Hunter Hill Farm is a 12-acre homestead & vegetable CSA just outside of the city limits of Easton, PA. Last year, I was a resident for the season, designing & helping to install the initial orchard phase of their edible forest garden. I decided to stick around the area, and this year we’ve been doing a little bartering of a different sort – forest gardening & poultry consultation in exchange for veggies. This week, farmers Dan Hunter & Bethany Towne came over with groundcover questions, as well as a beautiful harvest of some early greens, herbs, & radishes. I thought some readers would appreciate learning about what they do, so I suggested an interview. Below is our conversation.
Lunaria Gardens: What made you guys want to be farmers at Hunter Hill?
Dan Hunter: Maybe 7 or 8 years ago, I was watching C-Span, and Roscoe Bartlett was giving a presentation on peak oil, and that was I guess the first time I heard about the whole energy crisis thing. And at that time I was trying to be an upright bassist, which was predicated a lot on me having a wagon, and hauling a bass around. So I got interested in sustainability in general, and then the farming part seemed to be the one that most most attractive and stuck, like I tried a bunch of different things. And then I started some apprenticing work and started looking around for land with my parents, and that drug on for about 3 years. And then we finally found a place that was enough land and in our budget, and then we bought it. So, I’m gonna say, food security.
Lunaria Gardens: What is your farm mission?
Bethany Towne: I just try to grow a lot of food, and we try to make some money to get by. I like sharing it with everyone, and eating it. And learning about permaculture is really cool too, because if we can set up something really awesome, then we’ll have the experience and a lot of the resources to help people do that too.
DH: For me, I wanted a place where I could kind of make a livelihood and everything, but also be an experimental ground for different types of agriculture. If the goal was just to grow food for money, it would get old and I wouldn’t feel that I was doing much. So the idea is for it to be an educational place, or a place where people can just come out and relax. Our friend was talking about farm therapy programs in Europe, where people in different situations can come out relax for a while. So yeah, getting integrated in the community, and not just, you grow stuff and then you sell it, and that’s the extent of the interaction. The ideal is to be much more plugged in, to be a resource for the community, and have as many overlapping functions as possible. Because land is a huge thing. Land is expensive, and it’s hard to get, and hard to maintain. So many possibilities with it.
Lunaria Gardens: What do you offer at Hunter Hill?
DH: We offer a 22-week CSA (Community-supported agriculture), from the 1st week in June to the 2nd or 3rd week in October. It’s a weekly pickup of vegetables, in either a half or a full share size. And there will be other things that come in through the year, like mushrooms or fruit, that we’ll offer as add-ons, as retail items when people pick up.
We’ve also had Seventh Generation Charter School classes visit for educational field trips. Or if people have an idea for what they want to do, that’s related to, I don’t know, the growth or integration of communities, or experiments in agriculture, or whatever, that’s great, and they should talk to us.
BT: We sell to restaurants sometimes, and there are instances of being super busy and we have way too much of something, but maybe if we had better connections with particular restaurants…
DH: … or individuals, or 3rd Street Alliance, or pretty much anybody who’d be interested in coming out and picking something, we should set up a call list, or an email chain. So there’s opportunity for gleaning…
BT: … or trade.
Lunaria Gardens: What makes your CSA special?
DH: We really don’t really use any machines. What’s in the field is entirely hand worked, so we do no-till. So yeah, we just sheet mulch. And the only amendments we add are composted animal waste, or house compost. So it’s very simple. We try not to get involved with large supply chains, partly because their expensive, partly because they suck. I guess we’re still buying seeds from Johnny’s. But there’s some vague anti-corporate inclination going on. I feel like there’s not very much intention about how that gets carried out, but it gets carried out to some extent. But yeah, I feel like the special part is just the no machine thing. Just compost additives. All the stuff is hand-picked and maybe washed.
What can customers expect if they do sign up for a share?
DH: Full shares can expect 8-12 items per week. An item can be a bunch of carrots, or a quart of tomatoes, a head of lettuce. Half shares, 5-7 items per week. And it’s gonna be fresh, because we don’t have any fridge space! So even if we wanted to hold over products, we really can’t! So, expect fresh, seasonal vegetables in quantity. And shares are picked up from the farm or a drop point in North Bethlehem, near the YMCA.
Lunaria Gardens: Dan, you mentioned no machines and no-till, but I want your words for readers. What is it about no-till?
DH: Well, my limited understanding of soil science and agricultural practices leads me to believe that tilling is primarily an expedient practice. In tilling, it’s like the rain comes down, and if soil is loose, it moves; so if you break up the soil all the time, more soil and nutrients and everything are going to wash off your land. I guess that’s really the crux of the matter. And I guess when you till, you’re breaking up the soil ecology that’s trying to form all the time to help you. So we don’t till. And we don’t use machines because their expensive, and they’re part of the industrial corporatocracy, and they compact the soil most of the time. And they also have sort of an expedient element to them, that makes it easy but ends up hurting you in the end. That has been my experience of it. I guess I could expound on how they hurt the people using them, or the people making them, or the places where they’re taken, or the larger watershed or ecology, but mostly, I don’t like working with them, and they’re expensive.
Lunaria Gardens: Who else is helping behind the scenes, besides you guys?
BT: Oh, yeah, lots of people! It varies a lot year to year, and you never know, it seems like there might be quite a few people coming to stay at the farm at some point during the year. But Dan’s parent’s bought the property, and they help out a lot. Dan’s dad was just helping me build the frame for a chicken tractor last week, which is really exciting. Scotty… I don’t know, there’s tons of people!
DH: Lehigh Valley friends who have varying degrees of residency at the farm [laughs], or non-residency.
Bethany: Yeah, Joe Farnack was working for us really regularly last year, and helping with harvest, and taking home vegetables.
Lunaria Gardens: What resource would you love to come into?
Dan: One thing that was amazing, was this guy from Green Briar Equestrian Services or whatever…
Bethany: Oh yeah!
Dan: Yeah! [laughter] This guy who cleans out horse stalls, he goes out with his Bobcat loader in his dump truck, so he has to leave it at the place, and then go dump the load somewhere locally, and then go back and pick up his Bobcat – so he goes and dumps at all these farms. And he dumped 6, 7, or more dump truck loads of equestrian bedding. And that’s probably 3 solid weeks of full-time work that he just donated for free, in terms of if we had to go pick it up, and all the wear and tear on the truck. So, um…
Lunaria Gardens: So… delivered horse shit?
DH: Or just convenient sources of decent compost. The ideal is that it’s free and delivered. That would be great. Because that’s the input, besides some infrastructure, or irrigation stuff.
BT: Man, it’s really exciting thinking about like the future, like we’ve been working on growing medicinals and things like that, but even with the permaculture project, fenced portion is a small percentage of farm property, but there’s so much that you can produce on that land to share with people. And things that don’t take as much work as a vegetable plot. It’s pretty exciting.
Lunaria Gardens: Would you say you get excited about abundance?
BT: Yeah, haha.
Hunter Hill Farm 2013 CSA shares
Full share: $500 ($25/week), Half share: $300 ($15/week)
Length: 20 weeks, June 6 to October 17
Pickup: Thursdays at farm (901 Frost Hollow Road, Forks Township, Easton, PA) or Bethlehem, PA
Includes: A share of non-certified organic vegetables; 8-12 items (full share) or 5-7 items (half share) / additional seasonal offereings, i.e. apples or mushrooms, for purchase as available