So Cheesy

Raymond and Daniel Trumble-Stazzone, who are 32 and 30 respectively, live with their two children, 10-year-old Jacob and 9-year-old Cody, on four acres of farmland in Hastings, New York. Their town, located in Oswego County, is home to a little more than 9,000 people. They share their four acres with twelve goats, two llamas, four sheep, nearly two dozen chickens, one dozen ducks, six turkeys, and bees.

“Oh, and we inherited two dogs,” Raymond told me, when we spoke by phone recently.

From this extensive animal kingdom that they named Mighty Whimp Farms they sell a line of goat milk soaps and lotions. Both gushed over their lives at Mighty Whimp Farms when asked how farm life was treating them.

“You wake up here, and you see the sunrise on your land,” Daniel said. “You have this beautiful view.  You collect fresh eggs in the morning, you have fresh milk, …”

“… the rooster’s crowing, the ducks are quacking,” Raymond chimed in, seamlessly picking up where Daniel left off. “It’s really beautiful.” Sounds enchanting! All that’s missing is Julie Andrews spinning in a field nearby, I thought.

Though the family is happily entrenched at Mighty Whimp Farms now, however, the couple explained it was quite the process that got them there. But let’s start at the beginning. How, exactly, did this gay farming family come to be?

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Whimp Farms Goat Milk Soaps

If their charming farm lives were any indication, I figured Daniel and Raymond must have met in some horribly romantic, small-town fashion—maybe they met at the town’s annual square dance, say, or at a pie-eating contest.

“We met in a bar,” Daniel said simply, back in 2006 while the two were still in college—Daniel at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry and Raymond at SUNY Oswego. “I know, it’s so cheesy! It’s just very atypical for both of us. We’re not really the type to pick someone up at a bar.”

“Right, me neither!” I lied.

Their story, Daniel warned me, was about to get cheesier. “I don’t even want to say it,” he continued, sheepishly, “but it was love at first sight!” In the days that followed this fateful, cheese-filled night, the two started dating, and things gradually became more serious.

After dating for about two years, and with both Raymond and Daniel fresh out of college, the two decided to move in with Raymond’s grandfather, who they affectionately refer to as “Grandpa Karl.” The house was located on four acres of land in Hastings, New York, a small town about 30 minutes north of Syracuse.

The couple, who lived in Grandpa Karl’s basement, said this set-up worked out quite nicely, apart from one minor hiccup. “[My grandfather] didn’t realize that Daniel was my boyfriend,” Raymond said with a quick laugh. “I thought he knew I was gay this whole time! He was the type of guy who went to work, came home, worked outside in the garden, and didn’t really talk much. It took a little bit for him to wrap his mind around it, but eventually he was cool with it.”

After Daniel and Raymond got their first salaried jobs — Daniel working for an affordable housing non-profit, and Raymond as a school teacher — the two decided to leave behind the small town of Hastings for their first apartment in Syracuse. Though the couple didn’t realize it at the time, they would be moving back to Grandpa Karl’s house in just a few short years to start Mighty Whimp Farms.

Incredible Feeling

It was around the time of their move to Syracuse that Raymond and Daniel began talking about starting their family.

Initially, the couple considered surrogacy, and even had a good friend offer to serve as their surrogate. They became discouraged, however, after conducting some initial research. “For a couple of months we immersed ourselves in what [surrogacy] means emotionally, and what financial things we need to consider,” Daniel said. “And as we learned more about it, we became hesitant on the risks. What if she can’t get pregnant? Or she loses the baby? Or becomes too emotionally attached?”

“We knew we wanted a big family,” Raymond added. “Once we figured out the costs associated with surrogacy, we figured we could do this once, maybe twice. And that’s assuming everything goes well from the beginning.” Eventually, the couple ruled surrogacy out as an option.

“I get why people want surrogates,” Daniel said, explaining their decision. “But there are so many kids who need a good home. I didn’t feel like we needed to go out of our way to create a new life when there are so many children that need love. So going the surrogacy route, once we researched it, we realized it wouldn’t be a good fit.”

So the two began to consider adoption, an option they also soon grew frustrated with. “We had an actual list of agencies that would and wouldn’t work with us because we were a same-sex couple,” Raymond said, reflecting back. “Some that wouldn’t work with us were religious agencies, some were international groups. Some were just like, ‘Sorry!’”

Eventually, Daniel and Raymond began to consider foster care. “These agencies were the only agencies that were like, ‘When can you start?’” Raymond said. Originally, foster care was, as Raymond said, “a last chance sort of thing” for the couple. They were afraid of some of the consequences of becoming foster parents. What if the couple grew too attached to the children? They also worried that it would be difficult to find younger children through the foster care system. “Having a baby was important to us at one point,” Raymond said.

Their perspective quickly changed, however, after the couple met their first foster care children, a sibling group of six girls. They had the youngest two come stay with them first, who were 4 and 5 at the time. And then they added the third and fourth girls, aged 7 and 8. The oldest two girls, who were 12 and 13, were originally opposed to joining their sisters.

“They were like, ‘you’re gay! That’s not okay with the Bible.’ And we said, ‘Okay that’s fine,’” Daniel said. But as the year went by, and the older girls saw how happy and healthy their siblings were, they started to come visit from time to time as well.

Just as they suspected, Daniel and Raymond grew close to these girls, and hoped the sisters would eventually join their family full time. To help accommodate this rather large increase in family size, the couple started to look for another house in Syracuse that would be large enough to house them all. Daniel, who had begun working in real estate at this time, quickly sold their first apartment and helped the family move into a different and larger one, a beautiful 1890 Victorian.

In the middle of this move, however, the girls were called back to their home. “This, of course, is the primary goal of foster care,” Raymond said, “to reunite kids with their parents.”

Still, just as they had feared, losing the girls took its toll on Daniel and Raymond.

“We have a relationship with these girls,” Daniel said. “We feel really strongly about them, we’re emotionally attached. I was an emotional wreck for a little bit.” Shortly after, however, the foster care agency presented the couple with another opportunity to provide a home for two siblings, Jacob and Cody. “We went in, read the files, and it sounded like a really great match,” Daniel recalled.

Moreover, unlike the girls they had fostered, Jacob and Cody were freed for adoption, which meant that Daniel and Raymond would be able to adopt them one day, legally and permanently. “Freed for adoption,” Daniel repeated, “I hate that term.” Still, it meant that Daniel and Raymond had the opportunity to become legal parents, as they had always hoped.  However, just as Daniel and Raymond were excitedly setting up their first meeting with Jacob and Cody, they got another call from the agency. “They said, ‘Guess what, your girls are coming back into care,’” Daniel said, “and you can get the six of them full time if you’re ready.”

This development presented the couple with an incredibly difficult decision. Do they pursue two children who they’ve never met but who could become their legal children, or allow the girls back into their home, knowing full well it would likely be temporary once again? After much soul-searching they decided to pursue Jacob and Cody.

I couldn’t imagine being put in such a situation, and this decision clearly still brought up a lot of raw emotions for the couple. But how was the young family getting along, then? “It’s been a really good fit,” Daniel said.

Raymond told an anecdote by way of example. “One of my concerns was that they might not want to call us dad. And I wanted to be a dad! The agency was honest with us from the beginning and said that just might not ever happen. But soon after we met them, Jacob, the older one, said, ‘I have an idea! I can call one of you dad and the other daddy!’”

Raymond paused for a second before continuing. “It was such an incredible feeling.”

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Adoption Day. Top row: Daniel and Raymond; bottom row: Cody and Jacob

Full Circle

By the time Jacob and Cody joined their family, the couple had already discussed the possibility of moving to the farm. They had been experimenting with some urban gardening at their home in Syracuse, but dreamed of moving their family to land where they could grow crops on a larger scale, and maybe have some animals. So, in what would be the fifth move for the young couple, they began looking at farmland where they could make this dream come true.

Unfortunately, at this same time, Grandpa Karl’s health began to take a turn for the worse. It suddenly became very clear to the couple where they would be moving to next. “In this moment we were like, what’s wrong with us?” Daniel said. “Ray’s grandpa needs help. And we’ve been looking for a farm anyway. There’s land there. That’s where we need to be. So we came full circle,” Daniel said, of their eventual move back to Grandpa Karl’s home.

In homage to Grandpa Karl, who passed away just as the couple was moving back to his home, the couple decided to name their new farming venture “Mighty Whimp Farms.”

“That’s ‘Whimp’ with an “H!” Raymond quickly pointed out, explaining “Whimp” had been Grandpa Karl’s childhood nickname. “He wasn’t a wimp in the least,” he added.

So, over a year later — this past November, in fact, marked the couple’s first anniversary as farmers — how have their new lives at Mighty Whimp Farms been treating them?

“Tumultuous!” Daniel said, summing up the last year in a word. “I won’t lie, it’s been a stressful year,” he elaborated. “We’ve done a lot. We moved, and the house needed a lot of cleaning and final touches. We’ve had to deal with the animals, signing the kids up for school …”

“We also had to clean out the house,” Raymond continued for him. “[My grandfather] had a lot of stuff here, so that was very emotional. We’re also adjusting to being parents, and the kids are in a new school.” The couple is also still in the process of selling their former house — the Victorian — and are also buying 21 acres adjacent to the four they currently own.

Eventually, the couple hopes to turn the farming venture into their full time jobs. “We already have products for sale, goat milk, soap and lotion,” Daniel said. “We’re going to sell cheeses, and we also have some coffee that comes directly to us from farmers in Haiti.” They also excitedly listed some of their ambitious plans for their new acreage, including an apple orchard and a small vineyard.

But in the meantime, both are continuing to work full time — Daniel as a realtor, while Raymond is completing his certification to be a principal or superintendent in the Syracuse area.

“It’s a ridiculous amount of work, and a lot of responsibility,” Daniel said. “But we’re a little bit crazy,” he said, laughing.

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Winter on Whimp Farms. From left to right: Jacob, Raymond, Daniel and Cody

Anything Can Happen Anywhere

Overall, both Daniel and Raymond say they have faced no major issues being openly gay dads in Hastings, New York. They attribute part of their successful acclimation to the area to Raymond’s long history in the area.

“I grew up here,” Raymond reminded me. “I know all the neighbors, and they know me. They’re getting to know us as a family. It really hasn’t been an issue.”

This isn’t to say the couple isn’t aware of the potential for problems. Before the couple made the move from Syracuse to the farm, in fact, they had lengthy discussions about whether they should move somewhere that would be most comfortable for them as a same-sex headed household.

“But we realized it doesn’t matter,” Daniel said of their thought process. “Anything can happen anywhere.” By way of example, Daniel mentioned a hate crime that had occurred several years ago in their old hometown of Syracuse that resulted in the death of a transgender woman, Lateisha Green. “You need to be careful everywhere,” he concluded.

Still, the couple took precautions as they began to set up their new life at Mighty Whimp Farms. In particular, Daniel and Raymond wanted to ensure the kids were looked out for at their new school, particularly their youngest child, Cody, who identifies as a boy who likes girl stuff. Before school started, therefore, Daniel and Raymond met with the school principal and their children’s teachers to talk about their family.

“They were very welcoming,” Raymond said of this meeting. “We also talked about Cody, and how he sometimes likes to wear dresses to school and nail polish. They said it wasn’t a problem.”

Still, like any good parent, the couple fretted over how Cody’s classmates would react. “We’d had so many discussions in preparation for Cody wearing a dress to school. So when the day finally came, our stomachs were in knots.” But when Cody got home that day, and his parents nervously asked him how school had been, Cody simply shrugged and said, “fine!”

“It’s not an issue at this age,” Daniel said, “the kids don’t care. And as they grow up together, it’ll just be normal.”

If anything, the couple feels safer raising their kids in Hastings, where they know all of their neighbors. Back in Syracuse, the couple had a nice house with a backyard and a park nearby where the kids would play. “But I would watch them,” Daniel said. “Always. Both of us!”

In Hastings, however, Jacob and Cody simply tell their dads when they’re going outside.

“I grew up with all of our neighbors,” Raymond explained. “They help watch the kids, and they know what’s going on. In the city, we really had to keep our eye on the kids all the time. Anyone could walk by or drive by.”

Though the couple doesn’t know many other gay people in the area, they also don’t feel this detracts from their lives much. We have a network of good people we could reach out to if we needed to or wanted to,” Raymond said, “but we don’t have gay friends or other LGBT families that we hang out with.”

This isn’t to say the couple is completely disconnected from the LGBT community. They stay in touch with other LGBT families and farmers on Facebook, for instance, “which has been a really incredibly resource for us, surprisingly,” Raymond said. The couple also provides a range of products that are partially geared towards the LGBT community. They sell “Rainbow Dozen” chicken eggs that include a variety of colors, for instance, and are also putting together a “Rainbow Pack” of goat and sheep milk soaps and lotions.

Walmart

Towards the end of our conversation, Daniel and Raymond had practically convinced me to ditch New York, move to Hastings, and insist everyone call me “Farmer Dave.” Quaint farm life? Progressive schools? Rainbow chicken eggs? Sign me up; what’s not to love?

But before I packed my bags, I wanted the couple to level with me. Don’t they ever miss some of the comforts of city living? Like, do they even have Uber up there?

“Look, this life isn’t for everyone, whether you’re gay or straight” Daniel said. “There’s not much here. In Syracuse, we were three miles from the regional market. You had local candlemakers, cheesemakers. That’s much more our style.” Similar, locally made goods were available to them in Hastings as well, Daniel explained, but this typically involved knocking on someone’s barn door and hoping that someone’s home.

“Walmart starts to become really convenient,” Daniel admitted, grudgingly.

Walmart notwithstanding, it was clear Daniel and Raymond were both enamored with their lives at Mighty Whimp Farms, and had many more positive things to say about Hastings than negative.

“Everything is so much cheaper!” Daniel said, as another example. He then recalled a recent New Year’s where he had bought a round of drinks to celebrate. “I swear I spent only $14 or $16 and got a round of shots, a couple beers, and a mixed drink. And I was like, this is amazing! In New York City, that’d be like $80!” Maybe it’s a sign that I’ve lived in New York too long, I thought, when $80 for a round of drinks sounds cheap to me.

Yes, their farmland is beautiful, the school system is great, and the drinks are cheap. But really, the couple stressed that their main motivation for staying put in Hastings was also the most obvious. “We don’t want the kids to move again,” Daniel said. “They’ve moved enough in their lives.”

Daniel and Raymond do, however, have one other pressing motivation for opting for the large farmhouse over a small New York City brownstone.

“We haven’t ruled out growing our family a bit more,” Raymond hinted. Though it was left unsaid, I figured he meant with more humans, not farm animals.

Note: All photos courtesy of Kara Hann Photography.