The HVADC Cultivator
FFFA Peer Spotlight:
Laughing Earth Farm
Laughing Earth Farm in Rensselaer County’s Arcadian hamlet of Cropseyville, can be found on the New York State Register of Historic Places dating back to early the1700s, originally owned by the Morrison family. The 175-acre farm has been actively farmed for over 200 years and has been owned and operated by Zack and Annie Metztger since the 2015/2016 season.
Laughing Earth Farm is so-named for a well-loved line in the Ralph Waldo Emerson poem “Hamatreya” about how the “earth laughs in flowers.” Neither Annie nor Zack began their careers in farming, however soon into their initial careers in education and research, they both felt called to it. Laughing Earth offers vegetable CSAs (in season, spring and winter), pastured poultry (including turkeys), eggs, pastured pork, cut flowers, seasonal balsam green décor, and may regularly be found at the Troy Farmers Market where Zach now serves as Market President.
The Metzgers first engaged HVADC through the Incubator Without Walls program for legal support and assistance when seeking protection by a land conservation easement to protect the farm from development. As a result of working with HVADC and its partner, The Agricultural Stewardship Association (ASA), the Metzgers secured the conservation easement, earmarking the land for future agricultural use.
Laughing Earth’s early work with HVADC also connected them with affordable legal help for the farm’s transition into their ownership. “Without HVADC, we would have sought very different and very limited legal assistance, if any at all,” said Zack. “I am certain -- without exaggeration -- that we would have failed to transition into our farm without that help. We have sought continued legal support as our business expands and we look at acquiring additional farmland.”
Several years later, the Metzgers have reconnected with HVADC for the Farm and Food Funding Accelerator (FFFA) program. “We saw that this program was geared towards established businesses, in general, and getting the support and resources they need to continue growing in a healthy and sustainable way,” said Zack. “It seemed like this program would skip over the basics and look at our individual businesses to address specific needs.”
“Many farm support programs are geared toward start-up businesses, thus offering advice about establishing the business, finding customers, and production scale-up,” said Zack, who expressed hope that they can “explore growth of our business, and where new enterprises might fit in through the program.” Zack said he anticipates getting “customized recommendations” from professionals with feedback and dialogue, affording the opportunity for more effective adoption and integration of ideas.
Zack reported that he appreciates HVADC’s level of support and commitment to the program’s Peers. “We all have different needs, but HVADC seems committed to exploring those needs and offering its vast resources—such as knowledge, connections and funding.”
“We hope to get advice specific to growing sustainably and utilizing available funding resources to assist in scaling-up the business without significantly increasing our financial -- or other-- risk,” said Zack. “We have struggled with scaling-up one aspect of the business two years ago, which led to needing a family loan to continue. We have since worked through that but want to ensure that we are not leveraged too far as we continue to grow.”
Zack explained that the couple had transitioned into their business and easement while also becoming new parents and trying to extract all their income from the farm. The couple felt the squeeze from the demand for extra hands on the farm but has been trying to minimize their workforce to keep expenses down, explained Zack. “While we still could use more employees, we’re working on scaling the business up over time, with the goal of having more time and resources to work on improving our business and our relationship with the land.” Their initial focus was doing whatever was required to survive as a business, but now they say their focus has shifted into broader community, land, and family goals. “We are continuously exploring ways our community can better connect with the land and tailoring our use of the land to find compatible, scaled-up operations.” One such way they are looking to make their farm operations more nimble is by transitioning toward grazing animals on their abundant supply of pasture. Zack added, “We are also finding what level of work and involvement in the farm is best for our family and allows us to have quality time together.”
“There are a number of Hudson Valley farms and food producers who we help in their early iterations and then they return to us a few years later for help getting to the next level,” said Mary Ann Johnson, Deputy Director of HVADC. “Like others in the FFFA program, Laughing Earth is at a new phase of development for their business and our services are tailored to help any business, no matter what stage they are in. It has been a pleasure to follow the growth of Laughing Earth and we are happy to help get them to the next level of success.”
Laughing Earth’s next step is planning for continued sustainable growth, which in part will include installing a commercial kitchen made possible through a NYS Grown & Certified grant. NYS Grown & Certified Grants in the Capital District are administered by HVADC and the Hudson Mohawk Resource Conservation and Development Council. “This is a big addition which is requiring a lot of prep and planning,” said Zack. “We are exploring which enterprises can be effectively scaled up and looking at sales outlets for those products. I think we’re doing a great job of transitioning toward working on our business rather than just in the business.”
For more information about the FFFA program, visit https://www.hvadc.org/farm-food-funding-accelerator and for additional resources that HVADC can provide, visit: https://www.hvadc.org/resources
Photo/logo Source: Laughing Earth Farm
Photo of Annie and Zack Metzger (top right): Eva Deitch