A Thoughtful Process
George Remington spent decades as a successful advertising photographer and film director. These days, he’s funneling the passion that drove his career into a small organic farm in Hinckley.
“It keeps me sane,” proclaims George Remington, standing among the assorted tools that line the walls of his barn. His jean jacket and tan work pants match the dirt-covered tractor beside him. All confirm his occupation: farmer.
As the sun outlines the edges of the hills bordering Remington’s MorningSide Farm in Hinckley, birds chirp and a gentle breeze jiggles the dew-laden plants in his fields. That same peacefulness emanates from the man who for decades has been a well-known advertising photographer and film director in Cleveland.
With a keen eye and assertive personality, Remington produced national advertising campaigns from his studio, a renovated former firehouse on the city’s west side. Clients sought him out for his artistic vision and organization. Then in 2005, he fell and injured his spine.
“I couldn’t hang out of helicopters dangling cameras anymore or be strapped onto motorcycles to get the shot,” Remington says. “For the first time in my life I had a limitation. The most difficult part of the transition phase was realizing it was over, accepting I had to let it go. … I identified with being a photographer, an artist. Who was I without it?
“As a young man, I had a reason to get up every morning, to make a mark,” he adds. “I still needed a reason to get up each day.”
Remington battled the physical aspects of surgery that placed a 4-inch metal plate in his neck. Along with muscle atrophy there was depression, frustration and anger about his career.
As he regained his physical strength, Remington began to follow his interests. He started photographing events for the Columbus-based Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, where he learned of a business opportunity in organic farming. He didn’t study the subject so much as immerse himself in it, visiting existing farms and learning as he went along.
“Advertising was good to me. It paid for this place and it put my kids through college,” says Remington, as he hooks a trailer up to his tractor. “I did all right in that it afforded me a good life. This was strictly about finding something to do — a purpose.”
He admits it was a gradual transition from being idle to engaging in the purposeful work that now fills his days. First, Remington liquidated his photography equipment and studio to generate $250,000 in seed money. He then armed himself with accurate organic farming information and advisors and set up the business of creating his farm.
“Doing anything new until it becomes routine creates an uneasiness,” Remington confides. “It took awhile for that to pass. I committed myself to farming, addressing each problem along the way.”
Having grown up in rural southwestern Pennsylvania, Remington is comfortable with nature. The biggest challenge is the 12- to 14-hour days that the farm requires.
“If I were younger, I would have worked on farms for three to five years to learn everything I could,” he says. “Starting a farm midlife is hard mentally and physically.”
Given MorningSide Farm’s small scale, the work is indeed physical. While it may seem a contradiction given Remington’s limitations, he is a man in constant motion, participating in every aspect of his business.
The greenhouses on his property and the fields he leases from neighboring landowners are not suitable for automated farming. The only option is to plant by hand.
“Without automation there is no real profitability in farming,” Remington says. “It’s an ongoing struggle, yet I make it work. I keep it lean and work with what I have.”
He grows 120 varieties of produce, which are available at the North Union Farmers Market on Cleveland’s Shaker Square and the Countryside Farmers’ Market at Howe Meadow in Cuyahoga Valley National Park most Saturdays during the season.
Crops started in greenhouses are later hand planted in the fields, with Remington using organic fertilizers and weeding techniques to nurture the growth. Laura West and Aaron Arbogast lead his crew, guiding the assortment of day workers who gravitate to the farm. The physical labor requires stamina, but finding meaning in the work contributes to the camaraderie of those who do it. The day workers change each season, but West and Arbogast remain.
“This work is not for the faint of heart,” Remington says. “We have a schedule to keep regardless of weather. Extremes of conditions push us to our limits while going about the actual labor. Finding enough reliable workers can be challenging.”
Remington’s independence and talents for handling large projects have translated to overseeing every aspect of his certified organic enterprise: crop selection, field rotations, planting schedules and maintaining the greenhouses and fields through peak harvest time.
“There are no immediate do-overs,” he says. “If your tomato crop fails, you have to wait until the next year to try again. Farmers encounter difficulties not having enough money for the first three years. If you make the wrong decision or don’t anticipate problems like fields flooding, it costs you. It’s similar to raising children, you are dealing with living things.”
Remington’s approach to farming is a fine craft — one that provides him essential fundamental expression while keeping his hands ever busy. The methodical procedures he cycles through allow him to focus all of his energy on the present. He shares his wisdom with a peacefulness that’s not unlike a morning in his fields.
“The sun shines on the soil, plants take that energy in. After harvesting, when we consume those plants, nutrients and energy go into our bodies. It makes sense to me,” he says. “It’s a thoughtful process … You have to have something that keeps you sane and the only thing that does that is a thoughtful process. Otherwise what is there? I get up every morning to do something I enjoy.”
For more information about George Remington’s MorningSide Farm, visit morningside-farm.com.