40 farmers under 40, Nos. 11-20
Meet the new crop of American farmers — young and energetic idealists who are bringing local, sustainable food back to the table.
Tue, Jul 21, 2009 at 09:30 AM
11) Molly Rockaman, 28
St. Louis, Mo.
Molly Rockaman, a 28-year-old native Missourian, worked alongside sugarcane farmers in Fiji, rice farmers in Thailand and mushroom producers in Ghana before reclaiming St. Louis as her home. She co-founded EarthDance FARMS in 2008 with the initial aim of preserving Missouri's oldest organic farm. With the farm's 300 percent increase in production this year (due to more of the land being under cultivation), and 12 apprentices aspiring to careers in sustainable agriculture, EarthDance is not only preserving farmland — it's growing food and farmers. The farm's primary program is an organic farming apprenticeship program — combining field work, weekly enrichment sessions, field trips to local farms and selling at farmers markets into a season-long commitment to sustainable agriculture training.
Besides being a source of organic farming education, Rockaman's passion for music and the visual and performing arts comes through in EarthDance's mission, as the farm hosts concerts and open-studio artist sessions. One day she even hopes to create an artist-in-residence program on the farm, living out EarthDance's mantra of "Celebrating the Culture in Agriculture."
South African-born Daron Joffe (who, in full disclosure, hosts the MNN video series In the Field) grew up in Atlanta and attended the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where his love of gardening sprouted during an apprenticeship at a local organic farm. After dropping out of college in 1995 and apprenticing at a biodynamic farm in Georgia, Joffe bought some land of his own back in Wisconsin. He ran a biodynamic farm, restaurant and education center there for several years, eventually moving west in 2000 to teach nutrition, organic farming and habitat restoration to troubled teens in San Francisco.
Joffe now has hubs in Atlanta — where he runs Farmer D Organics, serves on the board of Georgia Organics and helped start the organic farm at Serenbe — and in Riceboro, Ga., a small town south of Savannah where he runs a community-supported organic garden. At just 32, the entrepreneurial and well-traveled Joffe is an atypical farmer, as he likes to point out: "I live in the city. I travel more than I'm home. And I'm not 75 years old, wearing overalls with a piece of straw in my mouth."
13) Emily Jane Freed, 33
Emily Jane Freed is the assistant production manager at Jacobs Farm, where she's responsible for seven farms, including 250 acres of organic culinary herbs and edible flowers. She's the chair of the 2009 Hazon Food Conference and also served on the executive committee for the 2008 edition, where she chaired the Farmer's Connection/Sponsorship Committee, which highlighted farms and farmers from the greater Bay Area.
In 2007 and 2008, Freed attended the ROI (Return on Investment) Global Summit in Jerusalem for 120 Young Jewish Innovators from around the world, and in 2007 she was named one of Heeb magazine's top 100 in the category of food. She's a board member of the University of California-Santa Cruz's Friends of the Farm & Garden, which is committed to community outreach, education and organic agricultural practices on the California Central Coast.
14) Lyndon Hartz, 26
When Hartz Produce was founded in 2004, Lyndon Hartz initially farmed about one acre of ground that his grandpa owned. It grew to four acres the next year, and in 2006, he moved the farm closer to where he lived, so he rented ground and began attending the Peoria RiverFront Market and the Stark County Farmers Market. That fall, he took out a loan for 10.5 acres of his own.
In 2007, Hartz began planting perennial crops like strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and asparagus, and launched his own CSA program with 15 members. He also bought a Hoop House and started experimenting with winter gardening. In 2008, the CSA grew to 22 members and the farmers markets thrived.
Hartz is a founding member of the Good Earth Food Alliance; the group has a 110-member CSA and sells to restaurants in the area. He continues to sell at farmers markets and also works with a local school district to provide fresh veggies with school lunches.
Hartz grows a wide range of crops, from the aforementioned fruits to almost any kind of vegetable: lettuces, spinach, red spinach, sweet corn, carrots, parsnips, tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes, peppers, radish, broccoli, cabbage, green beans, chard — and the list goes on.
15) Page Atkinson, 27
16) Ian Ater, 26
17) Lucas Christenson, 24
Fledging Crow Vegetables is located in the Champlain Valley of upstate New York, but it owes a lot to a mountaintop in southeastern Ecuador. While working on a farm there during the winter of 2006-'07, Ian Ater and Paige Atkinson met Lucas Christenson, and eventually all three found themselves picking rocks out of newly tilled land on 10 leased acres in Keeseville, N.Y., happily playing a part in the fast-developing local trend toward small, diversified farms.
The three amigos — who speak a lot of unnecessary Spanish on the farm (fueled, perhaps, by the 130 pounds of coffee beans that Atkinson and Christenson brought home from Ecuador this past winter) — are in their first season farming three acres of certified naturally grown vegetables for a 40-member CSA program; they also supply several restaurants in nearby Lake Placid, vend at three farmers markets (where their offerings include veggies along with pasture-raised pork, chickens and Thanksgiving turkeys), and sell their produce to local natural foods stores.
CSA memberships funded Fledging Crow's first year of equipment acquisitions, while the market season offers the farmers a steadier income. Hogs rotationally graze new land in one field, eating its quackgrass rhizomes so future crops can thrive there, and laying hens eat a cover crop and drop manure in another field to fertilize next year's garlic (and they lay eggs for the week!).
Atkinson's, Ater's and Christenson's farming backgrounds are just as diverse as their veggie fields, including everything from draft horses to hand-dug garden beds to dairy cows. They stay busy and laugh a lot, with a sunset lake swim at the end of most days.
Photo (left to right): Christenson, Ater and Atkinson
18) Jacob Cowgill, 31
19) Courtney Cowgill, 29
Jacob and Courtney Cowgill are artists, writers and farmers born and raised on the shortgrass prairie of central Montana. They recently moved home to start their own farm in Conrad, where the Rocky Mountains meet the Great Plains. Prior to coming home, Jacob spent a few seasons in north-central Montana working on a farm experimenting with dryland vegetables, and Courtney worked in the big city in western Montana for NewWest.net, an online journal she co-created.
On their farm, they grow high-quality, nutritious, community-dense food, raising heritage and ancient grains and seeds, heirloom vegetables, and heritage turkeys. Their focus on older varieties of plants and animals helps protect the nation's genetic diversity and keeps the people's seeds and breeds alive and well.
20) Padraic MacLeish, 26
Pocantico Hills, N.Y.
The Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture is an 80-acre, nonprofit farm serving as a beacon for local, sustainable agriculture just about an hour north of New York City. A legacy of the Rockefeller estate, Stone Barns has become a leading light in the slow-food movement both through its farm market and by hosting classes and lectures on a variety of farming subjects. In addition to its four-season vegetable production, the center raises several species of livestock, including chickens, sheep, pigs and bees.
Padraic MacLeish, assistant livestock manager and beekeeper at Stone Barns, is a native of upstate New York. He worked at the Farmer's Museum in Cooperstown for eight years before attending Deep Springs College in Big Pine, Calif. Before MacLeish arrived at Stone Barns, he also worked at a dairy farm in New York, a cattle ranch in Nevada, taught horseback-riding lessons in California and attended the College of Alameda, where he received an associate's degree in automotive technology. In addition to his work tending the livestock, MacLeish has taught courses at Stone Barns such as "Beekeeping 101" and "ABCs in the Pasture: Honey."