More and more people in the Hudson Valley have become familiar with Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms, in which members buy a “share” in the farm and, in return, they receive a portion of the farm’s harvest throughout the growing season. In the case of Hearty Roots Community Farm in Red Hook, the “Community” in CSA is not just about communal purchase of farm produce; it is at the heart of how a few young people started their own farm from scratch and have grown the operation over the last nine years.
“We started Hearty Roots when we were aspiring young farmers who had worked at other CSA farms, but we didn’t have land or equipment to start our own operation” says Ben Shute, the farm’s owner and manager. Things changed, according to Shute, when he and the farm’s co-founder were able to rent land from a retired dairy farmer in Red Hook. “The first few years, we rented just a few acres of land and did almost everything by hand. It’s thanks to our CSA members that we had the money to buy seeds and tools and to pay our bills.”
The burgeoning interest in CSA has allowed the farm to grow substantially since its first year in 2004, when they farmed less than an acre and had about 35 CSA members. This season, Hearty Roots hopes to serve nearly 600 CSA members, who pick up their vegetables either on the farm in Red Hook or in Woodstock, Kingston, or one of five neighborhoods in New York City. “We have been able to expand the farm without going into debt, thanks to the CSA. Each season we have bought used equipment as we could afford it, and rented additional land.”
The farm has reached another milestone this season, when the farmers at Hearty Roots became landowners this winter. The Shutes (Ben, his wife Lindsey, and their baby daughter Piper) purchased land just up the road from their current location in Red Hook. “We are thrilled that we will be able to have a permanent home for Hearty Roots, where we can build farm infrastructure and improve the soils for decades to come,” says Shute. Once again, Hearty Roots has garnered community support, in this case from the non-profit land trust Scenic Hudson, who purchased a conservation easement on the land to help make its cost more affordable to the farmers. The Shutes are launching a community fundraising campaign this year to help raise additional funds that will protect their land as permanent working farmland that can only be sold to farmers.
“Without our CSA members, we would not have been able to get started or to succeed as a farm” says Shute, “we are so appreciative of our members for making this possible.” The members of the CSA seem appreciative of their farmers as well. Shute added, “Some members who have been with us for many years have had babies who grew up on our vegetables, and who now run around the farm, picking herbs in the garden!” It seems that the community the farm is building is spanning generations.
Hearty Roots is currently accepting memberships for the 2012 season. More information is available at www.heartyroots.com.