June 24, 2013

Solstice event celebrates longest day and farming

Visitors learn from enthusiastic, young North Country farmers

CHRIS FASOLINO Press-Republican

KEESEVILLE — Visitors from around the Northeast learned about environmentally friendly farming practices here this weekend.

The Summer Solstice event was arranged by the Greenhorns, a non-traditional grass-roots nonprofit group made up of young farmers and others whose mission is to “recruit, promote and support the new generation of young farmers,” according to the group’s website. 

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Project Manager Cara Sipprelle of Essex explained that the purpose of the event was “to bring young farmers together with people who are curious about farming.” 

About 40 visitors took part in educational programs at the Grange Hall in Keeseville, celebrating farming and the longest day of the year and toured three Keeseville-area farms that are operated by young farmers interested in environmentally friendly practices. 

Fledging Crow, Mace Chasm Farm and North Country Creamery all opened their doors to the diverse group.


Michael Meier came from his small farm in New Jersey, where he raises vegetables and livestock. He had previously worked on a rooftop farm in Brooklyn, where crops are grown in soil that has been placed “on a couple of big roofs,” as he put it. 

“It was great to get experience of farming intensively in an urban setting,” he said.

Since Meier’s background is urban farming and his current farm is in the suburbs, he found his trip to the farms of Keeseville quite fascinating.

“It’s neat to be up here and see what normal farms are like,” he said with a laugh.


Ian Ater of Fledging Crow Farm led the group on a tour of his vegetable fields and talked about turning an invasive species into a positive and eco-friendly purpose.

The Eurasian milfoil, a plague to the region’s lakes, makes an excellent fertilizer once removed from water bodies, Ater explained. 

“It’s gold fertilizer,” he said. “The chemistry on this stuff is out of this world. If you put it around your tomato plants, you’ll be very happy.”

Ater said that if milfoil could be harvested and brought to farms on a large scale, the results could be excellent and the entire process economically viable.

One very successful crop among the variety of vegetables he grows, he noted, has been Saskatchewan field peas. 

“The chefs really love this stuff, and they pay a pretty penny for it. You harvest it once, and then you just let it grow, and it’s a cover crop — a matted cover crop. 

Looking out at his greenhouses and long rows of vegetables, Ater said, with a sense of wonder in his voice, “This started as an empty field.”


Asa Thomas-Train and his wife, Courtney Grimes-Sutton, welcomed guests to their Mace Chasm Farm, where they raise pigs, chickens and Devon beef cattle.

They talked about how they make decisions together about their business. 

“I’m like, ‘Here are the numbers,’ and he’s like, ‘Here’s what I feel about the animals,’” said Grimes-Sutton with a smile. 

“Farming is very personal, and you have to end up somewhere in the middle.”


They also talked about some of the challenges they are facing. 

“There’s a lot of bureaucracy around meat processing,” Thomas-Train said, noting that the system “is geared toward larger processors, and it’s hard for small farmers to break in.” 

“This is such a liability-driven society that no one wants to give you information because they don’t want to be liable,” Grimes-Sutton added. 

Having dealt with such challenges themselves, they plan to have an open-source policy, sharing information and plans freely.

The couple also introduced guests to their livestock dog, a great Pyrenees named Green Lantern, who keeps a protective eye on the piglets. 

And he enjoys time with his humans, too.

“If you feel like snuggling, just introduce yourself to Green Lantern — that’s all he wants to do in life, and he’s really good at it.”


At Clover Meadow Farm, Steven Googin and Ashlee Kleinhammer discussed the secrets of dairy farming, including yogurt and cheese making.

At first, Kleinhammer told her visitors, she had decided her cows should be purely grass-fed. However, that proved to be impractical.

“I had ideals but wasn’t meeting the bottom line.”

Kleinhammer realized that she had friends who were growing organic grain and that she could add it to her cows’ diet, thereby seeing an increase in milk production without compromising her principles. 

She said most of her customers did not mind the change.

“A few people ask if it’s 100-percent grass fed, but most people are like, ‘Oh, they eat grass, they’re local friendly cows — good.’”


In addition to farmers, the visitors on the tours also included a group of law students from the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems at Vermont Law School. 

“The trip confirms for me what I already know,” student Emma Hempstead said — that there’s a need for low-cost legal services in small communities, helping farmers set up businesses.

“It’s important to me as a law student to not lose sight of being on a farm,” she said.

Along with want to help farmers, she added, she would like to have a farm herself one day.

“This has been a nice afternoon.”


Learn more about The Greenhorns, which also contributes to its mission with production of avant-garde programming, video, audio, web content and publications, at