Edible will be sharing Lindsay Morris’s Farmer Portraits throughout this summer. She first introduced her beautiful and important series with a portrait of Quail Hill Farm’s Scott Chaskey back in June. Here, she continues the series with Quail Hill Farm’s farm manager, Layton Guenther.
Layton Guenther first discovered farming in college. “As a spritely, athletic twenty-year-old, I was totally enraptured with a form of labor that allowed me to exercise my intellect, body, and appetite all at once,” they wrote last year. It became immediately clear that, in farming, they had found something special: the opportunity to use their body and mind towards the service and sustenance of others. They were hooked—and so began their journey.
Five years ago that journey led Guenther to Quail Hill Farm, where they began working—to use their own phrase—as Scott Chaskey’s “understudy.” Of course, in reality, they are so much more: a mentor, a teacher, a friend, a person responsible for feeding so much of the East End.
We are so proud to introduce Guenther’s portrait by Lindsay Morris above—and so honored to share our interview with them below.
Edible East End: What do you think people can learn from a farmer’s face?
Layton Guenther: Use sun protection!!!!!!
EEE: What is the latest lesson that farming taught you?
LG: Hydrate, take your time and don’t forget to eat breakfast.
EEE: What has been your biggest success as a farmer? Your biggest failure?
LG: That all but a handful of the apprentices I’ve worked with have continued on a path towards farming & food systems work. Biggest failure? Losing an entire crop of onions (more than 10,000 plants) in 2017 to a pest I had never heard of.
EEE: Can you describe the satisfaction that growing things gives you?
LG: Farming makes me aware of our deep reliance on nutrient cycles that are so far beyond what we as humans can accomplish on our own—photosynthesis, e.g. Humans are so profoundly manipulative (in its true sense) that it’s hard to parse out where our influence begins and ends when it comes to vegetable crops, but I’m profoundly moved by my small role in this lineage. I definitely consider farming to be an act of service.
EEE: If you weren’t a farmer, what would you like to do?
LG: If I weren’t a farmer, I think I’d be a counselor or social worker for LGBTQIA youth.
EEE: What is your favorite thing to grow? Why?
LG: I love hot peppers. I don’t have the strongest tolerance for spice, but the plants are so incredibly diverse, productive, easy to grow. In the right climate, peppers are actually perennial—they live, flowering and fruiting, for many years—so I like having this relationship to a plant where we coax it into productivity as an annual plant. Also, I can’t get through a winter without smoked hot peppers, or a freezer full of roasted & frozen poblanos. They’re the best.
EEE: What is the funniest thing that’s happened to you at work?
LG: Well, certainly the most absurd thing was finding an entire intact bluefish in one of our fields one morning. We figured that an osprey must have dropped it…
EEE: What’s your favorite part of each work day?
LG: LUNCH! Every day, one member of our crew breaks a little early and prepares a family meal for our farm team. I love being able to sit down with the whole crew, relax and get to experience the literal “fruits of our labor” during what can be a pretty grueling work day.
EEE: If you could live anywhere else in the world, where would you want to be?
LG: The Big Rock Candy Mountain.
EEE: Who inspires you? Why?
LG: My fellow queer and transgender friends, especially those #queerfarmers out there living, farming and thriving in rural areas. It sounds pretty basic, but seeing myself reflected in a peer group (diffuse as it may be) is super powerful and keeps me motivated and focused on living with integrity, dignity and pride.