By Suzy Hodgson, UVM Extension Center for Sustainable Agriculture
A vegetarian for six years, Kate Spring, Good Heart Farmstead, had been interested in sustainable farming since graduating with an Environmental Studies and English degree in 2009. But after reading Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma, Kate wanted to revisit her relationship with animals and meat. As she describes it, “my main impetus and reason to start farming was to start eating meat. I’d learned a lot about food systems and wanted hands-on experience on a small farm, to see what it’s really like to raise livestock. It was a pretty personal way into farming.”
Kate’s first job was working with Mari Omland and Laura Olsen at their farm, Green Mountain Girls Farm. Kate described her first day, “On day one, I milked goats and helped raise chickens, turkeys, pigs, and lambs. I was Green Mountain Girls’ first employee so I did a little bit of everything, from moving animals to new pastures, to helping set up their Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). I got a taste of all those things.”
I was Green Mountain Girls’ first employee so I did a little bit of everything.
Getting a closer relationship with local farming and food, Kate realized that she not only loved the farming, but also relished the interaction with customers. At her next job, she was ready for some management experience and was hired as a school garden supervisor. This was her second summer farming but first time in a management role at Calypso Farm, an educational farm in Fairbanks, Alaska. Kate ran the summer program for kids and managed the CSA. She met Edge, her husband-to-be, who was in his fourth year at Calypso and was key staff member.
Working with kids 10 to 14 years old, Kate saw how farms can have a large impact on food accessibility, particularly in a low-income area. As Kate found out, “Most kids didn’t know anything about vegettables. With the sun never setting during an Alaskan summer, veggies grow really fast providing lots of learning opportunites. Calypso played a transformational role in the neighborhood with kids feeling pride in their surroundings, a sense of belonging and contributing.”
What Kate learned at Calypso inspired her and provided the framework for starting her own farm in Vermont. Looking back to the start, Kate realizes her farm looks different than her and Edge’s original inspiration. As Kate explains, “When we started, our original vision was creating a full diet, full-year farm feeding 40 families. We had an idea for a big homestead to feed families with sheep, chicken, turkeys, pigs and a separate CSA for veggies. It was too much for two people to do all that at once, if we wanted to do everything well.”
It’s easier to have someone come water veggies than wrangle a sheep if we want to go camping.
Finishing their fifth season in 2017, Good Heart Farmstand is fine tuning, figuring out what they do well. Over three years, they’ve dropped the livestock, focusing instead on salad greens for wholesale markets, particularly restuarants. As Kate puts it, “we were more effective veggies growers than livestock farmers. And the price of seeds is less than the price of grain. We also enjoy the lifestyle and flexibility, as it’s easier to have someone come water veggies than wrangle a sheep if we want to go camping.” Moreover, Edge and Kate found that accessing veggie markets at the price they needed to cover the costs was easier than the price point needed for pasture-raised meats.
Summing it up, Kate says, “Our farm is ‘what we like doing, what we’re effective at doing, and what we can sell well.”