PHOTOGRAPHY BY SHAYNE LAVERDIERE
WORDS BY ELIZABETH CABRAL
While the worlds of fashion and farming may seem like entirely disparate realms, model Tasha Tilberg has always sought solace in mother nature and its bountiful offering. In fact, it’s been an inescapable path.
“I think it’s in my DNA because my ancestors were farmers. I feel like there’s been such a connection with the land through my grandparents and great-grandparents.” Tilberg’s paternal grandparents were Swedish and Finnish farmers. “So, I was always drawn to it, even though I grew up in a city. We moved around so much and were mostly in the city, but I always, always felt completely drawn to the natural world and I grew up listening to stories about my mom’s farm and the one my sister was raised on, which I didn’t have the pleasure of being raised on. So, I was always longing for it.”
At fourteen, Tilberg began modeling and at sixteen purchased her first farm. “I was able to purchase a plot and it was such a wonderful feeling to own land.. It was better than having a house, it was so much more. I could really do something with it. I felt like it was just so special and so pure.” While most sixteen year olds buy cars as a conduit to freedom, for Tilberg, whose ‘day job’ had her persistently flying around the world, buying a farm seemed like a natural antidote for someone who spent more time in the clouds than feet planted on the ground.
“I needed a complete grounding, because the modeling industry, it’s wonderful—there are many amazing opportunities in fashion, but you have to harness the opportunities. When you fly all over the world and you’re in different cities, for me anyways, felt like I also needed to be able to say, Oh it’s spring time, I’m going to plant a seed and in the summer, I am going to harvest a vegetable. I needed that. I’m sure many people have that urge to get into the earth and have something that they can nurture.”
Constructing a timeline associated to physical growth could be perceived as an effort to maintain a semblance of control and slowing down, because as Tilberg will attest, when you’re an in-demand model your schedule is largely out of your hands. Perhaps also projecting a sense of slowing down “you feel like you miss aspects of the changing of seasons sometimes when you’re flying around, but when you have something constant, even if I flew away for two weeks, the farm would still be there. I wanted to be more of a land steward—having big trees, having gardens and I don’t know, it just felt really real, you know?”
A few years ago, Tilberg pressed pause on full-time modeling to raise her twins with her wife. A family move to remote Powel River, B.C. was as far from the fast lane as one could get. “I really wanted to be there as much as I could for my kids, especially when they were infants. I worked occasionally, but I really needed to be there with them and for them.”
While nurturing her family, Tilberg also cultivated the land around her. “I think being able to provide for your family, and for yourself, having the knowledge that you can improve something, nurture plants, nurture the surroundings and develop something over time. You could see immediate results, but you could also, over time, make something so much better. That in itself is so appealing.”
In the future, Tilberg hopes her children continue to have a close connection to the natural world and farming, but recognizes they are on their own journey. “It’s really hard to know at this point what they’re going to be in to, but, at least I know they have a really good base. They have the start of an appreciation of the natural world and they know how to grow things, they know how to plant seeds, they know how to harvest.” At a time when many children have a closer connection to screens than nature, it’s inspiring to think her kids have been given the tools to be resourceful, to love and nurture the land, and are taught the idea of empathy. “A really big part of my thing is having respect for animals and our symbiotic relationship with animals. I do instill that in them to make sure they make good choices in their lives.”
When her children went to kindergarten. Tilberg said she felt “freer to work again—a complete freedom to be able to put my effort into more things. Because they’re that much older, and they could handle it.” While her kids are less dependent, the farm and land are still demanding, but perhaps more rewarding now that she has a perspective of stepping away for a bit at a time.
“I am working quite a bit, so it is slightly challenging to be able to go home and create the balance as I would like, although, every time I am home it is so enriching. The other day I was home and could har- vest a bunch of things and enjoy it…go for a lovely walk. But, on the business side it is a bit challenging if I am modeling full- time. It’s always challenging to have work and to strike the balance of how big you want to build something. If I wanted to be selling vegetables full-time, at this point I would really need to hire out so it’s kind of on pause, but I’m still improving the land and I’m still doing all the infrastructure work to be selling vegetables and serving the community. I want to start getting into bees and have a cidery as well as my grapes. I have my hand in a lot of these things and some of them take a few years to develop. It’s a matter of planning, and that’s what’s fun; planning on my computer while I’m away so that I’m still connected.”
While Tilberg’s decades-long connection to the land has been an innate part of her, surprisingly or not, many others are seeking their own connection to nature, with a resurgence of smaller community led farms and farm-to-table.
“I wanted to be more of a land steward—having big trees, having gardens and I don’t know, it just felt really real, you know?”
“People are aware and can judge the quality of vegetables and have an awareness of lifestyle and how animals and people are treated. You can taste the difference and sense the difference. And I think people appreciate being a part of a community that is looking out for each other.”
With reports confirming an even more dire climate crisis than anticipated, it’s natural to wonder how Tilberg, a mother and nature lover, forges ahead without becoming overwhelmed by fear. “I’m an extreme optimist so I just feel like whatever happens, we’ll be okay. But I do believe that we must make a lot of effort to help change—or stop what we’ve created and I think that’s going back to the natural world and the farms, that in itself can make a difference. Between fashion and big agro-business, which are the two most dreadful things for our planet, I think choices do matter, your dollar and the choices in what you’re buying can make a difference.”
While it’s idealistic to think that we could all just live off the land, Tilberg and her family do try to live as sustainably as possible. “For us anyways, growing as much as we can for ourselves and making choices like buying organic, going to the farmer’s market, being primarily vegetarian. We try to buy second-hand clothing and non-fast fashion. My entire community does basically zero waste, including my children’s school.
Every event is zero waste—you have plates and dishwashers and people volunteer to do that. And you don’t have single use plastic.”
As a fashion model, there’s bound to be an ethical conflict for Tilberg, but ever the optimist she says, “a lot of bigger brands are really trying to find solutions because everybody wants to make a living and nobody wants to ruin the world. I do think there are some big thinkers out there trying to figure it out. Because whatever we’re doing is really unsustainable as a society.”
Perhaps the route to sustainability is just to want less, and it seems for Tilberg that has come naturally. “I don’t really want for anything. I am way more minimalistic than I’ve ever been and want to pare down what I already have. I grew up very poor and I always wanted little shiny things. I always loved jewelry and I would look at my mom’s jewelry box, she had a few things and I would just be so amazed it made me feel really connected to my family history. But besides those things, for myself, I don’t want anything.”
Why is it when we’re younger there’s a pride in acquiring and accumulating and now there’s pride in really being able to live and function beautifully with less? “I like making things, but I have nowhere to put them. It’s a funny thing to be like—I really enjoy the process of making stuff, but I want to give it away.”
“Being able to provide for your family, and for yourself, having the knowledge that you can improve something, nurture plants, nurture the surroundings and develop something over time…That in itself is so appealing.” –Tasha Tilberg
THE ALTRUISTIC FARMER
Upstate New York’s idyllic Hudson Valley has been a reprieve for city dwellers and nature seekers for decades, and now a bur- geoning area for the biodynamic farm movement. If you’ve gone in search of farm-to-table culinary experiences, you’ve likely come across the work of, or the farmer himself, Zach Wolf. Wolf has been shaping the area’s farming landscape for years with stints at world renowned Stone Barns for Blue Hill Restaurant and Locusts on Hudson. Now, Wolf is channeling his altruistic efforts at The Dutchess, the location of our magnificent shoot. With a secret inn, picturesque countryside, and wellness centered program, The Dutchess’ four acre vegetable and fruit gardens and biodynamic farm are operating as an integrated, biologically symbiotic organism in the land and the community.
Through our insightful dialogue with Wolf, we learn that food not only fuels our bodies and minds, but is a direct reflection of the cultural shifts in our landscape, both figuratively and literally.
What work are you doing at The Dutchess farm?
The farm’s overall mission is education, visitor experience, and building communities. Its main purpose is to talk about good practices of agriculture and give people a hands-on visceral expe- rience. The plant and the soil can give them ways to participate through weeding, feeding, pulling rocks out, whatever needs doing, and then to taste the landscape in the restaurant. Our secondary focus is to distribute food within the local economy, serving those who unfortunately don’t have access to fresh, local, biodynamic produce. We donate about three quarters of what we grow to various local community food pantries through key partners like mobile markets or storage facilities. Our focus in that space is off-season production. Typically, food banks, if they’re working with farmers at all, tend to get most of their products in the main season and have a glut of things a few months of the year, and then dwindles down in the winter without a lot of fresh items, so our focus is on late season growing and storage crops.
Can you give us a layman’s explanation of biodynamic farming and how it differs to conventional farming?
A biodynamic farm takes time to come into its own—to form its own identity. Thinking of the farm as a landscape, within a community, and how it interacts with the community socially, economically, and fits within the broader cosmos. There are four concepts to bio-dynamic farming: 1) Treat the farm. A biodynamic farm is intended to be integrated. A combination of crops, livestock and compost are essential components. Cycling nutrients between trees, plants and animals, different parts of the landscape. Thinking about how water moves on the landscape, thinking about and protecting wildlife. 2) The foundation must be organic. You first must be certified organic and then you add more layers. Striving to have a diversified farm and cycling as many nutrients internally as possible. And renew the biodynamic separation. 3) Concept of cosmic rhythms, which has a much broader view of the farm that’s sitting within the cosmos that is driving all processes on the farm. We work with polar- ities—the downward and upward pull—throughout the course of the season, day, and lunar planetary cycle that guides crops through their development. 4) The use of homeopathic treatment to help heal the land and produce food for human consumption. Homeopathy creates different energies or pulls that work with plant, mineral and animal elements, combining them in different ways and timing. I was trained in academic science and when I began my farming career ten years ago I was skeptical but opened up to it because people I respect use this and as I’ve used it, it changed my experience as a farmer and the quality of the land. There’s a much broader spiritual framework that aligns to create inspiration at work. It’s the combination of wanting an experience that’s luxurious, indulgent and beautiful, and then at the other end, a little bit uncomfortable and provocative. It’s a whole new type of hospitality where those two things can sit right next to each other.
We’ve lost the art of processing information and having a level of accountability to things…
Generally, I see much more of a consciousness shift. The conversation is more sophisticated. As consumer awareness grows, people are asking, what’s next? It was great to shop local, go organic, but that’s not going to fix the situation. We need to go deeper and look at lifestyle choices. Also, people are not satisfied just being decadent, it’s not as cool to just be a decadent consumer.
What if I went and had this beautiful experience: the food was amazing, people were interesting and the conversation was great, and I felt that the money I was spending on that experience was helping produce food that would feed people in the community that didn’t have that. For me, that is a much more enriching experience to participate in.
Is mindfulness the ultimate luxury?
People no longer want to just be consumers, but to also participate in something that is giving back and of service. People are smart and ask great questions. They can also feel, there’s an intuition and instinct that’s still intact. When people who have never even been on a farm or been around any of these things, when they do get around, parts of themselves come alive. Maybe parts of themselves that have never been touched before and that for me, as the one who’s so fortunate enough to grow up around agriculture, is such an inspiring thing to see.
What would you say are the first steps for those of us who are looking to make that shift?
Firstly, don’t beat yourself up, don’t feel guilty and take care of yourself. Think of the ways you’re showing up or not showing up in your life. Next is to change the paradigm in general from one in which the environmental movement has been focusing on guilting people to change by telling them what’s wrong with their behavior and why it’s detrimental. Food is a powerful vehicle because the reality is that if you want to eat well, take good care of yourself, feel great, and have a healthy vibrant life, we’re asking you to change the way you eat. Eating from local farms and cleaner, nutrient rich produce. Through that process, you’re encouraging the agriculture that’s building soil, and communities. Switching the dialogue from one of guilt and “no,” to joy and “yes.” This alternative feels much better but is uncomfortable because it might mean, “I’m going to eat out less and cook more. Or change a lifestyle habit to free up time to cook or learn to cook. Going out of my way to the farmer’s market.”
Accountability and traceability are major issues for food and clothing. How do we overcome what seems like such a massive hurdle?
I would advocate for buying organic over conventional produce, or if you’re able to, biodynamic food that is a more stringent certification. Empower yourself and go right to the farm. Go
to the farmer’s market and look a farmer in the eye and try to build a relationship. Or join a CSA and try to self-educate, have a community relationship with the place that your food is coming from.
Why haven’t more people embraced this mindset yet?
The biggest barrier for the local sustainable food movement is that it’s not as convenient, especially in the city where time is everything. Joining a CSA means you need to cook differently, store your food differently, to a certain degree it’s a lifestyle change. But the question I ask is, “is that lifestyle change actually in your best interest?” Maybe. “Does that mean you’re spending less money going out to eat? That you’re spending more time at home cooking with your family?” It’s forcing changes that go beyond, “do I buy the conventional or the organic?” It’s choices about your entire lifestyle.
It’s a shift in priorities, and the more you know, the better the experience feels, obviously.
It is about experience and duty. People understand the choices they make with their food carry a much broader, economic, ecological impact that we’re all implicated in. You either put your head in the can and pretend that you’re not, or you participate in a conscious way.
Seemingly, more organizations are giving back to the underserved, what was the catalyst to do this at The Dutchess?
To be totally frank, I just wanted to do that. Most of the food that I’ve grown as a farmer has gone to people who already have consciousness, looked for it or can afford it. It was an opportunity to get my food to people that I haven’t been able to serve before, it was very personal.
It’s far more motivating to grow a pound of carrots hoping it goes to a family that really needs it versus for someone’s luxury meal after their fourth glass of wine. It’s a very different reason to get out of bed in the morning.
A whole other level of purpose…