Ellen Kok

Photographer and Writer
 
The Other Farm
Location: Drewsville, New Hampshire, USA
Nationality: Netherlands
Biography: Ellen Kok is a photographer and writer from the Netherlands, who combines photo essays with written stories. She firmly believes storytelling is an important art, that can open eyes and connect people. Her photography is based on trust and... read on
Public Story
The Other Farm
Credits: ellen kok
Date of Work: 12/31/69 - 12/31/69
Updated: 01/14/21
One farm lies 8 feet below sea level, in the peat meadows of the Netherlands. The other farm is at 750 feet in the hills of Vermont in the USA. But they have so much in common: the same family has been farming each one for three generations; they witnessed prosperity, and the increase in scale of agriculture; each made the leap to organic farming.

The Other Farm tells the story of two farming families who still believe in their family tradition, but who are also seeking new ways to earn a living and contribute to their communities.

Family farms are having a hard time of it in rich western countries like the Netherlands and the United States. Thousands of farmers quit every year. But you can still find farms that have been run by the same family for generations.

For a long time Dutch photographer and writer Ellen Kok wanted to understand how they keep going. What makes them successful in spite of economic pressures? Without farmers, there is no food. But why does someone become a farmer, and how important is family tradition in that choice? Is it a calling or an obligation? Does the family farm have a future in a global market that demands mass production and low prices?

In search of answers to these questions, for eleven years, since 2004, Ellen followed life on Lilac Ridge Farm in Brattleboro, in the American state of Vermont, and De Beekhoeve in Kamerik, in the Dutch province of Utrecht, asking questions and taking photos.

The Thurber and Van der Laan families boast ancestors who were farmers in the same areas going back to 1760 and 1622, respectively. At their current locations, they started dairy farms in 1937 and 1914. The first generation at each of these locations had a small herd of dairy cows, chickens, some pigs, and a horse to pull the plow. The second generation used pesticides and chemical fertilizers to gain the highest possible yield. And in each family, when the third generation took over it decided to go organic.

The Thurbers and Van der Laans don’t feel called upon to feed the world. They deliberately aim closer to home. Mass production, they emphasize, always means that you have to sacrifice other things—the very things they value: healthy cows, good soil management, clean water, birdsong around the farm, family life. If you measure the success of a farm just by the amount it produces, in their opinion, you don’t measure the totality of it.

Dutch farmer Koos van der Laan reflects: “For me, the satisfaction is not in the number of cows to milk, but in the variety of the work.” American farmer Ross Thurber considers the balance he is striving for as “A kind of timeless beauty of plant, animal, and man, all working together in an intimate relationship.”

Ellen Kok wants to show how creative and driven these farmers are in keeping their unconventional enterprises prosperous in a global economy that insists on industrial agriculture. The Other Farm tells about the importance of family and tradition, and the close connection between farmers, nature, animals and us.

The Other Farm won a Silver Award in the P×3 Prix de la Photographie Paris 2016, in the category Professional Documentary Book.
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