A sense of community at Common Hands

Posted: Thursday, June 12, 2014 12:30 am
By Tessa Edick
For Columbia-Greene Media


A few years ago we all decided to abandon that plastic bag for a reusable version with a collective consciousness and changed our thinking to positively impact the environment. One day — a change of thinking — and voila — a wide-scale shift in practice for a bigger change.


In the same vein, shop local and buy nutrient-dense fresh food that is grown responsibly by your local farmer. Seek out your options. It is affordable and it is convenient — not to mention better for you and a blissed-out experience to visit a family farm.


Meet Tess and Dan — two new young farmers with backgrounds in art and agriculture who traveled the world and decided to make a living building a farm in Columbia County to feed you — indeed worthy of a visit.


Common Hands Farm cultivates eight acres of organic vegetables, incorporating principles of permaculture and bio-dynamics. Their 150-member CSA (Community Supported Agriculture farm share program) has members as far away as Brooklyn and they sell at farmers markets growing diverse, unique and high quality organic biodynamic produce, 100-plus varieties of veggies, fruits, herbs and flowers.


Common Hands Farm CSA is a weekly pick up lasting 23 weeks, comes in two sizes and gives a whole new meaning to farm chic with a capital C for cooking!


Their CSA farm shares are available in family size, which feeds four or more people, at $575 for eight items; and a $400 option that feeds two or more people with four to five items. Unlike other CSA models — at Common Hands Farm you can pick up your produce any day on the weekend or at the farmers market locations because unlike others — the model is flexible. You choose which you like on your schedule with payment plans and pick up locations convenient for you. It’s truly the People’s CSA.


“We believe that food is medicine, and one’s primary form of health care. We believe that fresh, nutrient-rich food should be available to all, as well as the ability to create and share beautiful meals. I never thought I would farm, just one of those things I was always around,” said Dan, while Tess was actively managing the seed trays they were planting with heirloom squash in their greenhouse in the fields where they grow food organically and sell it at their roadside market, through the CSA flexible farm share, to local chefs in addition to a new “UPSTREET” mid-week evening farmers market in Hudson, you can support on IndieGoGo through June 21.


A daily reconnection to their roots and married to the farm, Tess Parker and Dan McManus are new farmers practicing their hand at agriculture in the town where Dan was born — Hudson. The couples friendship turned love is alone worth buying your groceries from their roadside market on Route 23B.


“The most important thing is to feed people,” Parker said, before telling me she started in college with a tiny CSA farm, then volunteered on another and got together with Dan to start Common Hands Farm. “In summer we all lived together and grew food and after graduation that’s what


I should follow because I live, work, feed and sustain myself with the great goal how to operate in this changing world.”


With a work crew of eight people, Parket and McManus plant eight acres of vegetables and 12 acres of cover crop on a farm they lease from friend Moke Mokotoff, who helped create the vision, got behind it and “the wheels started turning for us and really helped because at that time we were ready to throw in the towel — but discovered the CSA model” they told me — and built a new home.


“If we hadn’t met each other that year we wouldn’t be doing it — up against a strong learning curve — like having a kid — it changes your life thinking about good squashes vs bad squashes,” said McManus.


Parker piped in, “What we think and dream about is the farm — it’s fun, diverse and we grow so many things.”


Common Hands Farm uses all organic matter, seed and soil to sow different varieties of every type of vegetable including one third not widely known that chefs covet and you will love sow exotic and heirloom vegetable varieties through preservation of heirloom seeds the couple is passionate about offering.


“Our squash of the Maori people in New Zealand is a type that is not really cultivated in the U.S. sow like pepino melons and my favorite sow celtus. It outsold others last year and so this year we are going big with it. Offering diversity from what’s available on a local level that we can grow here and benefits the soil and ecosystem is key,” McManus explained.


Their biggest limitation is funding because organic farming seed, soil and compost are not cheap. It’s a seed money truth — you need capital in advance to fund the year’s operation that starts late winter with business planning, budgets, projections and no wage with $50,000 capital investment until well after sales start to even repay yourself for the investment — which is why we all should join a CSA offered in our communities.


It’s getting on common ground to economically develop rural to urban marketplaces and stimulate commerce vital for sustainable and prosperous food ways.


It took two years to get a tractor at Common Hands and they are already talking about getting a second one — it’s low horse power and they use a series of small electric tools — slowly switching to more automation as the business grows but committed to best practice in scaling.


Diverse heirloom seeds feeding locals and locally made food is a livelihood we must all stand up for to build a sustainable and resilient food shed and continue one conversation about the importance of your daily food choices.


This summer, Common Hands will rent the Philmont Farmers Market Food Cart and serve up grab-and-go good old-fashioned organic vegetable grilled cheese, dumplings and local beer you will want to sink your teeth into direct from many small farms.


Volunteers are welcome! You can try your own hand at farming one day per week on Wednesdays. Common Hands Farm “it takes a village” approach is truly approachable and connects you to the food you eat. It’s worth it.


Common Hands. Common ground. Community. Commerce. Come and get a taste at the farm. FarmOn!


To contact the author, email tessa@friendsofthefarmer.com or log on to Twitter @FarmOnFarmOn.


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