Trouble in Paradise: Bringing a Farm Back to Life

I was up at Harmony Farm in Goshen, NY, again this past weekend—with Raquy Danziger and friends, who gather several times a year for percussion retreats and performances at the Empowerment Center on the property. Although the sunflowers are in glorious bloom, the farm, alas, was not in great shape; weeds have even taken over the raised beds in the greenhouse.

Farmer Julie Vanderlee (at left, in the greenhouse) explains:

“I grew up in a rural area—northern Dutchess County—and I spent much of my life outdoors. My father has an avid green thumb, and early on I cultivated a love of plants and the natural world. I majored in environmental studies and sociology in college, while working part-time for farmers’ markets, and I spent my summers doing farm and garden work. In 2009 I worked for a fifth-generation, family-owned, conventionally grown vegetable farm in New Hampton, NY, near Goshen. The following autumn I took over the garden project at my school, SUNY Purchase, where I developed a comprehensive internship program and managed all facets of the garden program.

“My particular interests are learning the processes of the land and the complicated relationships that humans have with them. Food and food production provides a lens into these relationships and interactions—not to mention that I enjoy growing a mean tomato. I finished college last January and found the Harmony Farm job posting online. I applied—and fell in love with the place. I began working here in late February.

“The farm fell into disarray last year, when it was allowed to lay fallow. Weeds willingly reseeded themselves in the beds, in the compost, everywhere you look. It’s a constant struggle to stay one step ahead of the weeds, and the weeds certainly derailed a lot of our work this year. Despite consistent heavy weeding, they’ve choked out some of our crops. And a year of no vigilance against groundhogs has allowed their population to explode. We’ve removed seven from the property this year, but we’re still losing substantial portions of our crops to their damage.

“We have about 50 CSA members this year. With the difficulties we face getting the farm back to operational status, we can’t handle a whole lot more just yet. But the future is bright! A pair of hardy interns and I put in long hours, and we’ve managed to produce lots of delicious produce for our members. As we battle the various issues that have come up, the farm is nowhere near the level of productivity observed in past years, but most of our customers have expressed happiness with their shares.

“My short-term plan is to get the farm back into a state of real production. This means more frequent tilling, heavy hand weeding, and constant vigilance in watching for invading groundhogs, voles and other pests. My long-term plan is to expand the CSA to include more members, to begin having more events on-farm, and to start being a regular at farmers’ markets outside of our local region. My experience with farmers’ markets comes primarily from Westchester County, and I would like to establish a place for us in markets there. I would also like to work more closely with our parent organization, the Highbridge Community Life Center, which offers work training and other programs to residents of the South Bronx.

“My work at Harmony Farm can serve as a potent metaphor for the relationship between humans and the natural world. We once worked in great harmony with the natural world, but in recent times we’ve neglected our position as partners with nature. But with great care and a lot of hard work, we can restore the beautiful and functional systems on which we depend.”

About writedesigner

Graphic designer, writer, and gardener Ellen Shapiro is based in Irvington, New York. A frequent contributor to design blogs and magazines including Print, Imprint, Salon.com, Communication Arts, and Etapes, she writes about trends, issues and personalities in design, illustration, photography, and visual culture around the world.
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One Response to Trouble in Paradise: Bringing a Farm Back to Life

  1. Disappointed share holder says:

    I don’t know how Harmony Farm thinks it could expand to other markets when it can barely produce for this year’s share holders. Our shares are small and don’t look really healthy. The kale is the only thing thing worth picking up this year. Too bad. Can’t brag to my friends about my experience this year.

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