A MAN and
To Provide Food the C.S.A. Way
WRITTEN BY MEGIN POTTER MULTIPLE CONTRIBUTING PHOTOGRAPHERS
Visualize your weekly grocery shopping trip.
Does it begin by turning off the long stretches of highway and onto a dirt road that leads to a farm? One where you choose from an array of vibrantly colored vegetables, laugh and share stories with good friends, stroll down to the ponds, meander through the fields, and then picnic in the secret gardens? No? Well, a new Community Supported Agriculture Farm (CSA) is changing that.
“This was the hope: to provide really local year-round food and have the farm open, itself, for people to connect,” said Tim Biello, owner and manager of Featherbed Lane Farm CSA in Charlton.
Biello and his wife, Jamielynn, first met while attending Saratoga Springs Senior High School in the 1990s. Life sent them in different directions; she became a stylist who has been working in the area for 14 years, while he worked at a variety of different jobs. They reconnected in 2013 and married in 2015. The same year, they moved into Featherbed Lane Farm’s 1800’s farmhouse. That’s where Jamielynn gave birth to their son, Finnegan, the following year.
A HEALTHY START
The story of how Featherbed Lane Farm got started began much earlier, however.
Biello has found farm artifacts dating from the 1700s on the property, and has seen evidence that it was used to raise horses several times throughout its long history - including Connemara show ponies during the mid-to-late twentieth century.
This history makes the fact that he’s using a team of four draft horses to work his farm seem fitting.
For more information on Featherbed Lane Farm visit www.featherbedlanefarm.com
Finding the farm and reinvigorating it however, hasn’t been a quick and easy process.
“I slowly pieced it together,” said Biello.
GROWING A HEALTHY MINDSET
Aside from the occasional trip to go get a Halloween pumpkin as a kid, Biello didn’t really spend much time on a farm until he was 26 years old. In college, he was introduced to the complex issues associated with food production, waste, and its impact on the public’s health.
“If I think I care about it, how can I eat from this food system? I stopped eating meat for 10 years and had to really think hard about what I ate,” he said.
Working on a variety of farms in New York, he was able to learn how to produce something that was tangibly needed, in a way
that was mindful of responsible land stewardship farm practices, while gaining the health benefits of being outside, and becoming a conscientious consumer.
“I saw the full cycle. I love meat. It tastes really good, and makes my body feel really good. We can do our best with it, and use everything that comes off it,” said Biello.
It was this desire to give others the healthy benefits that come with being on a farm, that got him started onto what would turn out to be a long journey.
BUILDING A HEALTHY SYSTEM
It took Biello five years to acquire the right to farm the 63 acres that make up Featherbed Lane Farm. He began with a map; a 30-mile radius around Saratoga Springs circled, and spent hundreds of hours doing research in his spare time.
If you’ve seen the “No Farms, No Food” bumper stickers, you know of the American Farmland Trust, an organization that he’s worked for since 2014. As the NY Project Manager & Hudson Valley Farmlink Network Coordinator, he works to help develop resources and tools for beginning farmers to find access to land, and retiring farmers to transfer ownership, all while maintaining its farmland protections.
This experience also gives him a first-hand look at the challenges associated with farming, while also earning him enough income to keep Featherbed Lane Farm in operation through its start-up.
Biello has a lease to own agreement on the property with the Local Farms Fund, who purchased the farm on his behalf in 2015. Biello covers the carrying costs, such as taxes and insurance, as well as paying rent. He hopes to purchase the farm from them in 2020. Private and crowd-funding micro-loans have also contributed to make Featherbed Lane Farm a truly community-supported venture.
“I’m trying to build a good system in the most efficient way possible, and be very careful of how I use the money,” said Biello.
He’s approaching the farm’s operation costs in the same way, as well.
“It’s like how a teacher makes a lesson plan – the next year you don’t want to have to remake it. It allows you to do the same tasks in less time, when you build a good system,” said Biello.
FORMING A HEALTHY NETWORK
For a system to withstand the tests of time, it must be well-informed. Looking at Biello, with a small gold nose ring and tattoos peeking out from under his Carhartt apparel, he appears to be a bit of a contradiction. His dedication is palpable however, as is his hope to build a CSA with people that are open-minded, but like-minded.
“I want people to give it a shot. There’s no pressure. Come out and talk to me. I want people to get over that first hurdle, and ask questions,” said Biello.
It’s a farm for the community to benefit from, because it’s taken a community to build it.
“So many people have helped me – there’s been lots of them and they’ve all been important; teaching me about hoeing weeds, gentle horsemanship, livestock and vegetable system planning. One of my lifelines is a contractor that I can call up whenever I have a question. Without all of them, it would be incomplete. I feel like I’m on the steepest learning curve of my life,” he said.
MAINTAINING A HEALTHY ENVIRONMENT
As much as the personal interactions have meant to the success of building Featherbed Lane Farm, its workhorses are also garnering much of the attention. The four impressive draft horses are beneficial in many ways, but it’s the relationship that Biello has with them that he values most.
“I don’t love a machine like I love a horse,” he said.
Even with their massive stature and giant hooves, they perform delicate jobs in the fields, moving with precision inbetween the rows of precious crops, only lightly compacting the soil, and leaving a beneficial by-product, valuable compost, behind.
“When it works, it’s really beautiful. They can get a complex task done gently and nicely,” said Biello.
He still must be very conscientious about how he uses them, he quickly adds.
“You can do a really good job with a horse, or a really bad job, just like you can do a really good job with a tractor, or a really bad job. My goal is to do a really good job."
PROVIDING HEALTHY FOOD
It’s when Biello is talking about the food that he’s producing that delight can be seen spreading across his face.
While building and protecting the soil through animal and crop rotation, targeted plantings and irrigation, he’s excited to be offering year-round CSA memberships for the first time this year. A year-long CSA membership will include food distribution beginning the first weekend in June and continue through May of next year.
“There’s going to be an abundance of food in the farm store. It’s free choice. You pick and choose what you want for fresh eating. Plus, you can go out and harvest. Members will have access to the fields from sunrise to sunset,” he said.
Year-round access to the food and the farm is a major component to what makes a Featherbed Farm CSA membership so unique. Members are welcome to visit the Biellos and their CSA manager Tory Shelley, during farm events including wagon and sleigh rides, but are also welcome to enjoy the property at their leisure.
In addition to the Red Floor Farm Store, which will have a multitude of fresh food ready for pick-up, the barnyard complex and the horses, there are “secret garden” fields that will soon be blooming with the milkweed and elderberry blossoms that offer the scent of summer, and nectar that attracts butterflies. The two ponds and ample wetland areas offer opportunities for wildlife viewing, as does the seclusion in the 30 acres of woodlands.
“I want people to join who want this, and value these things; who think it’s really special and something they want to be a part of,” said Biello.
Memberships are still available with incremental payment plans and can include vegetables, eggs, and meat from Mace Chasm Farm.
“I think farmers’ markets are really great, and other places are really great, but the reason you’d want to come here is the connection
to the community. Go for a walk around, bring the kids. If you really want to know where your food is coming from, and have a connection to it, this, to me, is a little bit more,” said Biello. -SS
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