Literary agent Angela Miller represents some of the biggest names in food, including Mark Bittman, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, and Marcus Samuelsson. But helping cooks get book deals isn't her only job; Miller also owns Consider Bardwell Farm, a Vermont cheese farm that's drawn national acclaim. In Hay Fever: How Chasing a Dream on a Vermont Farm Changed My Life (Wiley), she talks about balancing her two day jobs.
PW: You've been farming for six years. When did it dawn on you to write a book about your experience?
AM: I had a writer [Ralph Gardner Jr.] and his wife visiting my farm in 2007. She woke up one morning at 5 AM and looked out the window and there I was hauling two bales of hay. Ralph said, "You live the craziest life I've ever seen. Why don't we write a book together?" I readily agreed.
PW: Did you find any similarities between farming and agenting?
AM: My life as a farmer involves nurturing the lives and well-being of over 100 productive goats. I wouldn't compare a writer to a goat, but agents need to nurture their writers and be constantly aware of what they need, and what's good for them, communicating with them so they are able to write and not worry. I think farming has similar issues. In order for the farm to be productive, you have to be nurturing.
Also, I have more employees at the farm [than I have at my agency], and have learned management skills that I think have helped me with my agenting. Publishing tends to be an incredibly polite crowd that talk around issues because we don't like confrontation. But in the farm world you need to spot the problem, confront it, and move on. That has clarified my thinking a lot.
PW: You say in the book that if many authors knew about your "other life," some would fire you-and that some already have?
AM: I think that some authors probably were worried that I might leave the agenting business because I'm up there so much, even though I telecommute (I'm in New York three days a week and in Vermont four days a week). A lot of very sensitive writers will ask me, "Are you going to leave the business?" I try to assure them that I won't and I can't. I need my job. My husband and I don't take any money out of the farm. Our jobs support us.
Intellectually, my agenting job is really important. I derive a lot of energy from the pace down here, the intellectual and cultural life down here, and the amazing people.
PW: Your cheeses are featured at some of the best restaurants in the country, including Daniel and The French Laundry, and the books you've helped publish have won numerous accolades and awards. What's next?
AM: I think eventually I'd like to travel. I haven't been able to travel for 10 years. So maybe sitting on a beach somewhere for two weeks wouldn't be a bad thing.
This story originally appeared in Cooking the Books, PW's e-newsletter for cookbooks.