HVADC People: Sara Groat
Mar 15, 2023
It Starts at the Heart: Sarah Groat Teaches Tractor Mechanics, Empowers Hudson Valley Farmers
Providing business technical assistance is vital to HVADC’s work - resourcing the region’s agricultural sector through business programming, access to capital, and honing the technical skills needed to thrive. To do this, HVADC engages a network of experts across the fields of agriculture and food production. One such HVADC advisor is Sarah Groat.
Among the means of production, tractors are an engine for farm work. From pulling and plowing to planting and harvesting, these machines are critical to making the intensive labor of food production possible. But what happens when that central power breaks down?
A quick Google search reveals a small smattering of tractor mechanics or dealerships in our region. And there are fewer still that are led by women, or focused on empowering farmers to maintain and repair their own equipment. These critical and rare skills are being shared with HVADC clients by Sarah, who has distilled their technical expertise into an uncomplicated curriculum.
“It’s special for me to be able to take the basics and give them to people,” Sarah said. “There’s so much that farmers have to master – a truly enormous amount of information – managing crops, greenhouses, livestock, sales. And while mechanical skills are crucial to keeping their business running, those are perhaps the most inaccessible to learn. My mission is to enable farmers to handle maintenance and fixes themselves, so they don’t lose time or money getting repairs done offsite.”
In 2019, they shared a single post in the Hudson Valley Young Farmers Coalition Google group, offering mechanical services and equipment training. The immediate and overwhelming response revealed a significant, unmet need in the region. From that post, Sarah launched their business.
“Things have grown organically,” Sarah said. “From that one post, I have gone on to help individual farmers with emergency service, routine maintenance, and trainings that make mechanical skills approachable. The workshops I run are especially rewarding for me since mechanics just aren’t taught in schools. Working with the Hudson Valley Farm Hub I developed and delivered my first workshop in 2020 – a Women’s Intensive Training – where we created a space for safe teaching and learning.”
Sarah’s curriculum begins with the engine, which they describe as the heart of the tractor. From there, they move out to the catalytic converter, the radiator, and all the systems that support the engine. Using this analogy, they have demystified the potentially intimidating workings of tractor mechanics. In a testimonial video on Sarah’s website, a workshop attendee affirms the understandable format of the trainings.
The participant said, “I came into this workshop knowing nothing about tractors. This class looked at things as systems put together and made them understandable. There were a lot of hands-on demonstrations and lots of good graphics. Today I drove a tractor for the first time, despite having fears of being up high and moving fast, but I felt comfortable, safe, and secure.”
Sarah’s business centers these values and brings them to organizations throughout the state. Since the Farm Hub pilot, they have gone on to teach at Glynwood and the Groundswell Center. They also work as a tractor operator, and farm education coordinator at Rock Steady Farm. Located in Millerton, Rock Steady is a queer-owned and operated cooperative vegetable farm rooted in social justice, food access, and farmer training. There, Sarah is working with General Manager D Rooney to develop a mechanical training program tailored to the needs of Queer, Trans, and BIPOC farmers.
“What I really want is to show up fully as myself, share my knowledge, and empower other people to embrace this work as themselves. It can be challenging to find mechanical information, and even more so in a way that is welcoming. I want to remove barriers to learning and give people the tools they need to sustain their equipment and their livelihood.”
Sharing her expertise, Sarah is helping Hudson Valley farmers cultivate independence. HVADC is proud to partner with Sarah as a technical assistance provider and to share in the work of supporting our region’s agricultural producers.
To learn more about the types of agribusinesses that HVADC can help through business technical assistance, visit https://www.hvadc.org/who-we-can-help.