By Karen Fredrickson
Obercreek Farm is relatively new, started in 2012, and tucked away in Hughsonville, New York, right near the Hudson River, with a farm stand that is a convenient stop for anyone taking the Metro North train out of New Hamburg. The farm is managed by Kate McPeek and Jessica O’Callahan, both new to the farm. When talking to them, you would never know they are only in their first year of management, as they are well versed in farming and very knowledgeable about the challenges of organic growing.
“It was a perfect opportunity [with] a whole bunch of young farmers,” McPeek said of moving to Obercreek Farm from New Jersey. “It was the ideal environment to be around likeminded people.” The move to Obercreek presented McPeek with some new challenges that she was excited to take on, including much larger acreage. “It’s a really fun and inspiring challenge to stay on top of everything,” she said.
The idea of community is very important to both of them, as is working an organic farm like Obercreek. “It’s taking care of the environment, producing food in such a way that doesn’t take away from the earth,” McPeek said. It’s impossible to farm without taking something away, and part of the appeal of the organic farm is that they work to put whatever was removed back into the soil through cover crops and manures, including green manures: “Doing it [farming] in such a way that doesn’t disturb the natural habitat of the surrounding areas, that doesn’t hurt insects or animals or wild crops,” McPeek said of the farm, which is situated in an area surrounded by natural forest. “That’s probably the most important for me. I don’t want to be ingesting [from] my food any sort of herbicides or pesticides that the commercial agricultural industry is implementing, so there’s something about that too. I want to grow food that people are not afraid to eat. Specifically myself,” she says with a laugh, “[and] our local community—I don’t want them to be concerned about what we’re spraying, how we’re creating and producing food.”
O’Callahan has similar ideas about farming and the appeal of organic agricultural practice that appeals to McPeek. “I think part of what brought me to organic agriculture is the ideal that you’re having an agricultural system and then producing food that doesn’t completely destroy surrounding ecosystems, and that you can have other little ecosystems on your farm, benefit- ing or just living side by side, which just creates a more beauti- ful, pleasant environment to be in,” O’Callahan said. Obercreek Farm has that in its surrounding woods, a natural ecosystem of various elements from mushrooms to birds. “It just feels better that an organic farm can sustain and support all different kinds of life,” O’Callahan added. However, also present are trouble- some squirrels, groundhogs and deer, exemplifying some
of the problems faced by organic farmers.
The consensus on the biggest challenge was weeds, an organic farmer’s nemesis. “There [are] always weeds, and when you think you’re done, you’ve got another three days of work ahead of you just in one field alone, so it’s unending, but it’s a good challenge.” This sometimes involves old-fashioned hands-and-knees weed removal. “We don’t use any sort of sprays or weed killers,” McPeek said. I saw this careful atten- tion to the crops firsthand when, on a tour of the farm, McPeek and O’Callahan took a moment to examine some insects that were on some of their crops, and discuss whether they would pose a problem.
Another aspect of that task, O’Callahan described, is anticipating the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or, in the case of Obercreek Farm, the weather. Dealing with it re- quired O’Callahan to apply a Zen wisdom to her farming skills: “A challenge I’m learning to deal with is the things you can’t control, like if a disease comes in…you spend the rest of the season trying to keep it from spreading or killing your whole crop. You know it’s going to happen, and you do everything you can to make sure it doesn’t happen, but sometimes it still happens and there’s just nothing you can do about it because it’s the weather or it’s disease or it’s a wind pattern. You can’t control those things. You just have to learn to work around them, or with them if it’s possible.”
It’s not all challenges. Farming has many rewards as well. “The biggest reward is harvest and seeing people’s faces when they buy your food,” McPeek said. The farm sells their crops wholesale to local businesses and restaurants, including Adams Fairacre Farms in Wappingers Falls. They also have a farm stand that is open to the public.
O’Callahan enjoys the connection with the community that farming brings: “It feels better when you are at the farmers’ market and you know that person from Beacon, you know that person from Wappingers, having CSA members come to our farm stand and having seen them over the past two years,” O’Callahan said. “I think that’s a big reason why we chose organic agriculture as well—the connection to the local community.”
McPeek described their goal for the year as focusing on producing quantity and quality. O’Callahan agreed, adding the importance of the local community: “We’re lucky that we have a lot of support. There [are] people who can help us when we need it. I think that’s a really important part of the farm because it’s always a group effort—not always just the farmers’ group effort, but a community group effort—and I see that happen on the farm a lot with people who are willing to help us…It’s so important because if anyone had to do it alone, I don’t think anyone would do it.”
For more information about Obercreek Farm, visit their website at www.obercreekfarm.com. █