Producer of the Month

Marnie and Don of Thompson-Finch Farm

Marnie and Don

Thompson Finch Farm

http://thompsonfinch.com

It would be incorrect to say that we “started” Thompson-Finch Farm. That was the work of William and Catherine Thompson, Marnie’s great great great grandparents in the 1860’s. But the Thompson-Finch Farm of these times is our creative enterprise that we began in 1982 when we moved to the farm owned by Marnie’s family and started an orchard and garden in one of the fields. From there it grew year by year and field by field to what it is now. We started out growing some fruit but mostly vegetables for local restaurants, but slowly shifted more and more toward fruit. We now have a small apple orchard, an acre of blueberries, some fields of fall root crops and potatoes for wholesale, some hay fields and our biggest and most important part; over 4 acres of organic strawberries that are open for Pick Your Own in June – all organic and certified by NOFA NY Certified Organic since 1988.

Why did we start farming and create this particular farm operation? It was an opportunity that sprang up back then and we jumped at the chance to move to the farm that had held Marnie’s heart her entire life and try our hand at farming. We had been in Vermont and had intentions of developing a “homestead” size farm there and were looking for land to farm and live on. Moving to the farm in Ancram exposed us to the call of larger fields, better soils, local agricultural infrastructure and experienced farmers. As we started to farm, the land took on a life of its own that begged for us to follow its call and so our initial plans of homesteading became a memory as we actually “went back to the land!” Thirty six years later we still utilize far less than the farm’s inherent potential.

We started farming with no training – no apprenticeships, no previous experience, no mentoring program, though we had friends and mentors informally guide us as we learned. So for us, it was a milestone any time we realized that we were doing something well enough to bother repeating the techniques acquired the year before, and not be making significant adjustments or changes. It has been 36 six years of education by error, slowly moving toward more success and fewer mistakes. That was one of our biggest insights about organic growing, that the learning curve on the farm should have as little effect on the product as possible. It is critically important to make every attempt to not let a failure in the field make its way into the box or bag headed to market, and to always present organic food as the most tasty, healthy, clean, beautiful and bountiful as it is. It is that same learning curve that makes farming both challenging and forever interesting. We assume we will never have it all figured out.

Our biggest challenge on a seasonal and daily basis is just the relentless nature of the work. It is never “done.” The best one can hope for are little temporary points of feeling somewhat caught up. It is a factor of farming in our northern temperate climate where the annual emergence out of winter dormancy swiftly becomes a months-long green tsunami of growing life energy from seed to plant to flower to fruit. It has to be “surfed” to survive it.

Our biggest challenge in the longer term has been getting through a major generational passage for the family farm that threatened our farming land base security. With the most difficult part of that transition now behind us, we are happy to share the news that we have helped create a vibrant working collaborative combining Thompson-Finch Farm, Columbia Land Conservancy, Equity Trust, Hudson Valley Farmland Protection Fund, Scenic Hudson and others in an effort to buy and preserve the farm as a development protected and affordable farm for now and for future farmers. You can learn more about this exciting project and what you can do to help at http://clctrust.org/thompsonfinchfarm

How do we balance sustainability and profitability? Profitability is easy to measure and define, sustainability not so much. Certainly, if we aren’t profitable than we would have to quit farming and that can’t “sustain” the farm. We do what we can in an attempt to reduce our carbon emissions and waste. Hopefully, we are building rather than losing our soils. We don’t dose the earth with chemicals, and we try to keep a healthy lifestyle as stewards of the land. But one can’t help but ask: if we are still all racing around in our 21st century cyber world, no matter what our gas mileage, eating our local organic food out of yet one more plastic container, is there something about sustainability that we are missing? Do we have a blind spot? Our lives on the farm sometimes feel that way and yet, it is often the farm itself that pulls us back and grounds us and shows us something we weren’t seeing. And often that insight comes through the eyes and suggestion of our customers that come to pick, pointing out things we don’t notice with our blinders on and eyes on the plants and soil, on the ground. In that way, it’s not our farm. It’s “Our” farm, as in you too.

What natural food product is always in the house? Corn Chips (organic, any brand) and tequila, not OG but O well, it was a hard day.