In 2010, the US imported 164.4 million pounds of “fresh garlic” and garlic imports continue to rise. However, in 2012 there will be a hundred or so people in the Hudson Valley who will be getting fresh local garlic from Great Song Farm in Milan, NY. This fall, Great Song is completing its first growing season and is planting a plot of garlic to be harvested next year.
The farmers at Great Song don’t own the land where they are planting their garlic and their other vegetables. They obtained the use of the property through CLC’s Farmer Landowner Match Program.
Like many of today’s young farmers, the three farmers at Great Song didn’t grow up farming. Jen Carson was a social worker, Anthony Mecca studied computer science and literature, and Lisa Miskelly (who just joined the farming team at Great Song) didn’t work on a farm until after college. As beginning farmers, they each worked at a variety of farms around the US and Canada. Jen and Lisa overlapped at Hawthorne Valley Farm before going on to work at separate farms.
After years of farming, both Jen and Anthony decided they wanted to run their own farm and partnered on a new venture. The cost of purchasing land, however, was a barrier to them. This is a problem for many young farmers.
“Many of the young people who work with me on my farm hope to run their own farms one day, and most see acquiring land as the biggest obstacle,” says Benjamin Shute, co-owner and manager of Hearty Roots Farm and co-founder of the National Young Farmer’s Coalition. “That’s how I felt too, before I was able to rent some land from a farmer to get my vegetable operation started. Now we are trying to buy our own land, but it has been very challenging due to the very high land prices in the Hudson Valley.”
CLC developed the Farmer Landowner Match Program to help address the challenges farmers are facing regarding access to land.
Without CLC’s Farmer Landowner Match Program, we would most likely not have met Larry and Betti Steel, from whom we are leasing the 80 acres of vegetable field, pasture, and woodland.
This past year, Great Song Farm had 80 members in its CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture, where members pre-purchase a share in the harvest and fill up a heaping basket of vegetables every week at the farm. Jen and Anthony particularly value the community aspect of providing food. Anthony remarked how pleasurable it was to hang out during the food pick-ups and chat with the members. He explains, “Farming allows the human being to connect deeply to the surrounding world, to form an intimate relationship with soil, plants, animals, and fellow human beings that is mutually supportive.”
Their approach to farming appeals to the landowners.
Like most successful marriages, the key ingredients are shared values and visions for the future.” There has to be mutual respect for each other and for the land and property. My wife and I have found these things with Jen Carson and Anthony Mecca. In addition, their farming practices reflect their vision for a sustainable future.
Great Song uses organic farming practices and reduces its carbon footprint and reliance on fossil fuels by employing animal power. Rather than using a tractor, they use Kate and Sunny – Suffolk Punch Draft Horses – who are responsible for most of the tilling and heavy lifting on the farm.
Jen recently started training their oxen to do some of this work as well. Jen guides Dick and Jane, the oxen, through training exercises where she teaches them to follow her body language and to refrain from grazing while they are working. They are generally very calm and obedient. However, Jen says that when they are pulling things, they sometimes get excited and it’s a challenge to get them to slow down. They also show their personality with their active interactions with humans. Dick is vocal and often calls out when people walk by; and Jane is likely to lick anybody who gets within licking range, which is about 6 inches.
Great Song Farm plans to provide food for more people next year. In addition to their weekly pick-ups at their farm in Milan, they are teaming up with Lineage Farm to provide 30 to 60 member shares in Poughkeepsie, NY. Compared to Northern Dutchess and Columbia County, the Poughkeepsie area has more people and less farms, so it’s a natural fit that local farms will provide food to their neighbors to the south.
As the demand for local food continues to increase, there are 47 farmers in CLC’s database looking for land in the area. To date, the Farmer Landowner Match Program has led to 18 successful new and expanded farm ventures. The program is just part of a larger effort to working farms remain a vibrant part of Columbia County’s economy.