From Pedals to Poultry

8/3/2013 7:00 AM
By Troy Bishopp New York Correspondent

Young Couple’s Love of Biking Leads Them to the Farm



NEW MILFORD, Conn. — When you meet young farmers John and Kate Suscovich, it’s pretty evident by their smiles and jovial personalities, along with the meticulous way they line up their chicken tractors in a field, that they are passionate about local agriculture. One might even call the couple, who both graduated from the University of Connecticut in 2007, a little bit crazy.

But it took the hustle and bustle of New York City — John Suscovich worked as a lighting technician for the Howard Stern Show and Kate Suscovich had a busy undergraduate schedule and teaching position - to realize they wanted a more rural lifestyle.

“It’s funny to look back and see how influential those weekly trips to the farmers markets and meeting the diverse farmers was to changing our outlook on where we wanted to go for the immediate future,” said Kate Suscovich.

To realize their farming dream, the couple did something radical. They quit their jobs and literally rode off into the sunset, on bicycles, on a 5,500 mile trip of a lifetime across the United States.

The athletic couple and marketing savants didn’t just fall off the proverbial turnip truck. They had a plan. It included working at WWOOF (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms) farms across the country — the program provides food and lodging on farms in exchange for labor.

This experience, coupled with establishing the “Foodcyclist” logo and website to chronicle their journey, gave them a new found respect for their farming brethren.

“It was exhilarating, exhausting and inspirational all rolled into one,” Kate Suscovich said. “The agricultural community showed us so much compassion and knowledge around their kitchen tables, and their awesome food kept us strong through those tough days on the bikes. They are who we hope to emulate.”

With the momentous trip behind them, the couple embarked on an internship at Devon Point Farm in Woodstock, Conn., in 2012, where they explored the real roots of running a diverse grass-fed beef and vegetable farm with a very public presence.

The 16-hour days of clearing brush, weeding veggies and setting up portable fencing to oversee a farm camp for kids was a soul-searching endeavor.

“We found out a lot about ourselves and discovered the drive it takes to succeed. It was important to work at a diverse farm as a way to focus on what kind of enterprises we want to pursue,” Kate Suscovich said.

The internship ended in the fall of 2012. Kate Suscovich was also teaching at local schools. When the new couple found out they would be expecting a new baby in the summer of 2013, it heightened their desire to “get farmin.” But how?

The savvy young couple compiled a business plan and threw around various marketing approaches before finally settling on a pastured poultry CSA (community supported agriculture) model aptly called FoodCyclist Farm, where customers would buy a meat share to be delivered every week during the grazing season, along with a complimentary herb CSA. And so the pursuit to become farmers was finally realized — sort of.

The hardest part for the couple, who live in a bedroom community, was finding a piece of land that could support chicken tractors.

“We talked with townspeople and farmers, we knocked on doors, looked at Google maps, got land information from the town tax assessor about potential properties, and never said no’ to a conversation,” John Suscovich said.

Their big break came when the couple landed on the front page of the Waterbury, Conn., Republican American newspaper, where their struggle of trying to find land hit a nerve with a local crop farmer, who called the couple and offered hay ground bordering the Housatonic River, perfect for a fleet of 10 chicken tractors.

The response to John<@keystone nobold> Suscovich’s<@$p> marketing effort for 20 weeks of pastured organic chicken yielded 40 CSA shares right off the bat.

The frugalness of being a young farmer had John Suscovich brooding chicks in a box trailer and making all of his own chicken tractors from scratch. He used plenty of 5-gallon buckets for the project and kept everything mobile and cheap.

The demand for these 8-week-old bundles of meat has out-paced supply, which is a good place to be for a brand new farm.

The experience has also compelled John Suscovich, a former Eagle Scout, to start Farm Marketing Solutions, a company that offers free advice on how to start a farm and gives tips on how farmers can set-up and edit their own websites and take better farm photos.

In addition, he hosts a biweekly “Growing Farms” podcast, which chronicles the story of FoodCyclist Farm while interviewing farmers from around the country. There are over 27 free downloadable episodes.

“It’s one way I can pay it forward for all the help we’ve received through the years,” John Suscovich said.

The Suscoviches welcomed their first daughter, Mabel Grace, into the family two weeks ago. John Suscovich has also embarked on moving the poultry and marketing operation to the hop-yards of Foodcycle Farm in Kent, Conn. Foodcycle Farm raises produce, eggs and meat, along with making beers and spirits and has plans for a fine-dining restaurant, casual eatery, and a small inn near the farm.

This synergistic relationship between both farms could bring a plethora of opportunities for both businesses.

With all of their adventures, the Suscoviches continue to grow individually and together. Through their online presence, partnerships with customers and the farm itself, they strive to create a community of like-minded people.

“The true path to sustainability is through community,” John Suscovich said smiling. “After all, how are you supposed to enjoy dinner when there is no one else at the table?”

For more information, visit FoodCyclist Farm at www.foodcyclist.com or Farm Marketing Solutions at www.farmmarketingsolutions.com.


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