They are their own Jewish farm parable of sorts — one cast in the role of Moses, the youngest brother and prophet, the other cast as Aaron, the elder brother who speaks for them both. Rob Goldfarb, development director for the Farm Institute in Edgartown, is the older brother. Matthew Goldfarb, executive director, is the younger one. The Goldfarb brothers came to the Vineyard in 2005 sight unseen and took the reins at the fledgling Farm Institute, an educational, working farm in the rich Great Plains of Edgartown. Both live on Chappaquiddick, and both gave up their cars but not their distinct identities — Rob, the outgoing brother, takes the ferry to get to work, while Matthew, the contemplative one, rows his dinghy.
Rob: I am four years older than Matthew. Matthew is the baby of the family. And we have another brother as well, Jess.
If Matthew wasn’t happy, Jess and I were miserable. If Matthew was happy, we were fine and everyone was happy. And so Jess and I tried to keep Matthew entertained and keep him from being grouchy. We changed the rules to fit what he wanted.
There’s this huge competition between the brothers. And it’s serious, but it’s so much fun. We count [photographs] and we give a point system. So, if you’re in the picture alone, that’s worth two points. If you’re in the picture with someone else, that’s worth one point. So my poor mom is constantly having to balance. Every time we’d come home for vacation, we’d go around the house, looking for pictures. I don’t mind losing to anybody, except my brothers. Anybody in the world, I could care less — good game, nice match, job well done. My brothers? Ugh.
By the time I went to college, Matthew was still at home and then we lost touch, I’d say.
A few years ago I had just gotten back from Germany and . . . Matthew was just about to graduate from Warren Wilson in North Carolina. So this is 2002 and we both had started talking about doing a business together.
We wanted to do something where we could stay together. So, for about a year, Matthew and I were researching land — farmland that was still land, not being farmed.
It took us awhile. We finally found a place in the San Juan Islands in Washington state. We were really excited and we worked with them for about nine months . . . And we left our jobs. We left our girlfriends. We were saving up. We had the social capital — we had the blood and we had the sweat. We just didn’t have the money to buy the land.
We were supposed to move out. We were supposed to sign a contract. And they told us the day we were supposed to move out there, you know, ‘Rob, we didn’t know this, but we want to do exactly what you want to do, but we didn’t know that before seeing the whole story.’
It was harsh. We had spent a whole year building up to this, but it was probably the best thing that happened.
So we’re skipping rocks on the beach and I’m like, ‘So Matt, what do you want to do?’ And he said, ‘Well, I always thought, Rob, that I’d have a girlfriend, have a nice big sailboat. She’d teach me how to sail and we’d go to the Caribbean. Today, I’m thinking I don’t really need a girlfriend to go sailing and get a sailboat. Why don’t we? I think we can do that. Do you want to go to the Caribbean?’ And I said, ‘Sounds good to me.’
So the next day we went to the shipyard, bought a boat for like a thousand dollars. A 27-foot O’Day, 1972. We spent the summer fixing it up . . . On October 31, 2002, we put the boat in the water.
And that’s I think when the real relationship, or the second half of our relationship, began.
Matthew and I spent a year on the boat together. After that year I didn’t come back. Matthew needed to get back to getting his hands dirty; he needed to get back to the soil. So he ended up taking a job in Iowa.
None of us had been to Martha’s Vineyard before. We had heard of it. We knew it was an Island, but we had never been.
Then in 2005 [Matthew] was offered a position as a farm manager here at the Farm Institute.
So the Farm Institute was going through some transition, change, and he was the last man standing. They eliminated the position of executive director and made Matthew the interim director. Matthew was alone. He called me up in Guatemala and said, ‘Rob, we got our farm.’ And so I was called in. And for me, this was my dream as well.
Having my younger brother being my boss, I can get all teary-eyed when I say this and if he was in the room right now, I’d probably start getting more tears. I am so proud of him.
People can tell the difference between Matthew and me because I am the one that will give you a hug and Matthew will give you a handshake, if you’re lucky. But Matthew is extremely cordial and generous and kind, he just doesn’t come across that way. So for me, when I say that I’m proud of him, it’s given me the opportunity to see Matthew put these thoughts, his visions, into something you can touch. I didn’t know he was capable of doing that.
I have more to let go that I’m the older brother and, in terms of the hierarchy of the organization, he’s in charge. Two years ago we were at a Passover . . . and there was role playing, where you role-played the Passover story and Matthew’s role that he was given was Aaron, Moses’ older brother. And the Bible was that Aaron, as the older brother, was the spokesperson for Moses. So in essence, Aaron was kind of like the PR guy, which is exactly what I do. Aaron would give Moses all the credit and Moses didn’t like to speak in public. It was Aaron who would get the people all roused up and then Moses would take over. So that was a big turning point for him, because he was able to see my shoes. It kind of took him into what I do on a daily basis as an older brother, giving Matthew all the attention. He started crying, I started crying.
I know a lot of people say, and a lot of consultants say, they don’t advise family working together. And I think, at the heart of everything, that’s probably the most important thing for Matthew and I, that we continue to be brothers and that we’re learning how to deal with our professional side and I think that’s been the real challenge.
Matthew: As everybody knows, the story of Passover is really about Moses, the youngest son. As it should be. As it was written, so it shall be. Rob has his big Aaron complex, sort of an Oedipus complex. He’s got an Aaron complex. I hope I don’t have an Aaron complex. I mean, if you’re a prophet, what are you supposed to do?
We grew up in Old Saybrook in our summers together. So that was probably what bonded us closer together more than our lives in suburban Connecticut because during our summers, all we had was each other. We didn’t have TV. We didn’t have other friends. It was just how to get into trouble and stay out of trouble together.
By the time I got out of high school, it was apparent that our relationship was really important. So then we started, the three of us, in different ways, trying to find some commonalities so we could live with each other, close to each other, go on adventures with one another.
So I guess when I was a junior in college, Rob and I really in earnest were exploring starting a farm school. We had a couple places we were working with on the West Coast.
And so we had really kind of gone through all the steps and I remember we had gone out there and we had set up our bank accounts and we had drafted our business plans . . . It fell apart right before we moved out there, essentially the lease, and it wasn’t going to be something we were going to want to do.
We knew we’d come back to it. It just seemed to be something that we were clearly inspired by and motivated to do and knew it was more an issue of timing than it was capacity or ability.
I had had, still have, that lifelong fantasy of sailing around the world. So I figured I needed to go on a test run and that’s when Rob and I ended up going sailing for about a year, to see if I liked sailing.
I gave him the key in Belize City, to the boat, and he won’t take responsibility for it because he lost the key. So still, there’s the issue of the key. He says I never gave him the key. He reminds me about the key, I remind him about the key. He’ll admit that he lost the key now, but he admits it in a way that it’s clear that he’s only admitting it so that I will leave him alone, not that he truly acknowledges that he lost the key. So that only frustrates me more.
I think I’ve made him cry twice. That was once. He makes me cry, not by being a jerk. That’s how I make him cry. I make him cry by being a jerk. He makes me cry by being sentimental.
So I came back to the U.S. to start farming again and ended up in Iowa.
I started looking for farm schools on the water and that’s how I found this . . . They had just moved from Herring Creek to this property and they were looking for somebody to really help them figure out what to do with the property, the farm and their education programs and how to connect them together.
I originally came as the farm manager and then the organization went through a restructuring towards the end of the summer and literally, by September first of ’05, it was just me and an office manager who was on her way out as well.
You tend to call on the people you know when you need help, so I called a friend of mine, Dominick . . . and I knew my brother.
I think we complement each other really well. I’m not sure we work well together. We complement each other very well because he’s delighted to tell our story — over and over again — and he’s really good at meeting people on the side of the street and the next day they’re on the farm with their kids and the day after that, they’re volunteering and their kids are in the program. He’s really dynamic at being able to do that whereas I can, but for him, it’s very much part of his nature. For me, it’s sort of my responsibility and my job. It’s not part of my nature. But I think what I offer is a more grounded reality and focusing on what our goals and objectives are and what the operational needs are to get there.
When it’s your family, you have a different level of trust. You know when you ask him to do something, it will be done to the highest standard, or it will be followed through on. That capacity that that trust allows you to accomplish, it’s hard to measure. We accomplish a lot more together than we would individually.
You can have fantastic peers and fantastic co-workers, but when you have a good working relationship with a family member, it has a lot of power and longevity and it’s harder to walk away from.
We’re really, really lucky and fortunate, but we’ll have to really work hard to make sure that that stays one of our top-tier priorities as we have families and get connected to other interests and people. Will we be able to keep that a priority? I hope so. I hope so. But I don’t have a vision for what it would look like.
I think it’s actually been easier to feel a part of this community by having him here than it would have been just by myself, just because of the sheer fact that there’s two of us out there, finding our way.