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“I have been deeply affected by his work, as have so many others. Samuel is one of the great pioneers of organic farming in America.”– Dave Chapman in this week's letter. Read his full remembrance of Samuel Kaymen below.

 

Remembering Samuel Kaymen, Co-Founder of Stonyfield

“… Sometimes the light's all shinin' on me
Other times, I can barely see
Lately, it occurs to me
What a long, strange trip it's been…” 

From the song Truckin’ by the Grateful Dead.” – Michael Phillips

A black and white image of a bearded Samuel Kaymen wearing a ski hat, leaning over a barn fence looking at a brown cow.
Samuel Kaymen was a kid from the streets of Brooklyn who found his life's work on the farm.

Dear Friend,

I recently learned of the passing of Samuel Kaymen in early March.

Though I never knew Samuel well, I met him at the early NOFA conferences. Back then I was just a kid getting started. Still, I have been deeply affected by his work, as have so many others. Samuel is one of the great pioneers of organic farming in America. He was the founder of NOFA (which began its life as the Natural Organic Farmers Association). He was founder of the New England People’s Food Co-op. He was the onetime president of the Biodynamic Association. And he was co-founder of Stonyfield, now the biggest organic yogurt brand in America.

From community organizer to co-founder of Stonyfield

Samuel’s journey from radical community organizer to leading the company (with partner Gary Hirshberg) that was ultimately sold to the multinational Danone, only to then be sold to the multinational Lactalis, evokes the Grateful Dead lyric, “What a long, strange trip it’s been.”

Howie Prussack told me about early morning crew meetings at Samuel's farm back in the day. While sipping mint tea, Samuel would read Rudolph Steiner out loud to inspire the crew in their day's work. Steiner was the founder of the biodynamic approach to agriculture. His mystical perspective was incomprehensible to many, so the early morning readings must have been a dive into the unknown. Many of those early crew members became the next generation of organic farmers. Gary Hirshberg remembers Samuel walking at dawn down the hallways in early NOFA conferences, ringing a bell to wake everybody up.

That is an apt image of Samuel, as his life’s work has been to wake us up. His enthusiasm was infectious. His impact on the organic movement in America has been profound.

 

 

A black and white vintage photo of Samuel Kaymen and Gary Hirshberg with their arms around one another, smiling at the camera.
Samuel Kaymen and Gary Hirshberg in the early days of Stonyfield Organic.

Samuel Kaymen's early days in the American organic movement were marked by a wild excitement.

Most early practitioners had little idea what organic farming was, but they were convinced that there must be a better way to grow food than the chemical, industrial farming that was getting an ever deeper grip on our country.

Some were the children of farmers, but most were from a different world that knew little about growing food. They were learning where they could, reading books and talking to each other. Instead of going to the internet, they might stand in the snow at a payphone trying to figure out how to grow food without chemicals.

What did it mean to be an organic farmer?

In 1971, Samuel began NOFA, the year I graduated from high school. Six years later, NOFA was the first place I came to learn about organic farming. My first mentor, Jake Guest, was one of those early people who gathered at Samuel’s farm. Jake told me, “Samuel didn’t know what he was doing, but he got a lot done. He wasn’t shy. He told us we were going to save the world.” There was no path to follow. They were trailblazing.

A vintage color photo of Louisa and Samuel Kaymen at Stonyfield, smiling while eating yogurt.
Louisa and Samuel Kaymen at Stonyfield Organic.

Everyone I spoke with talked about Samuel’s kindness.

Jake said, “Samuel had this clear sense of what was right and wrong. He didn’t lose track of the sun by being in his own shadow. A lot of people get lost when they lead. Samuel was never like that. He was a good person. He cared about people. Samuel wouldn’t get angry at people. But he spoke vehemently about the destructive characteristics of modern capitalism. He looked at the whole system.”

Howard Prussack wrote an affectionate remembrance of Samuel that he posted on Facebook. He was stunned that it only got one “like’” from a person who had never even heard of Samuel. It was a reminder that our lives flow on and that we will all soon be forgotten by those who come after. And yet, we will touch their lives strongly with our actions today.

Much that Samuel Kaymen worked for is now in danger.

It isn't over yet. This fight hasn't been won.

A change has begun, but this work is never done.

What happens next is up to each of us.

We share our gratitude to Samuel for what he has passed on to us.

Dave

 


Join us this Thursday, March 31 at 6 pm eastern time for our first Real Organic Book Club meeting. Farmer/author Eliot Coleman will be reading from some of his favorite writings and answering questions. All of our Real Friends and certified Real Organic Farmers are invited.

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