The HVADC Cultivator
HVADC Client Story: Rock Steady Farm
Rock Steady Farm & Flowers in Millerton is growing more than just amazing fresh veggies, herbs and specialty cut flowers. Co-owners Maggie Cheney and D. Rooney are also cultivating a mission to use the farm to support social justice and food scarcity causes in their community and beyond.
The farm manages a total of 12 acres, two are in flowers, six in vegetables and four plus are in rotational cover crops. It has a diverse customer base, including a 225 member CSA, floral designers, restaurants, food panties, social justice non-profits and special event design teams throughout the Hudson Valley and in New York City.
To realize their vision of a small farm with a robust activism program, Cheney had to first make sure the business had a steady foundation and a business plan that could accommodate significant donations of product and CSA memberships. It is also paramount to Rock Steady to provide employees a living wage, prioritize environmental stewardship and other social justice initiatives. HVADC was glad to be able to connect Cheney with business consultant and “bookkeeping guru” Julia Shanks, who worked with Rock Steady to develop a business plan that strengthened the for-profit farm and worker-owned cooperative to allow for additional conscientious programming
“We really worked to transform Rock Steady’s system. You need to know your numbers before you can fully understand the impact of your decisions.” Shanks said. “I think they are rock stars. Their dedication to the farm and their social mission is just awesome.”
Cheney (they/them) is able to diversify the activity at Rock Steady so seamlessly because the farm work is muscle memory. Their father was and still is a farm manager outside Boston and they grew up on and around farms. Cheney was working at Rock Steady (then called Soul Flower Farm) five years ago when the owner offered to sell it to them and a former partner. They took it on and transformed the business into a more produce-centric operation informed by an increasing focus on ecological stewardship.
HVADC had built a relationship with Rock Steady soon after its founding. Three years ago Shanks and Cheney took a hard look at the farm’s books and crafted a business plan so they could ensure the business was sound enough to bear the weight of the social mission. Cheney said it was a surprise to learn that though flowers had initially been the farms main crop, produce was the much more profitable part of the business. So, the new plan shifted operational focus toward food production and the change allowed Rock Steady to lean into its activism
Among its many causes Rock Steady supports is the Ancramdale Neighbors Helping Neighbors Association (NHN), The farm helped launch a fundraiser to raise money to allow local families in need receive individual full CSA shares. The farm also works with the North East Community Center (NECC) in Millerton, which coordinates a weekly low-income CSA program that reaches 70 families through three area food banks. NECC also runs a summer youth program that brings ten high-school age youth to the farm two days a week during the summer called, The Farm & Food Internship (COVID permitting). Additionally, the farm delivers to Community Access in New York City, which is growing urban farming programs in assisted housing communities.
As a female and queer owned and operated business Rock Steady also enthusiastically supports a number of LGBTQ organizations, offering CSA pickups at The Center in Manhattan and donating a full season CSA to the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center which provides sensitive, quality health care and related services targeted to New York’s LGBT communities.
Cheney says that Rock Steady’s community support and social justice work are part and parcel with the farm business.
“We’ve always had a very strong food access focus,” Cheney said. “Now, in this year living with COVID, people are seeing the issues of food insecurity in their face. With the urgency around the Black Lives Matter movement and new visibility around trans-rights, there’s a real interest in how that intersects with food access.”
“HVADC is inspired by the work Rock Steady does,” said HVADC Deputy Director Mary Ann Johnson. “No one works harder than farmers, so for Maggie to find the time and energy to use their business to also advance the social causes they believe in is beyond admirable. We are happy to do whatever we can to support them on the business end so the farm can continue to be a rock in our community.”
To learn more about how HVADC can support farmers, visit https://www.hvadc.org/what-we-do.