A farmer's life grows on Otis fellow Anna Skarstad '11

Anna Skarstad ’11 wants to be a farmer, but she’s not willing to hoe that row until she understands why. And she knows that farming is hard. “It’s deeper, too,” she says. “It’s a life.”

Which is the reason Skarstad lived amidst Norwegian farmers last summer, hoping to learn a little about their lives and more about her own. Supporting her travel was an Otis Fellowship, a competitive Bates grant program designed to help students explore their relationship with nature.

Skarstad, of Pleasantville, N.Y., wasn’t raised to farm. Her father is a noted violinmaker, and her mother is a composer. In fact, her father’s Norwegian grandparents abandoned a family farm to come to the U.S.

But the urge to work the land apparently didn’t leave the Skarstad genome. When she was 10, Skarstad saw a documentary about Norwegian farming. She saw men, tethered by ropes, descending a Norwegian hillside to harvest hay. “I couldn’t believe that was a reality,” she says. “I wanted to go to Norway to see how the farmers survive.”

Through World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, Skarstad found Norwegian hosts Anders Braanaas and Hilde Buer. Each had been widowed several years ago, and, to skip a lot of details, “the two sheep farmers fell in love,” explains Skarstad. As the pair still maintain their separate farms, Skarstad helped them both during her visit, often driving a banged-up Czech car between the two farms.

At first, the experience felt helter-skelter: painting a barn here, putting up a fence there. “All the tasks seemed unrelated, like pods of work,” she says. Slowly, Skarstad saw unity in all the farm duties. “It all had so much of a point,” she says now. “We were working to keep pace with the earth.”

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