By Michael Parker
Photos: Courtesy of Ben Dobson
If you’re curious what the forefront of American agriculture will look like in a decade or two, check out whatever Ben Dobson is doing right now. He’s only been foreshadowing farming trends his whole life.
“I was born in the living room of an organic farm,” a homestead where his mother still works the land with a team of horses. At 16 years old, around the turn of the millennium, Dobson started his own first farm, a 40-member vegetable CSA. Later, at 19, Dobson launched an organic coffee business in Haiti, where he met his wife, Nalise. In his twenties, in Maine, Dobson ran the largest organic vegetable farm in the state, alongside a packaged-salad operation that competed directly with California salad giants—a risky proposition, to put it gently, in the earlier years of the local-food movement.
Today, Ben Dobson manages Stone House Grain in Hudson. There, he is “actively seeking ways to grow major food crops organically.” When Dobson uses the word “organic,” he is not simply making the case for USDA organic certification. Dobson, a proponent of holistic management, studies natural ecosystem management to mimic those organic systems in a production agriculture operation. To list just a few of the ways they grow grain differently at Stone House: minimizing mechanical tillage of the soil; sowing organic and non-GMO seed without using synthetic fertilizer, pesticides or herbicides; planting diverse cover crops; and grazing livestock to build soil health.
In addition to producing environmental benefits and tons of grain, Stone House supports local economic success. When starting Stone House Grain, Dobson intentionally avoided competing with the small vegetable, livestock and fruit farms that thrive in the Hudson Valley. Instead, he identified organic livestock feed, forage, grain seed and grains for human consumption as necessary inputs into the Hudson Valley farm and food industry that were underproduced locally. Five years into the business, Dobson can proudly say, “Almost all of our grains are sold to small farms.” Dobson estimates that 80 to 85 cents of every dollar of revenue at Stone House Grain is spent within 40 miles of the farm. In a globalized economy, that’s local economics at its best.
For Dobson, work does not end with running a diverse, large and growing organic-grains business. He also manages Hudson Hemp—an association of farmers growing and processing organic hemp—and Old Mud Creek Farm, a property that was formerly used for agribusiness chemicals testing, now conserved and integrated into the organic-grains business.
If Ben Dobson’s career arc—which seems to predict agricultural growth trends by a decade or so—is a good indicator, have hope that the American grain industry will be a key part of healing the climate emergency. Regenerative agricultural practices like those pioneered by Dobson at Stone House Grain are among the most significant ways we can sequester carbon and other greenhouse gases to mitigate climate change.
If you want to see more New York farms follow in his footsteps, tell your state representatives that you support the Carbon Farming Act, a bill proposed in the New York State Assembly by Hudson Valley Assemblywoman Didi Barrett that would offer tax credits to farmers who sequester carbon with their farm-management practices.