New Farmer Finds Her Niche by Building Community

5/19/2012 10:00 AM
By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant N.Y. Correspondent

FABIUS, N.Y. — Founded in 2009 by Angela Nelson, Daily Harvest Farm represents a growing trend in agriculture: women playing a leadership role in farming. Though women have always played important roles working alongside their husbands and children on the farm, a growing number of women like Nelson are founding and operating their own farms.

Married to Matt Huber, an assistant professor of geography at nearby Syracuse University, Nelson operates the farm herself with little other help.

Nelson did not grow up on a farm, and she studied community development in college.

“I was really drawn to the community aspect of farming,” she said.

That interest continues today, as evidenced by the activities she incorporates with her farming. She writes a farm blog complete with photos, recipes, insights and visitors’ comments, hosts potlucks on the farm and welcomes volunteers to help out on the farm.

Nelson interned on farms while completing her education. She learned the marketing and business aspects of operating a farm taking training classes in Maryland.

“I dove into learning everything about running a community-supported agriculture (operation),” she said. “I had a lot of knowledge but wanted experience, so I rented the land and started.”

By then, 2009, she had returned to the Syracuse, N.Y., area after living out of state for a decade and leased land in Marcellus, N.Y., to start the farm. More recently, she moved the farm to its current location and leases four acres. She anticipates opening a CSA (community supported agriculture) this season.

Starting seedlings in her greenhouse, Nelson grows about 50 different varieties of vegetables and flowers, including arugula, asters, amaranth, basil, beans, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celeriac, celery, chervil, cilantro, cucumbers, dandelion greens, dill, eggplant, escarole, fennel, garlic, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuce, mustard greens, onions, parsley, parsnip, peppers, pumpkins, radishes, sorrel, strawflowers, summer squash, sunflowers, Swiss chard, tomatoes, turnips, winter squash, and zinnias.

She also purchases raw wool from sheep and alpaca farms to spin and dye by hand and resell. She dyes the wool in a variety of colors.

Nelson sells her flowers, produce and wool at farmer’s markets, including the Downtown Farmers’ Market in Clinton Square in Syracuse. She also sells the wool online via the Syracuse section of the website, www.localharvest.org.

Though her farm is not certified organic, Nelson uses “sustainable” growing practices, including crop rotation, cover crops and maintaining a habitat suitable for animals and insects. Providing fresh foods to the community is important to Nelson because she believes that the optimal flavor and nutrients are available when produce is fresh.

“I find that I really look at it as a lifestyle,” Nelson said. “It’s not a job I go to. My house and family are included in my role as a farmer.”

Huber has no experience or background in farming, but Nelson said, “He is fully supportive in the pains of starting a business.”

Nelson is in good company in the Syracuse area.

“There are quite a few women farmers in the area similar to myself, just starting out,” Nelson said. “They have reached out to me and I have reached out to other people.”

The close-knit network of women knows how hard it is to get into a previously male-dominated industry, especially if they have no farm background. Overall, most male farmers have accepted Nelson and tried to be helpful, including her neighbor who recently disced her plot for planting. But Nelson has noted that “sometimes there is a generational difference between older male farmers and myself.”

Nelson has also noticed that many women farm founders like herself choose a little more off-beat type of farming — such as using organic growing methods, making artisan goat cheese or raising alpacas for fibers — compared with a 1,200-head streamlined Holstein dairy, for example. Part of it is trying to develop an economically viable type of farm.

“I think it’s trying to make ourselves stand out,” Nelson said.

Offering a product unique for the area gives a new farm an edge.

Many of the women-owned farms are also small-scale operations, which for many is not only because they are new farms but also because that is exactly the size they want, to enable them to farm the way they want.

“At that small scale, we can do things more specialized,” Nelson said. “It’s a sign of how things are in agriculture now. The trends tend to shift. A lot of specialty crops shift as to what people want.”

If one type of greens or a certain variety of tomatoes is popular one season, another may rise to popularity next year.

“At larger farms, they’re locked into what they grow,” Nelson said.

Her plans for this season include extending the acreage, opening the CSA and adding interns as a means of paying forward the help many other gave her.

“I’m looking to provide internships through Syracuse University or possibly (to) students who are interested on their own to work on the farm,” Nelson said.

Nelson’s website can be found at www.dailyharvestfarm.com and her blog is at http://dailyharvestfarm.blogspot.com.


Is the EPA being unrealistic in its timeline to reduce farm runoff into the Chesapeake Bay?

  • Yes
  • No
  • Unsure

User Submitted Photos

View photos      Submit your photos

11/26/2014 | Last Updated: 8:15 PM