The HVADC Cultivator
FFFA Peer Spotlight:
Great Song Farm
HVADC Farm and Food Funding Accelerator (FFFA) participant Great Song Farm is a diverse community farm on 90 acres of sprawling Northern Dutchess land, with flower and vegetable crops covering one and a half acres leaving the rest to be comprised of cedar and hardwood forest, wetlands, and rolling green pastures. As of 2019, Emily Eder and Maggie Thomas own and manage the farm using organic and environmentally sustainable practices to produce a sizable variety of heirloom variety crops, herbs and flowers.
In the winter of 2019, Eder and Thomas purchased the Great Song Farm business, along with some existing infrastructure from Anthony Mecca and Sarah Hearn, who had been farming the land using organic and bio-dynamic practices for eight seasons. “Great Song Farm had been in operation for eight years and had a strong community following,” said Eder. “The landowners Larry and Betti Steel and their son Jesse are extremely supportive and enthusiastic about their land being farmed organically and being a hub for the local community and we really value that supportive relationship. There was some infrastructure in place already so, aside from the purchase of the business, we did not have to make any huge investments in order to get started, which made the opportunity accessible to us as young farmers.”
Eder’s background in farming started in a region of New York typically thought of as being concrete; working on several urban agriculture projects for a non-profit in Yonkers. She then decided to pursue traditional farming and apprenticed on a small farm in the Santa Cruz Mountains in California -- where she met Thomas – and which she said had a “loose focus” on the French intensive Bio-dynamic method of Allan Chadwick. Eder and Thomas then moved east together to Ulster County to work on an organic farm called Row by Row Farm, where they worked for three years.
The farming duo said they gained even more valuable experience at Row by Row, with Eder working as Crew Manager and Thomas as Post-Harvest Manager and co-managing cover crop rotation for 100 acres; knowledge that they now use at Great Song. They utilize organic, regenerative farming methods and employ crop rotation, organic compost, and cover cropping to build the soil health. They believe their management practices “build vigorous, complex communities of plants, animals, minerals, insects, birds, and micro-organisms” without any -- not even organic -- chemicals, herbicides, pesticides, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), or heavy reliance on fossil fuels. Great Song is not certified organic but the pair says that these farm practices help create the highest quality and nutritious vegetables possible while being good stewards to the earth.
Eder explained that a friend in the know of farmer support programs suggested the FFFA program and reached out to HVADC Deputy Director, Mary Ann Johnson to share their goals and learn more. “We are hoping to gain knowledge about running and growing a business, as neither of us have any business background,” said Eder. “We have a lot of questions and we knew that FFFA would set us up with professionals who would be able to provide answers and needed guidance.”
With one and a half acres in production which includes a 100' high tunnel, a propagation greenhouse and a 50'
production greenhouse, Eder said that Great Song Farm may expand slightly over the next year or two. “We are harvesting enough mixed vegetables and herbs to supply a 90-person CSA, which we hope to grow by 10%, as well as a few local restaurant accounts, for about 23 weeks.” They have a U-Pick for flowers and are working in a small cover crop rotation of oats and field peas and buckwheat. The CSA operates under a free choice model, allowing members to select a custom share each week. In its 2019 season, the farm also hosted a four-course farm dinner, a beekeeping workshop and pizza party, and a Kraut making workshop.
Eder and Thomas said they are most focused on “shoring-up” their business model and discovering different ways to grow through increased efficiency and moderate investments that will build their capacity. Citing limited growing space and only themselves as farm workers with limited time, they recognized the onus to make smart choices in order to craft strategic growth.
Though still in the early sessions of the FFFA program, they have begun working on several items with HVADC attorney consultant Megan Harris-Pero. “Her advice has been helpful and will continue to be helpful as we move forward,” said Eder, adding that one such plan is to transition the business from a partnership to a Limited Liability Corporation structure.
"I am happy to be working with Great Song Farm as an advisor through the HVADC Food and Farm Funding Accelerator Program,” said Harris-Pero. “Through the program, Great Song Farm and others have access to relationships with professionals in business, marketing, project management and law. I am working with Great Song on looking at their legal business structure and translating the working farm relationship into a legal framework that works for the farmers. Farmers in general have many types of relationships that can benefit from agreements or contracts; these include relationships between each other; customers; consumers; other businesses; landlords; and funders. An attorney who can think ahead and has knowledge of potential obstacles a farmer may hit in these various relationships can help create agreements to lessen the risks associated with farming, doing business, and the necessary interaction with other people that comes from the occupation of feeding the world."
In the short term, Great Song farm hopes to secure funding for additional cooler space, allowing for more harvest flexibility and to grow the CSA and restaurant accounts. “We have a lot of short-term plans to put into place, additional practices that will add to fertility and health of the soil and broader habitat of the farm,” said Eder. “We are looking into rotating a small flock of chickens on the farm, adding more cover crop rotations, and planting more habitat for beneficial insects. We are focused on attaining financial stability, a regenerative whole-farm system, and building a strong community. As we are only going into our second year in business, we are still learning what is going to work best for us long term.”
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 Source: Great Song Farm