Mar 30, 2023
Zack Metzger was working with spent nuclear fuel while studying physics and mechanical engineering at the Argonne National Laboratory at the University of Chicago,when it came to him; “I was 21 and had this epiphany that I would become a farmer.”
He had environmental concerns, but mostly he says he just wanted to work outside. Flash forward to today. Zack and wife Annie Metzger now run Laughing Earth Farm in Cropsyville New York, and are structuring their business to do exactly what they want. Zack says they farm their way at the scale that is comfortable for them, producing for their family and their growing community of close customers.
HVADC first worked with Laughing Earth when the Metzgers were transitioning ownership from the previous family who operated the 200+ year old farm Laughing Earth now operates. Always a complex process, HVADC was able to assist Laughing Earth with Business Technical Assistance on the legal aspects of receiving a conservation easement. Getting the easement was vital as it was important to the Metzgers that the land remain in farming forever.
In 2019/2020 Laughing Earth also participated in HVADC’s Farm and Food Funding Accelerator (FFFA) program, as they looked to expand their business to include onsite meat processing and a commercial kitchen for value added products with an emphasis on sausage.
“I got a ton of stuff out of those classes,” Zack said. “By the end we were able to get a New York Grown and Certified Grant which was a game changer for us.”
Since graduating from that class Metzger added he has continued to take a lot of inspiration from the lessons he learned in the FFFA as well as the conversations he had with his professional peers in the cohort.
For a small farm, Laughing Earth has a wide variety of production streams. They are growing produce and flowers, while also providing eggs, chicken, turkeys, pork and beef. The farm’s growing sausage production has featured both pork and chicken, and a wide array of flavorings, including hot and sweet Italian, lemon thyme, breakfast, bratwurst, andouille, and Mexican chorizo.
“Instead of focusing on one product we are focusing on one community and what they need from our farm,” Metzger said, adding that produce makes up just a third of their operation, with pork and chicken being the bulk of their product line. “We also want to produce food in the best way possible. We are certified organic. With New York State’s Grown and Certified Grant we installed our commercial kitchen for processing pork and chicken into sausage, and we are looking to do all our own butchering.” Since participating in the FFFA program, the farm has also built out its farm store which runs as a self-serve, and constructed additional high tunnels.
Laughing Earth is CSA and farmers market focused. They are heavily invested in the Troy Waterfront Farmers Market and Zack sits on its Board of Directors.
Long before the Metzgers got Laughing Earth up and running, Zack met Annie while he was working as a high school science teacher and she worked at the Chicago Botanical Garden. They bonded over their agrarian dreams and in 2011, they started Epiphany Farms south of the city. The location and market weren’t forgiving and they soon found more favorable opportunities back in upstate New York where Annie was raised. They have been at Laughing Earth since the 2015/2016 season.
They started out managing what would become Laughing Earth for the previous owners and began the transition process which eventually involved organizations including Agricultural Stewardship Association, New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, Equity Trust, Scenic Hudson, the American Farmland Trust and HVADC to help with the easement.
“Laughing Earth is a really smart operation,” said Todd Erling HVADC Executive Director. “Annie and Zack looked at what they wanted to do and planned around doing exactly that - in the best way for their family and their neighbors. All their choices are deliberate and they know how to take strategic advantage of the programs offered by HVADC and our peer organizations. It has been a pleasure to assist them when we could and just watch them do what they do.”
For more information about the type of Business Technical Assistance HVADC can provide farms and food producers, visit https://www.hvadc.org/business-technical-assistance.