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Growing “Full Circle” at Sun Sprout Farm

Posted by Suzanne Pender on May 02, 2016 at 06:33 PM
Simon Ziegler, of Sun Sprout Farm, planting seedlings.

Simon Ziegler, of Sun Sprout Farm, planting seedlings.

Both Simon Ziegler and Madeleine Banulski share common values and passions―helping others and producing locally-grown, healthy organic food.

“We always dreamed of starting our own farm together,” said Simon, co-owner of Sun Sprout Farm. “We have been in love with the Hudson Valley for a long time, and after several years of looking for the right place, we found our destination in Chester, New York.”

He met co-owner Madeleine while volunteering at a community for adults with developmental disabilities. Simon worked on the community’s bio-dynamic dairy farm, and she worked in the garden and apple orchard.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in Organic Agriculture Science in Germany, Simon returned to the states to work full-time for six years as the field manager at an organic farm in Connecticut.

This experience prepared him for the road ahead: leasing farmland in New York’s Black Dirt region through a Chester Agricultural Center project managed by Northeast Farm Access. This project provides farmers with affordable leases and requires them to use organic practices.

In addition to a traditional CSA―community supported agriculture―model, Sun Sprout Farm also has a “Circle Garden,” where members pay for a share of the garden at the beginning of the season. The farmer takes care of the initial planting of annual vegetables. Herbs and flowers are planted in the center of the circle for communal use. Members take over their plots and are responsible for weeding and harvesting their own vegetables. This costs less than a traditional CSA because the farmer and members share the labor, and costs such as refrigeration, shipping, and packing are reduced or not needed at all. The farmer provides high-quality seedlings, water, tools, and instruction. Members can also obtain more plants and seeds throughout the season.

This communal, collaborative approach extends to the other farmers nearby. “I’m interested in farming independently but cooperatively. We share a greenhouse, walk-in cooler, and barn,” said Simon.

The other farmers also share information―they heard about the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and its program supporting high tunnels and decided to check it out. All three farmers went together to their local USDA Service Center and all three now have high tunnels.

High tunnels extend the growing season by protecting cover for in-ground plants, and provide other conservation benefits.

Simon also received support from NRCS programs such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program Organic Initiative, for soil health practices such as cover crops and crop rotations. These practices are required on transitioning and organic farms, so it’s a natural fit.

NRCS conservationists start the process by working with each farmer one-on-one to develop a conservation plan based on that farmer’s goals and priorities. These conservation plans can be used as part of the organic transition plan required for certification. Sun Sprout expects to be certified organic by fall 2017, after the required three-year transition period.

“I like the organic mindset,” said Simon. “I want to know everything up and down the supply chain. I want to know where it came from and what was used. And I want you to know what you’re getting and everything I’m using.”

Click on these links to learn more about NRCS assistance for high tunnels and for organic producers.

Learn more about these farms and farmers transitioning to organic in the black dirt region of New York.

Related Links

Tags: organic, New York, locally-grown food, high tunnels, greenhouse, soils, financial assistance, technical assistance, new farmers, beginning farmer, Community Supported Agriculture

categories Farmer & Rancher Stories , Conservation Programs

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