I taught for three years, two at the junior high level and one at the high school, and then my husband, Chris – we’d met at the deli where I’d worked – and I decided to settle down and have a family. We’d been getting very interested in farming. We were living here, on this farm property that Chris’s parents had purchased, and his sister, Jackie, was running a bed and breakfast in another house on the land. Chris was working at his family’s financial planning business. People would come here and say, Gosh, you have all this land, you guys should have some animals. We were really into clean eating – we were buying from our neighbors and buying from other farmers in town, and we realized, Wow, this does go hand in hand with the bed and breakfast.

So we got interested in Joel Salatin, who’s sort of a celebrity farmer. He’s focused on raising organic livestock in a way that’s sustainable and humane. We started following his guidelines for raising chickens on pasture. We were raising them for ourselves and our friends and family initially, and then we realized, Wow, we can do this on a larger scale. We felt like we were really reverting back to how food used to taste. We felt better. We both had Lyme disease and we were trying to heal with food. So that’s how it all started, trying to seek out healthy food, and we were really involved with the local food movement. My husband went down to Joel Salatin’s farm in Virginia, and he came back and said, OK, we’re going to start a farm. We began with a few cows and a few chickens and it snowballed from there. The initial idea was to raise the cleanest food possible to heal our bodies and just source our food from the land where we lived, and then we became so passionate about it that we started going to conferences and seminars and reading books.

Now we’re raising about 80 head of cattle and over 2,000 broiler chickens per year, and, about 70 pigs this year, and everything’s pasture raised or grass fed. And turkeys for Thanksgiving. And egg-laying chickens as well. We used to sell all of our meats and eggs out of the basement of the inn, because that was the hub of the farm. As we’ve grown we’ve added a farm store. We supply a couple of restaurants – the Hanover Inn and Burdick’s – and sell our products at the Monadnock Food Co-op in Keene and the Walpole Grocery. So we’ve got two businesses, the inn and the farm, under the same umbrella. We’re working together toward a common goal, which is to get people to understand where food comes from and to get them to see and smell a farm and taste the food. Our primary focus is to raise sustainably raised meat on the best possible diet that we can, and to slaughter the livestock in the most humane way possible. It’s been about 10 years since we started the farm. Every year we’ve added something new, so now we’ve implemented apprenticeship and internship programs. There’s a lot of interest in this way of living, where the food becomes part of your life. It’s really nice looking out the windows and seeing vegetables growing and seeing the cows graze and hearing the chickens in the morning. You’re really connected to nature and to your food.

We have two boys; Henry is 7 and Sam is 9. Our oldest son is really interested in farming. We ask him what he wants to be when he grows up, he says, “A farmer, and if not a farmer, I’ll have a restaurant on the farm” – because he loves to eat.

Almost two years ago, Chris had an accident when he was using a tractor to move a large pine tree. The tree snapped and smacked him, breaking every bone in his face except for his bottom jaw. He had a horrible head injury, which required airlifting him to Dartmouth. It was traumatic, for sure, and he’s still dealing with a lot of the after-effects, and will be for a long time. He was really close to dying. It changes your perspective on things. It’s definitely made me count my blessings every day. But it also makes me realize that you can’t place blame. It’s just, things happen. And a lot of good came out of that. The community came to our rescue. We had a high deductible on our health insurance. Our community raised $60,000 to cover expenses, which was amazing. Nobody wants to see a farm go under because of an accident like that. And we realized, Wow, people really care about this, and people really care about farms, and people really care about us. You don’t really know that until something like this happens.

It definitely made me stronger. I had no idea that I could go through something like that and not break down every few minutes, but I didn’t. I’m just thankful for where we are now and not having lost what we put ten years into. It’s going to be hard for quite a few more years. Chris still can’t work to his full capacity, and it’s changed my job – I have to do a lot more behind the scenes, things I’m not used to, and that’s fine, but it’s been such a learning experience.

I never thought I’d be a farmer. I always loved farm animals, but I didn’t grow up on a farm. Our aim right now is to be able to continue farming, be wonderful stewards and keep this land open and farmable for the next generation and the generations to come. We are definitely a new breed of farmers. Looking back at what we’ve done before, I can say that every experience we’ve had up until we started farming has lent itself wonderfully to what we’re doing now.