Through most of his time at Williams, Coleman was a self-described partier. He played sports, hung out with friends, and gave a small portion of his leftover time to academics. Coleman’s father and grandfather both worked on Wall Street, and he interned at a bank there during his summers in college. Spring of his junior year, however, Coleman was involved in a motorcycle accident and was forced to spend the next several months in a hospital bed. While he was there, he read a book on small-scale agriculture and became obsessed. When he finished that book, he sought out others. Before long, Coleman had given up any illusions that he belonged in New York. After graduation he traveled around the Northeast looking for a spot to start a farm of his own. He settled on a remote plot of land on the Maine coast and spent the next several years digging out stumps and removing boulders from the soil. Four decades later, Coleman’s Four Season Farm is a model for the organic farming world. Through his passion for innovation, Coleman has developed new techniques to promote soil growth and allow for more consistent growing.
Where did the stigma against organic farmers come from?
Well, none of the big chemical companies want to believe that organic farming can work. I suppose the first thing that set them off was Rachel Carson and Silent Spring. If you read the history of the book, the chemical companies tried to destroy her. She was a threat. No one’s interested in the truth unless it backs up what they’re selling. It’s interesting how much of that’s been forgotten today.
Were you ever tempted to go a more traditional route?
Only because my father was a stockbroker in New York City. After my motorcycle accident, I needed something to do before I could go back to Williams. He got me a job on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. What I was expected to do was pretty easy as long as you were paying attention. I did it for six months, and I told my old man that broking wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life.
I went back to Williams for senior year, then went to graduate school, and then went and taught for five years. When I decided to do this, my parents would have nothing to do with it, which is why it was wonderful that the Nearings took pity on me and sold me the land for a price I could afford.