From our farmers: Making the jump

Amica Farm - rolling up tarp

This is a farmer-contributed post in our “From our farmers” series, written by Nicki Passarella and Irina Schabram of Amica Farm, both enrolled in our Farm Incubator Program.

Amica Farm is the product of two female friends who forged a bond through hard work, sweat equity and a deep love of agriculture and community. We work with one-half acre of land, growing an extensive array of annual vegetables, herbs and strawberries to sell directly to our community at two weekly farmers markets.

As first year farm business owners, having the opportunity to utilize the Headwaters Farm Incubator Program (HIP) has already proven invaluable in our first months of participation. The obvious places of gratitude to start with include land, water, propagation space, and the ability to share orders to get bulk pricing and keep shipping low. There are also scheduled learning sessions with industry professionals about farm financials, record keeping and more. A less tangible benefit is the community with other farmers at Headwaters and the direct support from EMSWCD staff we are experiencing.

Transitioning from an internship in 2017 to business ownership this year has been exhilarating as our farm dream takes shape, but it has also come with a bucket of nerves. What if our crops fail? What if we miscalculate our numbers and end up with not enough (or too much!) produce? What if customers at the farmers market don’t want what we have spent so many hours and so much love growing? These questions and more are sure to continue and change as we grow our business, but luckily for us we have regular encouragement from seasoned farmers at Headwaters, shared nerves with other first-year farmers, and direct and substantial support from EMSWCD.

The barriers to emerging farmers are numerous: access to capital, high quality soils in close proximity to sales outlets, farm infrastructure and more. Headwaters lowers these barriers in such a way that we are able to focus on developing our farm and business without having to worry about enormous start-up costs, all while we work out the kinks of a first year business.

According to the USDA Census of Agriculture, 6% of America’s farmers are under 35 years old. Gender and ethnic minorities and culturally diverse farmers are rarities. This is where the HIP is making an impactful change in our lives, our local community and on a broader scale as well. If two women in their early thirties can have affordable access to land as well as business support, then we are changing these stark statistics right here, right now. We farm because it is who we are. We farm because touching the earth and working with it to manifest nutritious and seasonally delicious food is our calling.

Farming is a labor of love. We would not be waking up before dawn, completing physically challenging tasks, slogging through muddy fields and sharing recipes and stories at farmers markets (while we’d rather be napping) if we didn’t have a deep-seeded passion for growing food in a manner that works with our environment and nourishes our community.

Headwaters allows Amica Farm the space to develop as a business and as farmers without the overwhelming pressure many first-year farmers experience. Without this program, it would have taken us many years and a much less direct route towards farming. And maybe we would never have made it. But with Headwaters, we have a fighting chance… and we’re going to dig in, work hard, and farm.