As most of you may know, we run our little operation on leased land in Columbia County, and have had a wonderful relationship and opportunity with our landlord. When our eyes first set upon this old house and land, we had a feeling it would be the place that we started our business, and built a life. And it was. This place has wrapped itself around our hearts, from the first days of renovation, to our first home-grown Thanksgiving, to one nigh this week sitting at our picnic table while our friends' two year old sat upon our old FarmAll pretending to drive.
We've met the neighbors (what amazing neighbors!), we've sat on town committees, spoken at the high school and library- we've OPENED A GENERAL STORE! We've broken blisters, broken ground, and broken our own hearts with our first draft horse team. We've spent long days with our youngest farm helpers, going over homework and chasing the hens. We've heard that wind howl, we've seen the swarms of fire flies, we've trudged through snow and cold. We've grown closer with our family here, which has been more of a blessing then we could possibly express. It has been miraculous, hard, and beyond anything we've ever dreamed. And now, it's time to move on.
We've been working with an amazing organization, Dirt Capital Partners, for just about 7 months. We first heard about them when they were looking for farmers for a 137 acre piece of property near Livingston, NY. This organization is the real deal- their mission is to get farmers on farmland, on a long term basis, and help them establish the ability to buy it down the line. Sometimes, they help existing businesses acquire more land near by, but in our case, it was getting land security, with more infrastructure and the option, after a lease term, to own our farm. For our part, we had to be completely transparent about our business, the opportunities for it to grow and the challenges it has. We had to provide all of the information one may expect, including revisiting, revising and finalizing business plans, projections etc. It's been hours of work and conversations- which we have really appreciated. It has clarified our purpose, our goals, and the weaknesses we need to continue to address. We can't possibly have expected that we would have the opportunity to work with such a thoughtful and thorough organization.
While we were in conversations with Dirt Capital, we heard from a friend that fellow farmers were retiring, and thinking of selling their beautiful property and home. This farm is the farm you imagine in your green acre dreams. And, not only that, but I had a personal connection with the place that's the kind of coincidence you don't think can exist until it happens to you.
Years ago, I had spent a spring break with a college friend whom still remains one of my dearest, and this was her grandparent's farm. This farm had been in Mary's family for 300 years. I walked the fields with her close to 10 years ago, and now, here it was- up for sale. When I had last been there, I hadn't even thought farming was a real possibility but I had loved the visit. Mary had always spoken of the farm as a magical place- I believed her. The farmers who had tended it since her family sold it did so with great care, and made the very personal decision to change their course after 3 seasons there. Not because the farm wasn't working, but because farming wasn't the long term life they felt was best for them. If you want to know more about their story, please read their touching blog post about their decision.
It was just an idea then. An idea that we could work with Dirt Capital Partners to move our little operation to this beloved space, and maybe, team up with Mary and her husband Josh to grow the business and stabilize our land tenure. The next time Mary came to visit, we had our hands in soil, prepping seedlings, and we casually mentioned we were thinking of going to look at her family's old farm. Her eyes, as big as saucers and swallowing hard, she turned to us and squeaked out, "REALLY?" It was that moment for me at least, when I thought it was worth it for us to try and make it happen. We began conversations about whether or not she and her family may be interested in joining us on our quest. Mary and I had spent long days in college, stretched out over books exploring what it may look like if we could someday collaborate on something like this. Our friendship had always been easy, and despite going for years not speaking, we'd always fall back into a comfortable rhythm. Now, with both our lives enriched with the addition of marriage and life experience, our two worlds had found themselves intertwined with farm visits every few months for the last year or so. The friendship between us had grown to the four of us, and I think we're all better for it. We'd revisited that agrarian dream on many occasions, and now, here it was- a long shot- but worth the chance.
And so, nearly 10 years after my brief spring break excursion, my wife and I packed up and headed to go tour the farm. We met Mary and Josh (and little Olive, their daughter!) there to travel the paths Mary had grown up on. We all were tense, and cautious, trying hard not to let our excitement override our decision making process. We'd had agreed that even if we decided it wasn't this place, that it would be good for the four of us to consider a partnership- somewhere. Mary and Josh's life is full, with work, and Olive -- they're weren't prepared to start a farm despite desiring to live and learn on one. We had the farm business- but wanted to stabilize it and share it with folks who wanted to learn and serve as back up on those long days. It was clear we all needed more help, wanted to build something more collaborative and were willing to try. It won't be easy, but we think it will be worth it.
For the current farm owners, we think it was a difficult moment. We were not the only interested parties, in fact- the appeal of this farm is no secret- it had an incredible draw for many. And, we were complicated buyers- we needed Dirt Capital to help us or else it wouldn't be possible. The purchase was dependent on R'Eisen Shine's ability to support a farm of this size, and Kim and I felt more comfortable with the transition and expansion if we were going to have Mary and Josh on board. Mary and Josh had to decide this was the right path for them, for their daughter, and feel comfortable enough with our business operations to join us. It's a dance, a collaboration of moving pieces, and all parties trying to make the most responsible and sustainable decisions. In the end though, we made an offer and held our collective breath.
Our offer, one among many- was accepted. I almost feel like we won the lottery, though it's no doubt a lottery of work. This is an usual story, and this is the prologue really.
The new farm has essentially two family spaces, two kitchens, plenty of bedrooms and 1.5 (soon to be 2) bathrooms. Our families will have enough space to live with privacy, but will be able to rely on each other as well. The farm will have 48.5 acres to grow our delicious sustainable meat, 2 wells, a pond and the river to provide ample water. We will have an enormous barn to use, and several outbuildings. It's a wonderful set up, and will allow us to establish our fencing and other infrastructure to save our backs and grow with the demand for our products. And, not for nothing, it's also stunning there. I wasn't sure we could find a place that could rival the views we have here- but this is equally as breathtaking. It's also situated 6 miles from dear fellow farmers and friends (Fryer House Farm), the feed mill we use, and 30 minutes from the butcher we use for the lambs/pigs. It's close to many people we love unnamed here.We'll be writing a lot more about it in the coming months.
Moving our farm will no doubt we an incredibly stressful process, but we know it's the right decision. It's with some true sadness we leave our family here, we love waving as they drive by to play golf or swing by for dinner. It's no small sacrifice to let that go, and no doubt it will force us to put work into maintaining those relationships. We'll be at our current place until after the turkeys for Thanksgiving are processed, but will start moving in early November. We can't imagine our good fortune that has brought this next step. And, we can't imagine more wonderful partners then Dirt Capital, or Mary and Josh. We're so grateful that Cara and Luke (the current owners) accepted our offer, and we wish them the best as they move forward. We hope they'll stop by in years to come so we can continue to share the magic of that place- and this moment.
Look out, Easton- here we come!
|renovations to the farm circa 2011|
|Farmers circa 2011 renovation|
|Current Farm, Painting by Pamela Sackett 2013, Frame by Bob Sackett 2013|