The HVADC Cultivator
HVADC Client Update:
Letterbox Farm in Hudson is one of the most uniquely structured and programmatically diverse farms in the Hudson Valley. The popular farm is a bit of an agricultural/socioeconomic laboratory. It operates as a collective and focuses a lot of energy on community building, hosting popup dinners and even free outdoor movie nights. Established in 2014, the farm’s 64 acres are graced by fields, woods, ravines and mountainside.
None of Letterbox’s extracurricular activity would be possible however if it wasn’t a well run and growing farm. HVADC recently facilitated a grant for Letterbox through the New York Grown & Certified program to help them keep their mission moving. The grant will be used towards the development of their new washing and packing building. The new two story barn will allow for greater efficiency and provide room for the business to continue to grow. Eventually the upstairs will house much needed offices. The funding will also enable the farm to achieve New York Grown & Certified status, as the new facility will help it meet the stringent food safety requirements needed for certification.
In partnership with Hudson Mohawk Resource Conservation and Development Council HVADC administers the grant program in the Capital District Region, covering Albany, Columbia, Greene, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Schenectady, Warren, and Washington counties.
“We are so grateful,” Nichki Carangelo, one of Letterbox’s owners, said. “It’s such a helpful grant program. To have a new building and new resources is going to be a big positive change to our work flow and morale.”
Letterbox is a “Farm Collective.” The business is organized much like a worker co-op, in which the three members (Faith Gilbert, Laszlo Lazar and Nichki Carangelo) co-own the farm business equally, distribute responsibilities fairly, and make key decisions collectively. They support each other while focusing on different aspects of the operation. Working as a team means extra organization and clear communication. Along with the rest of their dedicated team the founders have been able to build a thriving business that is extremely diversified. They raise special vegetables, herbs, flowers, pork, chicken, eggs, and rabbit using best practices in animal welfare and organic management. Letterbox distributes its goods through four farmers markets, a fleet of local restaurants, and a “full-diet” CSA.
Carangelo and Gilbert have even written incredibly helpful guidebooks on how other farms can utilize their techniques. Gilbert authored Cooperative Farming: Frameworks for Farming Together, and A Guide to Sharing Farm Equipment and Nichki wrote 21st Century Pastured Poultry and Raising Pastured Rabbits for Meat (which was recently translated into Mandarin). All their books may be purchased or downloaded for free at the Letterbox Farm website.
“Letterbox has only been around for a short time, compared to most of our regional farms. But in that time they have proven to be an agribusiness trendsetter. Not only are they redefining how you can structure a farm, they are proving the model works,” said Todd Erling. “The New York Grown & Certified Grant will be an impactful funding in a farm and collective of people dedicated to stewarding a healthy and prolific agricultural future.”
In order to reinvent how a modern farm can be structured Letterbox has to be extremely organized. That fastidiousness serves them well when applying for grants and proving value. During the pandemic when all farms saw spikes in business Carangelo says Letterbox stuck to their plan and didn’t try and grow too fast because of a bull market. She added that now that demand has receded in 2022, they are glad they didn’t over stretch themselves.
“Our complication saves us,” Carangelo said. “We chug along on a steady course.”
Along with their well-oiled business complication, Letterbox’s institutionalized focus on community engagement is another impressive aspect of their organization worth potential emulation. While they embrace the modern realities of digital media marketing, the team at Letterbox is committed to their local in-person community. They have a full calendar of events on the farm where neighbors can come and feel interconnected to the people and land responsible for their food. The programming supports their CSA and market business but it also shows that the collective is vehemently committed to the idea that farms need community and communities need farms.
To learn more about the grants HVADC administers for the New York Grown & Certified program visit https://www.hvadc.org/nys-grown-and-certified.