I first met Anthony Mecca months ago, when I started farming in the Hudson Valley. He struck me then as a gentle, steady, patient sort of fellow, but standing in his fields at Great Song Farm on a brisk September Sunday I gained a new appreciation for these qualities. One senses it in the way he clicks and murmurs to his horses and in the way he describes his two-year search for land, which ultimately brought him to that hilly, picturesque plot in Red Hook, New York. He and his co-farmer, Jennifer Carson, have tilled about four and a half acres of a 90-acre property, from which they feed an 80-member vegetable CSA. Rather than a set basket each week, their shares are by volume–either a peck or a half-bushel–but Anthony says they mostly work on the honor system, with members taking what they’ll eat in a week and not measuring the precise volume. This season they raised a batch of broilers to sell to CSA members, have an egg share provided by Gray Horse Farm in Clinton Corners, and sell fruit from Threshold Farm in Philmont.
On the afternoon I visited, Anthony talked of frustration and disappointment as different leasing arrangements fell through and his search for the right land dragged on, but in the same breath spoke of his finally landing in the right place. Jen and Anthony have a unique farming partnership: Each of them has a romantic partner who also farms. Anthony’s girlfriend, Lisa, will be joining the Great Song Farm team for next season, and Jen’s boyfriend runs nearby Lineage Farm. Both couples were looking for land separately until they recognized their common farming interests and decided to seek land together. Jen expressed their situation aptly, saying, “While I love my boyfriend, I’m also in love with animal-powered farming and he very much appreciates the power of tractors. So, for farming partners, it seems that Anthony and I are a good match.” The pair connected with an interested landowner through the Columbia Land Conservancy, a land trust in Columbia County, New York, and, although they are still in their first season farming there they have developed a truly supportive relationship. Their lease stipulates that the farmers will not pay rent until the farm is able to provide them a living wage, which has certainly helped minimize the financial strains inherent in the early phases of a farm business. The landowners have also allowed Anthony to pitch a tent on their land, use the shower in their home, and irrigate fields with water from their home’s well. The process of finding land may have sometimes felt endless, but Anthony’s sense of humble satisfaction was clear as he surveyed the farm and pointed out that an extra couple of years, even making a meager apprentice salary, meant that he had enough savings to get the farm operation off the ground. He points out that he found land to farm only after he had matured enough to be ready for it and “ready to have a real conversation with someone,” discussing mutual interests rather than demanding or feeling entitled to certain treatment because of his status as a poor, young farmer.
Both farmers at Great Song Farm have drawn inspiration from the different places they have worked. Anthony learned to lead a team of horses during his time at Natural Roots in Conway, Massachusetts, Jen apprenticed at the oxen-powered Spring Meadows Farm in Pennsylvania, and they now have a team of horses and oxen, respectively. Anthony also worked at Essex Farm in Essex, New York, and at one time aspired to follow a similar model for a full-diet CSA. Although Jen and Anthony do hope to experiment with integrating livestock and grain in the future, he says that now he is “focused on just growing good vegetables.” Jen described some specific goals of hers as they strive to be better farmers: “My main focus is bettering our vegetable growing, adding rhythmic, soil-building and weed-controlling cover crop and tillage practices.” Next year, in addition to their on-farm CSA, Great Song will collaborate with Lineage Farm to provide vegetables to a CSA in near-by Poughkeepsie. Each farm will grow different vegetables, allowing them to focus on crops that do well in their soil and that they especially enjoy growing.
No farm’s first season passes without hiccups, and Great Song Farm has certainly had its share—while I was there, Anthony talked about discovering rock outcrops with his plow, breaking equipment, coping with less-than-ideal water access, difficulties in training the animals, and hurting his back midseason. Somehow, though, he never sounded like he was complaining. On the contrary he seemed upbeat, and emphasized the importance of cultivating good relationships, from their landlords and CSA members to the local chiropractor and an established farmer down the road. The farmers at Great Song displayed a cautious pride and optimism toward what they have accomplished this year and hope for the future. Jen reflected, “With all the ups and downs this season has offered us, I’d rate our first season as wonderfully smooth sailing. While I know we have a lot of learning left to do before we know this plot of land and how we may best steward it, I’m also highly impressed with what we’ve been able to accomplish, both as farmers and as part of a larger community.”