Thank you. It's such an honor to be here today.
I had the pleasure of being on campus a little over a year ago, to talk to students and others about organic gardening, as part of my book tour. It was exciting to learn how Wells is working with students and the local community to collaborate on growing healthy food. This innovation reminded me of what I loved most about Wells College, how I fit in.
My mother kept a large garden and would have loved it if I had shown an interest, but I was more interested in helping my father with haying the fields, milking our shorthorn cows and driving tractors. Outdoors was where I was happiest.
School was tough for me. I couldn't read. It wasn't until I was a senior in high school that I read my first book. I even remember what that first book was, Wuthering Heights! It turns out I was dyslexic. After an embarrassing third grade year where my teacher knew I couldn't read, I found ways to hide my inability to read. I became a really attentive listener in class and fortunately I could write well albeit slowly.
I considered going to Cornell to get a degree in agriculture but Wells turned out to be the perfect place for me. I thought I wanted to enroll as a premed major. However after a year of science and math classes, I opted for the two departments which had the most interesting and inspiring professors then, philosophy and English literature.
I remember lording it over my brother who was going to Harvard and being taught by "teaching fellows" who were neither experienced professors nor very interesting!
I got married at the end of my junior year and became pregnant my senior year with a due date on graduation weekend. I was living in Syracuse with my husband and commuting. It was an hour each way and winter made the drive tough. So I decided to take the second half of the year off.
The president of Wells at the time was very concerned that I would never finish. We hatched a plan where I would come back with the baby the next year. I ended up staying with Suzanne Worrell, a Wells College student who had married a grounds keeper at the college, and was living with her family in Aurora. She babysat while I finished up my senior year. I think I was the first student to do that.
When my marriage broke up in the Mid 60's, I took my two boys and moved to New York City. It was an interesting time to be there in the late 60's and early 70's. The public schools were being decentralized. It was during the first big teacher's strike, which went on for months. I was a strikebreaker and took on a third grade class in a school in Harlem on 123rd street on the West side. After the strike was over, I was offered a difficult fifth grade class. Every child with behavior problems was taken out of other classrooms and put in this one classroom. That class had gone through 13 teachers--one a week, when I got them.
I was able to keep them from killing each other and I was able to raise their reading and math scores some and survive the rest of the year. The parents were so grateful, and the principal then offered me any class I wanted. I ended up teaching 3rd grade for another 4 years.
My boys and I moved back to New Hampshire in 1973 where I married a wonderful man, Perkins Bass. Perkins owned a beautiful farm that had been in his family for generations. I was married to him for 38 years until his death in 2011.
I was really excited to be getting married to someone who would support me so I didn't have to work outside of the house. I could concentrate on writing. But his beautiful land lured me back outside. Even before I married him, I started a garden there.
Rosaly's Garden is the oldest and largest certified organic farm in New Hampshire.
I didn't plan to create it. I just sort of backed into it. Right from the beginning I was growing more than my husband's rather large family could eat. I started selling excess produce to a local restaurant. Over the years I sold to more restaurants, plus health food stores, grocery stores, private schools, cooking schools and finally in 1990 we opened our own farm stand at the farm. Now, we sell 90% of what we grow at the farm stand.
To begin with, it was pretty haphazard. It didn't have a name and I was scribbling my on random slips of paper. Perkins said to me one day, "you know you can't run a business that way!" "It's working fine." I told him. A week later he came home with 3,000 invoice slips with "Rosaly's Garden" printed on top in bold letters. It's not what I would have named it, but it was done.
Another characteristic Perkins had, was he was a real Yankee. He didn't believe in spending money on nonessential items. So he never gave me any jewelry. But he did give me tractors. I think I made out better than if I'd gotten jewelry!
Over the years we did many experiments with the University of New Hampshire Ag School and the Extension Service. To begin with they didn't know much about organic farming and neither did we. Together our knowledge and theirs grew exponentially. We gave many farm tours for farmers to show off what we had learned and were learning.
I've had many workers over the years who have gone off to start new farms or manage other people's farms. What started off as a little garden became an incubator for young farmers. As I said earlier, it wasn't my plan but it's one of the things that made my life so wonderful.
It was my early years growing up on a farm that turned me into a farmer. But it was Wells College where I learned discipline, honed my writing and reading skills, developed an intellectual curiosity and widened my horizons which contributed in a big way to making me the person I am today. And for that I will always be most grateful!
~ Rosaly Swann Bass '58