Heather Secrist ’00
Heather Secrist ’00 never would have guessed that she would be living near the small town where she grew up. “Working with the land and being self-employed as a small sustainable farmer is wonderfully fulfilling and a creative challenge,” she says. “I think I needed to go away from my home area to fully appreciate it and make the conscious choice to move back and raise a family here.”
Majoring in biology and psychology, Secrist planned to become a veterinarian. “Sometimes I think it’s easier to understand an animal than a person,” she says. Finding professors like Barbara Christie-Pope and Marty Condon both passionate and guiding, Secrist recalls a particularly inspiring Cornell experience which helped to seal her ideologies. “I lived with the Bob Black family one summer while doing field research with Bob. They are an amazing family living true to their values and ate from the gardens and preserved for the off-season. Their family has a special place in my heart even though I haven’t seen them in a long time. I also first learned about the ‘CSA’ concept from seeing (former lab instructor) Laura Krause’s operation on her small farm.”
Secrist took time after college to travel and explore, which helped her discover her passions. “I became more and more interested in sustainability on multiple levels and started making life choices that lead me further toward the farming lifestyle. I then discovered the pleasures of feeding people food either I’d grown or created.” Recalling meals at the Cornell Commons, Secrist enjoyed seeing the creations of the guest chefs, especially appreciating the vegetarian fare that she was introduced to for the first time.
Running a CSA farm has profound moments. “It’s amazing to watch a family transform into a healthier eating family who truly looks forward to the seasonal eating experience and the realm of vegetables that grow in this area, especially when there are children included in this food evolution.”
Weekly wood-fired pizza nights have surpassed the CSA vegetables in sales for the farm. Secrist uses surplus and blemished vegetables in a value-added way such as making pizza, a great way for a farm to increase overall profits. “Usually people think of farming as purely production, but direct marketing farming is as much about the people, their experience, and your relationship with them as it is about the food,” she says.
Secrist urges current students to give themselves the time and freedom to discover who they are after college if possible. “If I hadn’t done this, my life would look a lot different than it does now but I know that I am very happy engaging in work that I love and sharing this passion with others,” she says. “Doing something you believe in gives you the strength and motivation to create your dream into a reality. It doesn’t always come easy, but passion and enthusiasm sure make the journey more enjoyable.”