Walking into the field in Hector, New York, I find two farmers cheerfully harvesting basil and hot peppers. Meet Aaron Munzer and Kara Cusolito, founders of Plowbreak Farm.
Plowbreak Farm began in 2012 when Aaron and Kara leased three acres of loamy soil in the agriculturally rich Finger Lakes region. Their farming philosophy is simple: they grow good food because they like doing it, and they want to bring good food to other people. 2013 is only their second season in Hector, but they’ve already built a 50-member vegetable CSA. As we harvest green beans, Aaron decides that it’s time to pull the plants up by their roots and strip them of their fruit. “This is my favorite way to pick beans. We’re like individual green bean picking machines!” he laughs.
After graduating from Ithaca College with journalism degrees, Aaron and Kara embarked on a farming walkabout, WWOOFing and learning to grow food in Hawaii, Australia, and Cape Cod before returning to the Ithaca area. They say their most valuable teachers are their fellow farmers. Everyone has been eager to help, explains Kara, from other small-scale organic vegetable farmers to farmers with large-scale operations. In their second season, they’ve found that they are quickly learning their property’s quirks, and supplementing their knowledge with books and research. Plowbreak Farm is not certified organic, but Aaron and Kara employ organic farming practices and seek to make Plowbreak as ecologically sustainable by composting and reducing external inputs.
Leasing, rather than purchasing land, has allowed Aaron and Kara to grow their business and stay out of debt. “One of our main rules for ourselves is to not go into debt,” explains Aaron. “It keeps us from growing too fast. One good piece of advice we’ve received is to pick something you’re good at and focus on that. Don’t take on too much.”
They recommend leasing as a good option for aspiring farmers because it’s mutually beneficial for the farmers and the property owners. Aaron and Kara are Plowbreak’s only employees, although their friends and CSA members sometimes join the harvest to pay off a CSA share, and their dog often keeps them company in the field.
Aaron and Kara each enjoy their off-farm jobs—Aaron works for the Ithaca Farmer’s Market and Coolbot , Kara for the Ithaca Children’s Garden—but they love spending time in the field and running their own business. The free-choice CSA model, through which families take whatever vegetables they think they’ll need for the week, lets Aaron and Kara spend more time growing food and less time staffing farmer’s market booths or packing shares.
They have two free-choice pick-up sites, one on the farm and one at a bar in downtown Ithaca, a short drive from the farm. “I think our niche is that we’re the farm with a CSA pick-up at a bar,” Aaron jokes. Hanging out in the field with Aaron and Kara, it’s easy to see how Plowbreak has garnered so much support so quickly—these new farmers clearly love their work.