Recently I was able to interview two friends of mine, Ejay Carter and Kim Eisen, who are gearing up for the inaugural CSA season at R’Eisen Shine Farm. I am excited to share their story because although they are south of Albany, their CSA program will service people in the Albany area. Plus their CSA model isn’t completely traditional and I feel they are incredible people who will achieve great things, both with farming and within their community.
I need to give you a little background about Kim and Ejay before I can begin to tell you about their farm. For starters, forgive me for not calling Kim by her real name…she’ll always be Dottie Damage to me, so that’s how I’ll refer to her in this post. Ejay also goes by the name “Mean Acres” but I met him before this name was his official derby name, so he’s still Ejay to me.
Are you confused yet? Think I’m off my rocker? The answer is simple…in roller derby you take on a Derby Name (mine is Brass Snuggles) and pretty much after that, until you die, you refer to other derby people by their derby name. That’s why to me, Kim will always be Dottie.
A few years ago when I joined the Albany All Stars I got to meet Dottie. She’s one of the founding members of the league. I was very intimidated by her. I could toss her over my shoulder she’s so much smaller than me, but she has a very commanding presence.
Around the same time I met Ejay who was a ref for the league. We started talking because he commented on the “No Farms No Food” sticker on my helmet. He told me about his chickens and we gabbed about farmer’s markets and such and I just remember thinking it was cool that I knew someone at derby who was also interesting in local agriculture.
In my second season I had the incredible privilege of skating for our intraleague team The Department of Public Hurts, and Dottie was our co-captain. This was when I really got to know her better. She is a very determined and dedicated person in every way. She’s a top-notch jammer because she’s pushes herself very hard and always wants to do better. She simply isn’t ok with being mediocre.
Spending several days a week with her for many months made me a better person, not just a better skater. Sometimes practice was so difficult I would cry the entire way home from Albany to Saratoga; however I cried a whole lot more when she retired from our league. The only thing that made it better was that she was leaving to begin work on starting a farm with Ejay.
It was fun to talk with Ejay before practice about his job and farming in general, and during practice he always made sure to keep my flailing penatly-elbows in check by shouting, “Tuck in your chicken wings Snuggs!”
I wanted to tell you all that to show you just how much I care about and respect these two people. Also to give you a glimpse into how they are as people so you can understand why I’m absolutely confident that their CSA is going to be nothing short of stellar.
Now to tell you about R’Eisen Shine Farm and the first season of their CSA:
The farm operates on leased land in Columbia County and their growing methods focus on using sustainable organic principles, and the highest standards of care for all of their livestock. Their CSA shares will be available for pickup on the farm or with delivery to Albany. (There are still shares available, see the end of this post for contact info.)
They will be offering a CSA with a unique model. It will run year-round, offering root vegetables, winter squashes, potatoes, and onions throughout the winter months. Salad and cooking greens will be grown in greenhouses during the non-growing season. They will also be growing over 100 varieties of veggies, plus herbs, and even dried beans for cooking.
In addition, the shares will include homemade pickles, preserved fruits, jams, dried herbs, and surplus veggies from the summer that have been frozen or dried.
Shareholders will also be supplied with eggs and meat (chicken and rabbit plus an option to get up to two holiday turkeys) on a regular basis. As they expand they will add in a greater variety of meat plus dairy, grains, flours, sweeteners (honey and maple syrup), and hopefully enough wool from their sheep to offer some yarn!
Another thing that will set their CSA apart is the fact that they are not imposing limitations on items people can choose, unless it’s a high demand/low quantity item. They hope to encourage folks to try things they haven’t eaten before so they will be providing recipes, but they really want their farm to feed people within their needs.
How did you get started being interested in farming?
Ejay: I’ve wanted to be a farmer since I was in third grade. I have this vivid memory of all of the kids teasing me when we went around in a circle and told what we wanted to be when we grew up and my answer was an enthusiastic, “A farmer!” I was really discouraged from pursuing my agriculture dreams throughout school by educators who felt that I would be more successful in academic settings. Finally, after torturing myself with desk jobs and a variety of other experiences, I started by just planting a vegetable garden and raising some meat chickens. The passion that these acts ignited in me spread like wild fire, and I was consumed by pursuing my goals. But I think that the original passion, starting all the way in third grade, came from my grandmother’s love of food. She passed that love on to me, and I think it’s because I love food so much that I love farming.
Kim: I grew up in a farming community, and even took a semester of “ag” class in middle school. We had an FFA fall festival every year…I participated in a show cow competition once! My uncle runs a farm in southern Dutchess County, and my father and grandfather always had us out in the fields making hay every summer. I’ve always had a desire to be more connected to where my food comes from, and there’s no closer connection than growing and raising it yourself.
Kim: Luckily enough, my childhood was a bit of a farming internship. Because of my strong family connection to agriculture, I’ve been exposed to many of the skills since I was a kid. We decided as a couple that it would be in our best interest for Ejay to hone his skills in bacon-rearing, while I brought home the bacon of the financial kind. Plus, Ejay is a great teacher and I am learning a lot along the way.
Ejay and Kim: One of the biggest obstacles for us has been land access. This is not uncommon for young farmers. We have struggled with finding the right location for us to build our business while being aware of our own financial limitations. We live in the Hudson Valley because it is close to our family, but it also has notoriously high land prices. Had it not been for the amazing resource of the Columbia County Land Conservancy, a whole lot of luck, some good will and a good dose of stubbornness, we could not have found our current location.
Other than land access, we have had to manage working full-time jobs while working to build our business. It’s meant a lot of late nights researching, doing farm chores, etc. and rarely a weekend off. It is absolutely worth it, and it has taught us the value of down-time and balance.
What do you see as the reason(s) so many young people are interesting in farming/homesteading?
Ejay and Kim: We think that there has been a real disconnect in the last 50 years between people and their food, with the advent of preservative-laden quick meals and convenience cooking. It seems like now folks are taking issue with that. It also seems like young people are searching for a life that is less dependent on broken systems, and more dependent on relationships- relationships with their environment and with their communities.
Food systems and oppression politics are also intricately linked. The people who suffer from starvation and malnutrition, even in first world cultures, are often the same groups who are most oppressed in other aspects of society. Aside from all of these really heady and overwhelming food politics issues, there is something guttural and deeply satisfying about the dirt of farming and homesteading. There is absolutely no modern equivalent of knowing the weight of a wheelbarrow, or the taste of a summer pea. It can heal you, it can change you, and it certainly tastes delicious.
What keeps young people away (who would otherwise love to farm)?
Ejay and Kim: Money, land access, and a misunderstanding that farming is a secret lost art. It seems as though folks are more intimidated by a cow then they are by a phone that can understand human speech. It’s not easy though, to transition your life from the idea that you go to college, get a high paying job, and vacation– to the idea that it’s going to be a real struggle, and you will work 7 days a week. Even if you dream of beautiful barns filled with animals, or greenhouses with giant plants, farming is dirty, it is exhausting, and it doesn’t hold a lot of prestige in modern culture. We’ve heard from so many people that farming won’t get us anywhere, and it can be really taxing the millionth time you hear it. That combined with the lack of education opportunities around farming that don’t center around internships can be understandingly overwhelming for even the most dedicated folks with the farming bug.
Kim: And maybe miniature donkeys! We also will be working to expand our non-profit efforts in the coming years. We want our farm to be a place that provides a service to community, with a focus on folks living with long term mental illness and folks with differing physical limitations. We know first-hand how very helpful farming can be to these populations, and with my background in social welfare, I’m really looking forward to making our farm part of a multi-layer effort for change.
Ejay: I think that folks often think that they will ‘miss out’ on certain foods if they give up eating some of the non-local, non-seasonal items. I know that I really had those concerns when I first started examining my diet and choosing local. What I found though, was the intense flavor satisfaction that came from my change in cuisine more than made up for any misgivings I might have had.
Kim: I think that people often think that ‘organic’ means expensive, and while sometimes that’s true, it’s not prohibitive and you just sometimes have to make different decisions about what you are eating. Eating locally and sustainably doesn’t mean you can’t have Oreos every once and awhile either. Making the commitment to support your local farmer is just another way to make a real difference in your community.
CONTACT: R’Eisen Shine Farm still has a few shares available for the 2012-2013 season. Anyone who is interested is encouraged to email Ejay & Kim at firstname.lastname@example.org.