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Bootstrap @ Hartwood Farm – Introduction

Hi all! We are Matt Robinson and Maryellen Sheehan of Hartwood Farm, in Fenner, NY. We are thrilled to be part of this season’s National Young Farmers Coalition Bootstraps Blog!

 This is our first year farming out on our own land. Between us, we worked on farms for a number of years, had a CSA on fields we rented in NH for six seasons, and done a couple of apprenticeships. We decided to take the plunge to buy farmland after realizing a mortgage would not be much more than our rent payments!

 Hartwood 1We looked at a number of places before choosing to move to 70 acres at 1500 feet in Fenner, NY. The land includes 20 acres of rich woods, logged a couple decades ago and coming back in a pretty nice stand of sugar maples, 45 acres of rolling fields, and 5 acres in a yard/pond/wetland area. The soil ranges from semi-thin to deep, with much of the component base rock being limestone (so it is less acidic and higher in calcium than what we are used to!).

 For 2012, we are starting small. This gives us a season to figure things out, including what our site’s micro-climate is, how crops grow on our land, and where our markets should be. Long term, we want to grow a mix of vegetables, livestock, and hops. Short term, we are focusing on the vegetables, since they are the cheapest crop to get in to (especially since we already had gathered some of the infrastructure) and where we have the bulk of our experience.

 For this season, we are putting the tillable acreage we aren’t using into cover and pasture crops, and starting a nursery bed for our first round of hops while we build the soil for our 2013 hop yard installation.

 We fenced five acres for vegetable cultivation. We grow a range of vegetable crops—pretty much everything but sweet corn and potatoes, using organic methods (though we are not certified), with a mix of heirloom and hybrid varieties. Since we don’t know the land and region yet, we wanted to grow cultivars that are pretty reliable along with the more interesting and tasty things. We are setting up our growing systems for an eventual larger scale, so we are spacing out beds and fields for more tractor-scale cultivation than hand-scale, and we are interested in seeing how this works for a start-up with a lot of hand-scale work in the forecast.

 Since we feel pretty solid on the growing end, our main challenges are in marketing the crops and figuring out where to sell our produce. We are shooting for 50 to 75 CSA members (some full season and some monthly shareholders), one farmers’ market, and a couple restaurant accounts. If things go well, we hope to add to those markets over the course of the season.

 We are planning to do the bulk of our added production on the fall end of the season where there is less local produce at the market and when we’ve had a few months of growing and selling on our site! For labor, Matt is full time on the farm, and Maryellen is almost full time (she works a side job to pay for those “extras” like health insurance).

 Some of our big questions we hope to find answers for during this season include: How much does it really cost to start a small to mid-scale produce operation? Can you pay the bills for a new farm from the profits of farming in a rural area? How does it work out farming full time with your spouse? Can we really market everything we grow?

 We look forward to participating with the National Young Farmers’ Coalition Bootstraps Blog, and we hope that all the bloggers and readers have productive, profitable, and educational years. If you want to keep up with more frequent Hartwood Farm news, you can find us and our farm blog at or on Facebook as “Hartwood Farm.” Thanks, and we hope you have a great season!
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