Let's get caught up...
6 minute read
written by: Curtis
Curtis and Meghan in the Victory Garden at Curtis' family home in the Adirondacks.
Meghan and my first real deep connection happened over a conversation on a bus ride that, looking back now, deeply foreshadowed our lives and the paths we took. We were together on a public bus in Brisbane, Australia, as newly introduced geology major classmates on a term abroad in late 2012.
During that now fabled conversation, we gushed over what it’d be like to live a more self-sufficient, resilient, and connected life. We discussed a lifestyle surrounded by food that we connected with directly. We were both inspired by aspects of our childhoods and explored the possibilities further in this conversation. Not knowing it then, we created what became a roadmap for our future. These seeds of thought and intentions simmered and matured into our true reality.
"These seeds of thought and intentions simmered and matured into our true reality. "
Nearly three years and a graduation later, we reconnected. At the time, I was working as an oil well-site geologist in the panhandle of Texas & Oklahoma and she was starting with the Army Corps of Engineers in Savannah, GA. Our first year dating was full of cross-country trips, bonding over travel, and connecting over food. While my work schedule provided extended time off between rig moves, my life living and working out of my office in an RV on an oil drilling pad was far removed from my natural tendencies and preferred environment.
One hot and muggy day on a June 2016 visit to Meghan in Savannah, we revisited our term-abroad college daydream of living connected to food and the natural world. We took it further this time in another roadmap-defining revelation that we could actually live this life, and do it well, if we focused our energy and growth towards becoming farmers and land stewards. It was the first defining moment and identification that being a farmer would be our ticket towards creating our desired lifestyle.
"We took it further this time in another roadmap-defining revelation that we could actually live this life, and do it well, if we focused our energy and growth towards becoming farmers and land stewards."
We believed in our revelation so much that I moved to NYC later that year to bring us closer to a path of agriculture in the Northeast. Meghan followed late the next year and accepted an apprenticeship for the 2017 season at Stone Barns Center in Westchester County, NY. Following her lead up the Hudson Valley, I took two landscaping/gardener positions around Bedford, NY and we made the move out of the Big Apple.
Our 2017 season was one of significant growth, education, connection, and conviction. We quickly discovered that beyond heart, passion, and commitment, you’ve gotta have the smarts and a solid plan to make this life work. Our library quickly grew, YouTube autoplay droned farm video after farm video, and our Instagram feeds became a melange of vegetables, chickens, and farmers crushing it. Towards the end of our first season, we were hooked, and it was time to make moves and find longer term positions.
Curtis trellising tomatoes while volunteering at Stone Barns in 2017.
Meghan tending the lamb flock at Stone Barns during her apprenticeship in 2017.
With great optimism and a fervent disposition, Meghan and I accepted our first farm management positions at Grape Hollow Farm in Pawling, NY starting in November 2017. Besides our first farm management positions, this was also our first time working full time, 7-days a week together. Talk about taking work home! At Grape Hollow, Meghan focused on livestock and sales, I focused on annual and perennial plants, and the landowner focused on managing the business and the on-farm AirBnB. This split gave Meghan and I the ability to focus on becoming good land stewards, farmers, market vendors, and problem solvers.
Aerial image of Grape Hollow Farm, July 2019, under Curtis and Meghan's management
On the 47-acre property, Meghan and I managed a young permaculture-inspired orchard, market garden, flock of sheep for fiber and meat, maple syrup production, silvopasture creation, pastured chickens for meat and eggs, and all the projects to make it happen. From building two high tunnels to designing, building, and implementing a pasture meat bird system in the orchard alleyways, we innovated and made it happen. We were fortunate to have the support of many helpers, friends, and family who pitched in to help us succeed in our positions.
Through weekly farmers' markets serving Brooklyn, Manhattan, the Bronx, and locally in Pawling, we interacted with a cross-section of cultures who have all helped define and steer our market and farm perceptions. All the criticism, suggestions, and praise we were fortunate to receive, drove us to improve each week to deliver a better experience.
Working with pasture based livestock taught us the power of synergy. We learned to work instinctually with natural nutrient cycles to grow increasingly healthier crops and animals. Each batch of birds, every planting of greens; improved.
Our crew of helpers and volunteers presented opportunity to learn management skills and deepen our capacity for empathy, patience, and clarity. We learned the importance of being organized, having clear systems and practices, and how to remain positive in all conditions. For all those who braved the mud, sleet, and bitter cold to assemble a greenhouse frame in late November 2018, you know what we mean!
Farmers Curtis and Meghan running the Grape Hollow Farm market booth in Pawling, NY, 2019
Despite our best efforts and initial successes, the landowner chose to close the farm and sell the property in early 2019. Though we completed the season and assisted in the shut-down, we faced a crossroads and an opportunity. Do we seek employment or do we seek land tenure and build our own business? Meghan and I had plenty of momentum and visions of building a farm business of our own, but we lacked access to land and resources.
"Do we seek employment or do we seek land tenure and build our own business?"
During the summer and fall of 2019, we met dozens of farmers, landowners, and non-profit organizers to help us in our quest to find our next farm management or ownership positions. We were fortunate to connect with our, now current, landowner early in our search. After several tours, lengthy conversations, and visits, we agreed to become tenants of the property in Bantam, CT starting in 2021. It was a "pinch-me" moment for the two of us, and after an uncertain year, we felt some solidarity forming in the Litchfield Hills.
We feel an enormous sense of gratefulness in finding this farm rental opportunity and it has afforded us the ability to be entrepreneurs, business owners, and farmers without the obstacle of personal land ownership. We’ve had the 2020 year to settle into residence in Northwestern Connecticut and have felt welcomed and enthusiastic despite the obvious curveball that 2020 has been for the United States and the world.
Curtis and Meghan growing baby greens and roots in April 2020
At the start of 2020, we worked for the previous tenants of the farm property we now lease. While observing the farm property and business in anticipation of taking over the 2021 lease, Meghan and I brought our knowledge of microgreens and online sales, and helped the farm business respond to the first wave of coronavirus concerns. We were fortunate to observe real customer responses to systems and products that we’ve believed in for years. Our takeaway: the local support of farms and farmers is strong!
Microgreens, similar to what we will produce at Vibrant Farm
In early June we left our positions to focus on the business we wanted to create for our future customers, here in Litchfield County. Through our business planning process this past summer, we recognized that a business in 2020-beyond must be agile and adaptable; to stay in business, you must change and be innovative, you must meet the demands of tomorrow's customers. With Vibrant Farm, we aim to develop a business that is a reliable and consistent source of high quality food and nourishment for our community.
We are so excited to be here!
Curtis & Meghan
Meghan and Curtis are the creators and owners of Vibrant Farm.
Learn more about Vibrant