We are blown away by the scope of interesting, important and innovative projects the farmers who applied for this prize are working on.
Here are the questions we were asked when we entered the contest and the answers we gave:
Climbing Tree Farm
Farm in New Lebanon , NY
Farm FactsType: Pasture-raised chicken, turkeys, geese, and lamb. Woodland/dairy-fed heritage pork. CSA/wholesale.
Years in operation: 7 years (2.5 years on this land under this farm name)
Annual revenue: 50k-100k
(Average over last three years)
OverviewTwo and a half years ago we bought 20 acres through our local land conservancy and moved from my great-grandfather’s farm (where we had been farming) to our own land. We farm our land and lease 300 acres from a neighbor. We moved here with three off farm jobs, no barn, no tractor, no permanent fencing, a gutted house, 500 chickens, 12 sheep, a 10 day old baby, and a couple of thousand dollars in our pockets. Two and a half years later, using only hard work, the encouragement and appreciation of our community, creativity, and an insane “picking yourself up by the bootstraps” mentality, we now live off the income our farm produces, and have incredible food to share with our community, butcher shops, and restaurants.
Inside the FarmHow is your approach to farming different than other farms in the same category?
We work with our animals to improve our land. We raise our animals true to their instincts; the birds scratch and peck for bugs, the sheep graze, the pigs dig. Our animals are grazed rotationally, fed non-gmo feed, and are born and raised outside (poultry are put on pasture between 2 and 4 weeks weather depending). We grow a pig garden, and work with a grass-fed dairy, cheese maker, breweries, vegetable farmers, and orchards to provide our animals a healthy, varied diet. We share a cooperative meat CSA with our neighbor and friend, which we distribute through two vegetable CSAs and two farmers markets. We sell our pork to whole animal butchers and restaurants. We breed only our best foraging pigs, in hopes that we will be able to be grain-free eventually. By combining a couple of old-world methods of pork raising (an Iberico nut based diet and an Italian whey-based diet) we are able to produce pork with soft, buttery fat, red meat, and pretty marbling. The flavor of our pork changes seasonally as the pigs’ diets change with the seasons.
How does your different approach contribute to a long-term profitable growth strategy for your farm and other small farms like yours?
Pork is our main income. Each generation of pigs that we raise on our farm become better, more innovative foragers. We watch our sows teach their babies to forage- they root up a patch of ground and push their babies noses under the dirt for a snack. We feed high quality free/low cost grain alternatives (milk, whey, apples, etc). Because we don’t rely on solely grain (which is super expensive and creates status quo pork), we are set up to save on production costs and create a unique product. Our farming practices are net positive for our animals, our products, our business, our land, our community, and our family. We work hard, aren’t wedded to convention and have already shown we can make something from nothing.
How would you specifically use a Mortgage Lifter Lift or Mini Lift?
I wish I could say we wanted to buy solar panels, or invest in rainbows and unicorns, but I’m afraid our needs are less romantic. We don’t have a tractor. We started out using our bodies as a tractor, moved onto a four wheeler with a broken clutch, we traded that for a 4 wheel drive farm truck that now has a broken transmission and only drives forward. Our farm is spread out over hundreds of acres, with heavy lifting and hauling every day. My husband’s body is starting to break from overuse. After years of hard work with subpar equipment, our pork is being recognized as unique, we are beginning to have more demand than supply. We’ve reached a turning point where in order to keep up, we need the help of a machine; we need a tractor (hopefully one that runs on renewable energy). If we won this prize we would put the prize money in a tractor account. We would pay tractor payments eight months of the year with farm income, and we would use the tractor account to pay the payments during the winter months when our income is the least secure. A tractor would save our backs, make our farm far more efficient, and allow us to feed more people...a tractor would help us move “forward.”
Please share why you are so passionate about your farm and/or farming in general.
We got our first animals six weeks after the birth of our first child. We wanted to provide good food for our children. We started with a few free sheep, the first year, then we got 25 chickens. When we had too much for ourselves we started feeding our friends, and then strangers at farmers markets, and now our meat goes out into the world with chefs and butchers. It feels good to feed not just our children, but our community with the food we grow. Farming has become a creative outlet for us, a game, a puzzle- figuring out how to make something (something really good) out of nothing. But, the farming game might be a little more fun (and successful) with a tractor.
Here is what the judges said about our farm:
Susan Littlefield, Mortgage Lifter judge
“…a perfect example of what makes this country strong! Working from the ground up helping not only your family but so many! I see you as a great resource for so many that want to get started in agriculture but are unsure how.”
Jennifer Fahy, Mortgage Lifter judge
Climbing Tree Farm, New Lebanon, NY: This is just a great new farmer story:
“We moved here with three off farm jobs, no barn, no tractor, no permanent fencing, a gutted house, 500 chickens, 12 sheep, a 10 day old baby, and a couple of thousand dollars in our pockets. Two and a half years later, using only hard work, the encouragement and appreciation of our community, creativity, and an insane “picking yourself up by the bootstraps” mentality, we now live off the income our farm produces, and have incredible food to share with our community, butcher shops, and restaurants.”
I love the cooperation and community they’re building around their farm:
“We grow a pig garden, and work with a grass-fed dairy, cheese maker, breweries, vegetable farmers, and orchards to provide our animals a healthy, varied diet. We share a cooperative meat CSA with our neighbor and friend, which we distribute through two vegetable CSAs and two farmers markets.”
Robert Lewis, Mortgage Lifter judge
Climbing Tree Farm demonstrates persistence and commitment to bootstrapping a diversified, forage-based poultry, lamb and pork farm operation using old-world husbandry to enhance the land, reduce dependency on imported grain, and produce high quality meat with exceptional flavor and culinary characteristics.
Read more about the contest and the other farms who applied here:
(The farms are beautiful and amazing, and the contest is incredibly awesome)
BEEKMAN MORTGAGE LIFTER!