USA Today

November 5, 2010

Single farmers in Vermont
give ‘weed dating’ a whack

By Melissa Pasanen and Adam Silverman

TUNBRIDGE, Vt. — Ben Wolfe was a little nervous, he admitted, as he stood waiting one recent afternoon at Tunbridge Hill Farm in central Vermont.

His apprehension had nothing to do with farming, and everything to do with meeting someone new. He was about to participate in an event called weed dating, a meet-up for single farmers looking for a date or a mate.

Weed dating is a variation on speed dating, in which participants meet in pairs for a few minutes, typically in a bar or restaurant, and then move on to another rapid pairing. It was the brainchild of Jean and Wendy Palthey, who have farmed in Tunbridge for 18 years.

“We have this one young guy who works for us,” Jean Palthey says, “and he’s single and lives in Chelsea, and we were joking that there are not a lot of young, single people around here, so we came up with this idea.”

Much weeding but no weddings yet

Weed dating takes place on farms among rows of sprouting produce. Participants weed a row with a potential romantic interest, then move on to another row and another partner. At the end of the day, some people might have cultivated a mutual interest — and no matter, the field is freshly weeded.

The Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) of Vermont, which organized this inaugural series, says it’s the first of its kind in the nation.

“It’d be really neat to meet a woman,” says Wolfe, 35, of North Tunbridge. “But I’m not pressuring myself. I’m just thinking that you get to meet people while you help out a local farm, weeding. It says something about people that they’d like to do something like this.”

There have been three weed-dating events so far, two in August and one in September. Another, at an orchard in Shelburne, Vt., is set later this month.

Twelve people participated in the first, four of them men and eight women; the second, plagued by rain, drew four men and one woman; and the third attracted six women and one man, says Caitlin Gildrien, outreach coordinator for NOFA-Vermont. To NOFA’s knowledge, Gildrien says, there have yet to be any romantic connections among the weeders. “We’re finding that the focus is less on finding a love match than on finding people who share the same interests and values,” she says. “They’ve been finding friendships.”

The event sounds good to Julie Roop, coordinator of the Young Farmers and Ranchers program of the American Farm Bureau in Washington — even though she has never heard of such a thing. “It’s important to join groups or organizations that have people with the same passion that you do,” she says.

Her program, aimed at farmers and ranchers between the ages of 18 and 35, has led to love connections between a few participants, even though that’s far from the group’s main mission, she says. Sometimes, singles whose lives are outdoors have trouble meeting other singles because they’re not working a typical 9-to-5, Monday-Friday schedule, Roop says.

Brandon Moore, director of the Alabama Young Farmers Association, calls the weed-dating idea “very interesting.”

“I have noticed in my work with young farmers that many have a tendency to marry early, but the ones that do not seem to marry much later in life,” he says. “It’s kind of an either/or thing.”

Getting down and dirty

Participants in the Vermont weed-dating series pay $10 for the privilege of meeting and weeding. Those in the inaugural event ranged in age from early 20s to 50. Each wore a name tag with his or her first name and the name of a favorite fruit or vegetable, which became a weed-dating surname.

“It isn’t only about love and dating, it’s also about making friends and community,” co-organizer Sarah “Kale” Heusner told participants before the weeding began.

Beyond rows of plump onions and a field of corn that rustled in the light breeze, the group got down to the business. As the pulled weeds piled up, snippets of conversation floated from heads bent companionably close together. They ranged from the standard — “Where did you grow up? Go to school? What do you do for a living?” — to discussions about gardening and farming, educating kids about where food comes from, energy policy and bartering as a better economic model for the world.

At intervals of about seven minutes, a small goat bell rang, and everyone got up, shook muddy hands and moved a row over to a new weeding companion.

Caitlin Henzler, 22, who works as an apprentice farmer in Chesterfield, Mass., road-tripped to Vermont with a friend for the event. “I’ve been weeding for the past month and half, so you might wonder why I want to spend time off weeding. But I thought, ‘Why not?’ ” she says. “I like to weed with people. People always have something to share.”

Henzler says she’s “looking for a very specific thing” in a romantic partner, “and the farming community is where I think I’ll find that. There are a lot of young farmers out there, but farmers don’t get out that often.”

Josh Schlossberg, 31, of East Montpelier, who weeded with Henzler one round, adds: “It’s better to meet people over shared interests and physically doing something. I’ve done online dating, but this is the first time I’ve done something like this where you meet multiple people.

“Speed dating is too blatant. This is practical.”

Pasanen and Silverman report for The Burlington (Vt.) Free Press