CLARENCE CENTER, N.Y. — Serving the Greater Buffalo area, the Root Down Farm CSA shares are grown entirely in Clarence Center, where members come to pick up their organic produce.
Stephen Blabac and Erin Grimley are the owners of Root Down Farm. The couple did not grow up on farms and did not go to school for agriculture. After graduation, they separately set out on paths to find out where their food came from, why it was grown, and how it was produced.
Blabac found farming through an apprenticeship.
“I am originally from Binghamton and I found a farm in Rhode Island that wanted an apprentice,” he said. “It is at this farm that I found a love for agriculture and raising things as well as a love for the CSA model.”
Grimley hails from Battle Creek, Michigan, and joined the Rhode Island farm Blabac was on during his second year of service when she came on as an apprentice. Following their time together on the farm, they went their separate ways.
“She was interested in raising vegetables and I was interested in pasture raising livestock,” Blabac said. “Erin went on to a vegetable farm in Massachusetts and I began working with a large dairy and CSA in California.”
After multiple years and experiences on different farms, the pair came together with the intention of starting a farm together.
“We didn’t grow up on farms or inherit a bunch of land, therefore it wasn’t just about the lifestyle and love for production, it had to be a business for us and a business that made sense and provided a good living,” Blabac said. “We chose the CSA model because the memberships gave us the upfront funding, we needed to get started buying tractors, seed, beginning a website, and leasing land.”
Root Down’s first year, 2010, yielded 50 members. Blabac and Grimley worked off the farm while managing the CSA during their first year. In 2011, the team worked part time off the farm and their program grew to 100 members. In 2012, the third year of the Root Down CSA, the program had 150 members and Blabac and Grimley were farming full time.
During the fourth season, the full-time crew added an apprentice program, to repay the experiences their apprenticeships gave them and as a means to inspire the next generation of growers.
Although the apprentice program no longer exists, the owners said that they had great success with the program. The apprentice program ran for five years, with eight apprentices coming through the program. Two of the apprentices are now running farms of their own, one is working in the ag industry, and one works at Root Down Farm.
2020 marks the 10th year Root Down Farm will grow and host their CSA program. The 2019 program was comprised of 300 members and they are planning for their 10th season to look very similar. Most members participate in their core summer share typically running from June through October.
The summer share offers two choices: the farm share or small share. Members of this share can select other add on shares including the spring share running late April through May, the winter share running November through February, and the fruit share running July through October. All of the fruit in the share is sourced locally.
Root Down members have access to weekly pick-ups during April to February.
“Each year we try to close the gap a little more,” Blabac said. “We are trying to have freshly harvested vegetables through the year even in the cold, snowy, western New York climate so that members and perspective members can have a locally sourced diet, not just storage crops. Erin and I want and need to eat locally and seasonally, and we want our members to experience that. If we don’t feel like we have enough greens in our diet, we want greens and we will always work to find a way to grow them during inclement times.”
The shares are grown at the homestead owned by Blabac and Grimley.
“We own about 5 acres, the house and the barn. We are fortunate to sit on 180 acres of protected land. The development rights for this land have been purchased from the landlord preserving the greenspace forever. We lease an additional 20 acres to actively grow on, it is really cool for us to use a fraction of the acreage really well to rotate and grow for our members,” Blabac said. “Living here and running our CSA is really about education for us. Educating people about where their food comes from, what has become of our food system, and what parts that we have and are lucky to have. We have learned components of our food system put a strain on natural resources and believe that what impacts our food choices can have an impact on the rest of the global community and future generations.”
Raising produce and sharing their passion for education was not the challenge for Root Down Farm. The challenge was getting a start.
“Having people put their trust in you that you can make a business work is what you need to gain the confidence to truly start,” Blabac said. “You need confidence from yourself and others to start a business, if I had fear — if we had fear — we never would have gotten our start. I came to farming to make land productive, making it productive so the farmer didn’t have to sell it to make money to retire.”
Root Down also inspires other producers to share their stories and impact on food systems. Providence Creek Farms of Clarence Center offers a meat share add on for Root Down members. They provide grass-fed, antibiotic-free, organic meat products for members.
“We would like to give our CSA members as many choices and options as possible,” Blabac said.
The farm’s goal for 2020 is to grow better potatoes and continue improving infrastructure projects.
“I am not sure what else we want to do with our lives, we ask ourselves if we can do it the way we do it now forever,” Blabac said. “Farming is what we do right now, but who knows, there may be other avenues we decide to explore.”
For now, everyday at Root Down Farm is different. Some days they grow vegetables, some days they are carpenters, some days they drive tractors all day. The passionate thing for their team is making land valuable and productive.